Daily News photo/ALY GIBSON Southwestern Michigan College Museum Director Steve Arseneau worked closely with the city of Dowagiac to help move the local history museum to downtown Dowagiac.

Archived Story

SMC museum moving downtown

Published 3:28pm Sunday, June 3, 2012

The local history museum maintained by Southwestern Michigan College (SMC) is set to move to downtown Dowagiac, more than doubling the museum’s square footage and extending the downtown brand.

The museum, currently located on the Southwestern Michigan College campus in Dowagiac and free to the public, displays artifacts pertinent to Dowagiac and southwest Michigan’s history. After entering into a deal with the college and local Behnke family, the City of Dowagiac has purchased the Behnke Paint and Floor Covering building on the 200 block of West Railroad Street for $17,000. The city and college also stated they are committed to keeping the museum free of charge.

“This collaboration between the college and the city of Dowagiac is precisely the type of partnership that results in more effective services to our taxpayers at a lower cost,” Dowagiac Mayor Don Lyons said. “Dowagiac has a very interesting and unique history and the preservation … of that history is very important.”

Anderson also commented on the Behnke family’s cooperation in the purchase of the building.

“We really have to tip our hats to the Behnke family,” City Manager Kevin Anderson said. “This will help us continue to make investments in the community.”

Anderson said Friday the city will be responsible for maintaining the building, insuring it and paying its utilities, which will amount to $25,000 a year. SMC has committed to $75,000 a year to the museum, also, to pay for employee salaries and benefits. They will also continue to own the artifacts and insure them.

“We are going to be aggressively seeking grants from the state and various organizations, anyone looking to give money away really,” Lyons said.

During a special city council meeting Monday, Anderson announced he is currently completing a grant application through the state of Michigan, asking for $65,000 to $70,000. The board authorized the application’s submission and according to Anderson, the funding will help complete the first phase of the museum’s move: relocation of the historical artifacts.

Anderson and Lyons said the Behnke building is an ideal spot for the museum.

“One key thing is the centralized location,” Steve Arseneau, museum director, said. “It’s going to be more accessible for everyone.”

Arseneau also said the building will allow more pieces of the city’s history to be on display while also leaving room for new collections.

“We have collections presently that we don’t have the room to display,” Arseneau said. “With the space, we’ll be able to exhibit quite a bit more, and we anticipate new donors.”

Lyons added the museum and the city plan to work with the local Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians to include a larger display of the Band’s history in the area.

“We want to give them the opportunity to tell their own story instead of someone else telling it for them,” Lyons said. “We want to do a better job with that.”

The placement of the museum will also allow the city to extend the downtown brand.

“This development piece will give a sense of place, a sense of community,” Anderson said.

The museum will begin to take hold on the new location throughout the coming year with a tentative release date of late March 2013. The city anticipates a grand opening during the annual Dogwood Fine Arts Festival next year.

“This is a work in progress, and it will take a period of time to complete,” Arseneau said.

First ward council member Lori Hunt said that this partnership and development will also instill a sense of pride in the community.

“There’s a lot of history people may not be aware of here in Dowagiac,” Hunt said. “This will give people a sense of pride.”

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