Dowagiac bucks tide opening museumPublished 8:42pm Tuesday, May 14, 2013
With many of 1,635 Michigan museums “teetering on the brink of closing, it’s a great pleasure in this economy to be invited to dedicate a new museum,” Timothy Chester said Monday evening outside Dowagiac Area History Museum, where hundreds waited expectantly.
Most are local history repositories. Some are special-interest museums, such as the mayor’s National Heddon Museum or Chester’s favorite, the Tuba Museum in East Lansing, which was also a bar and restaurant until it closed.
Chester, president of the Michigan Humanities Council board, has 25 years experience as a museum professional.
He directed Grand Rapids Public Museum, where he oversaw the building of the Van Andel Museum Center.
“Here you are in Dowagiac, what business have you opening a brand-new museum?” said Chester after dinner with Mayor Donald D. and Joan Lyons. “From him, I got an inkling of what makes Dowagiac special. He’s very proud of this community, and he’s clung to the job for 16 years, so you must be pleased with him. You understand the power and importance of protecting your own heritage, collecting it systematically and passing on stories and traditions to your children, to visitors to this community and to newcomers who choose to join you here.
“You worked together with the college, which was strapped for space and turned what in another community could have been crisis into an opportunity where students at the college win and residents and visitors to this community win,” Chester said.
He toured Monday afternoon with Director Steve Arseneau, whom he tried to steal. “Steve is highly regarded statewide in the museum community,” Chester said. “About a year ago, when we were looking for a new program officer for the Michigan Humanities Council at the main office in Lansing, I worked very diligently to lure Steve away. He told me very quickly that an interesting offer had arisen that caused him to want to stay and help grow the museum. We tried to steal him away and he wouldn’t go.”
Chester, who visited its previous location on SMC’s Dowagiac campus, said, “You have an astounding collection of objects related to manufacturing, from Heddon lures to Round Oak stoves and many in-depth biographies of local sons and daughters who made good, dating from to the earliest years of settlements in this region by the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi. This is a very comprehensive museum for a town of this size. It has an elevator and state-of-the-art ‘green’ lighting.”
DAHM’s collection is entirely catalogued. Chester said a survey determined less than 20 percent of museums can say that.
“Of those,” Chester said, “only 3 percent had anything catalogued online in a searchable computer data base. You are sitting in the top 3 percent of the nation’s museums, which includes, at the large end, Henry Ford Museum at Greenfield Village, the largest history museum in our nation, to little places like the Tuba Museum, which are always at risk. You have a dedicated cadre of volunteers. This place is so clean, you could eat off the cases — but don’t bring in food, please. This is an immense accomplishment.”
Dowagiac Daily News