Museum sees increase in traffic, membership

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, February 19, 2014

If there were any doubts over the merits of the local museum’s move to downtown Dowagiac last year, the numbers should put them to rest.

According to the year-end report, the Dowagiac Area History Museum saw significant growth in membership, visitation and other factors since the opening of the new building on Railroad Street last spring. Partnering with City of Dowagiac, the museum moved its collections of local Dowagiac and Cass County artifacts from its old home on the campus of Southwestern Michigan College to the former Behnke Paint building in May.

The move gave the museum not only increased room for exhibits, but also increased presence and notoriety, said Director Steve Arseneau.

“It was tough to know how it was going to go when it was happening, but we’re pleased by the new building and how the foot traffic has been since we opened,” Arseneau said.

Over the last year, the museum has received more than 4,000 visitors, with an average of 430 people checking out the collections every month.

“Four thousand visitors is a pretty good number,” Arseneau said. “I expect that to keep on increasing over time.”

While many of these visitors are merely guests, the museum has also been adding to its ranks of paying members. The report states that the museum currently has 180 members, up from 110 it had around this same time last year, Arseneau said.

The director attributes this increase to two factors: The museum’s increased notoriety and presence since last year, and the fact that members receive free admission to the museum’s special programs, which nonmembers are required to pay $5 to watch.

“We usually get five to 10 new members every time we host a program,” Arseneau said.

The museum offers several levels of membership, including individual, couple and senior. Members are required to pay dues annually, which vary based on their level.

Also highlighted in the report was the number of hours contributed by volunteers throughout the last year. A crew of approximately 30 men and women has contributed more than 1,200 hours of their time to help the museum with tours, programs and other needs since May.

“Volunteers have been a key component in our success,” Arseneau said. “They put in a lot of hours and are an invaluable part of our operation.”

The museum has made a number of other improvements during the past year as well, including the launch of a new website. In addition to providing basic information, the site includes a “virtual exhibit” of the Round Oak stove collection, giving visitors a tour of the exhibit without having to make the trip to the museum.

While other museums have started implementing similar online viewing programs, the Dowagiac Area History Museum is very much ahead of the curve in that respect, Arseneau said.

“It puts us in pretty good company,” he said.

The museum is looking to carry this momentum into 2014 as well. Besides continuing to host programs and tours, Arseneau and the city are finalizing plans to raise additional funding for potential expansions.

“The move seems to have worked well for us,” Arseneau said. “The museum has been functioning quite smoothly and we look forward to being here for many years to come.”