Jacob K. Brown Contemporary Art Museum and Center Foundation seeks volunteers

NILES — A Niles foundation that is working to build a contemporary art museum is looking for volunteers to join its effort as they continue to fundraise for the project.

The Jacob K. Brown Contemporary Art Museum and Center Foundation will host a Christmas Tea for prospective volunteers. The tea will take place at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 11, at the home of Judith Racht, the vice chair for the museum foundation and center board of directors.

Racht said she wants her Niles community to feel a sense of ownership for the project.

“We want to be a little more inclusive,” Racht said. “[We need] volunteers to help spread the word, recruit their neighbors. [We’re] looking to incorporate the community, not just a few people. I just want it to be something that everybody can feel good about.”

Racht, a gallery owner in Harbert, and fellow art lover Jeanne Watson first started formulation plans for the museum late last year. They earned their nonprofit status in March and announced official plans for the project the following month.

Watson plans to donate about 8.6 acres of the land she owns on N. Fifth Street near the North Niles Villa Apartments for the location of the museum. The plan is to have two 5,000- to 7,500-foot buildings for a contemporary art museum and a theater that will seat 150 to 200 people. The grounds would also include a sculpture garden and a number of walking trails. The board hopes to have the museum, which will be free to the public, open and operating in five years.

The foundation needs to raise between $2 and $2.5 million to bring the museum to fruition. So far, Racht said they have raised about $15,000 and are expecting another $5,000. She said volunteers will be crucial in helping to obtain more funds. She said part of their job will be helping to spread the word about the museum and also assisting at various fundraisers. Next, Racht said she hopes to host a Valentine’s Day fundraiser to bring in more proceeds for the project.

The foundation is also bringing in a company to conduct a feasibility study Nov. 27 to talk with the public and determine the potential viability of the museum. The study will help to strategize plans for fundraising efforts and create a plan for museum operation. 

Outside of upcoming events, Racht said there are ways the community can step up to support the museum. The foundation’s Facebook page has an option for people to donate and Watson is still selling a book called “Carey Mission-Home of the Brave,” to raise funds. The approximately 35-page illustrated book was written by Watson’s mother, the late Patricia Benson Bachman. Watson re-did the book by adding illustrations. The book costs $8 and can be purchased by calling Watson at (269) 687-6074.

While they may be a long way from their goal, Racht said she has faith that the project will continue to gain ground.   

“Some people make things happen because they have the courage and stamina and desire to do it,” Racht said. “I think it’s important that we instill in people the courage it takes to do something different.”

Racht said she believes a museum in Niles will bring many benefits. In addition to providing some jobs and potentially being a tourist attraction, she said she believes that the art inside the museum will open doors for many.

“Art has made such a difference in my life,” Racht said. “They don’t necessarily have to collect art or be in the art business [to understand] … looking or thinking about art just gives you a new perspective.”

The Jacob K. Brown Contemporary Art Museum and Center Foundation is named after Watson’s great-great-great-grandfather, Jacob Brown, who is one of Niles’ original founders.

Those interested in volunteering must call Racht to reserve a space and get her address. Racht can be reached at (269) 683-1387. 

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