Museum capital campaign nearing goal

Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan is pressing on toward its 50th Anniversary Capital Campaign goal of $500,000. To date, $385,000 has been raised in less than a year’s time.

“We are so appreciative of the support the community has given us,” said Museum Executive Director Chris Witulski. “It’s overwhelming to see us nearing the finish line of our $500,00 goal.”

To help with the continued push to meet goal, a generous supporter has stepped forward with a $50,000 matching gift challenge. As a result, every dollar donated or pledged from now through Nov. 30 will be matched dollar for dollar.

“That means every gift doubles,” Witulski said. “This is an incredible opportunity that will help us reach our campaign goal.”

Officials launched the fundraising effort last December in conjunction with the celebration of the museum’s 50th anniversary in 2016. To help commemorate the milestone, they decided to raise $500,000 for replacement of the museum’s antiquated planetarium equipment and for other facility upgrades.

It was a fitting decision. The planetarium originally was presented as a gift 50 years ago from the community to the late Jesse Besser, whose philanthropy and vision helped to build and establish the museum. Hundreds of local residents donated toward the planetarium.

According to Witulski, the new state-of-the-art digital equipment has been ordered and is expected for delivery and installation at the end of the month. Staff training on the equipment is planned in late September. She anticipates all to be up and running by October.

In the meantime, the old planetarium equipment, with the exception of the original operating board, has been retired and placed in storage on site.

Of the total campaign goal, $300,000 is going toward purchase of the planetarium equipment and preparation of the planetarium facility for the new installation. Additional campaign funds will be set aside for ongoing maintenance and special programming for the planetarium.

“A lot of discussion and forethought went into this project before the campaign was launched,” Witulski said. “Of concern was that it’s not enough just to purchase this new equipment. We also want to make sure we have the monies for the ongoing upgrades that are necessary for all digital software programming.”

The remaining campaign money will go toward updating of exhibits and installation of interpretive signage. One of the areas slated for updating is the museum’s Native American Gallery.

Campaign donations also will allow the museum to frame and display artworks in the museum’s collections that have never been seen before by the public.

“People have really been appreciating what’s been done with the Salvador Dali Exhibit. As a result of this campaign, they will be surprised to see even more artwork coming out of storage,” Witulski said.

Since announcing the $50,000 matching gift opportunity, both Lafarge – Alpena and the Alpena Convention and Visitors Bureau have stepped forward with donations. Lafarge is a long-time supporter of the museum. Lafarge officials helped to build the Fossil Park and help to co-sponsor the annual Fall Harvest Fossil Fest. Their most recent donation totalled $2,000.

The CVB recently pledged $1,000 for five years for a total of $5,000. CVB President and CEO Mary Beth Stutzman praised the museum for the critical role it plays in interpreting the area’s history and culture.

“Activities at the museum connect residents and visitors to our heritage, allow for exploration of science and astronomy, and bring awareness to the arts,” Stutzman said. “Their efforts to partner with other local organizations to offer more robust opportunities to those who live in the Alpena area, and those who visit, are effectively making Alpena a better place.”

She also said the CVB is delighted to contribute to the 50th Anniversary Capital Campaign so that the museum can continue its critical role in the community.

Donations and pledges made toward the campaign are being managed by the Community Foundation for Northeast Michigan. Having that type of oversight is important, Witulski said.

“This relationship between the Besser Museum and the Community Foundation for Northeast Michigan ensures that all gifts made are managed with the professionalism they deserve,” she said.