Battle Creek

What happens when three keepers of Battle Creek's history create partnership together? Museumish

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series.


Historically speaking is exactly what leaders with Battle Creek’s Regional History Museum, the city’s Historical Society, and the Kingman Museum are doing through a new partnership called Museumish.
 
Since Fall, 2021, representatives with these organizations have been meeting monthly to discuss and identify opportunities to work together to showcase Battle Creek’s history in a more far-reaching and comprehensive way, says Michele Reid, Chief Library Officer at Kellogg Community College and President of the Kingman Museum Board and Chair of the Museumish Board.
 
“We are trying to demonstrate sustainability within the Battle Creek community for these three organizations working together,” Reid says. “There is a possibility that all three organizations could merge, but we are still exploring this. Through consortium and partnership agreements we can go in a different direction and we’re looking at the best way to continue our individual missions while also working together.”
 
Reid says, “It would be wonderful to have a historical and arts complex downtown. That’s something we could explore so that we could be together in one place.”
 
The Battle Creek Regional History Museum is located at 307 West Jackson Street.The concept for Museumish was developed by the Battle Creek Community Foundation. It has awarded grants at various times to each of the three organizations, says Douglas Sturdivant, Chairman of the Regional History Museum Board and retiree from General Motors.
 
“We were brought together to do a pilot program for one year to see how we can work together in the community as one, versus working separately,” Sturdivant says. “Typically, each organization does need some community support. If we work together, it’s easier for us to get some monetary gifts rather than working separately and each going after the same dollars.”
 
Besides potential financial benefits, there are the more visible outcomes as a result of the Museumish initiative that would include the enhanced promotion of the history of Battle Creek and Calhoun County, says Michael McCullough, a board member with the Battle Creek Historical Society.
 
“We’re looking into areas where we can demonstrate our collective capacity for really elevating Battle Creek’s story and its history and the many artifacts we have documenting our history. It’s a question of how can we sew our assets together,” McCullough says. “We take these small, struggling entities and combine our forces in a way that makes us stronger.”
 
He says the stewards of the historical treasures and artifacts in the Battle Creek community must create fun and interesting ways to “draw attention and resources to what we have here.”
 
The Kingman Museum is already doing this out of necessity. In December 2020, the museum’s collection, which numbers in the thousands, was originally moved to an undisclosed location in Battle Creek after board members with the Kingman Museum came to the realization that they could no longer afford the costs associated with the upkeep and renovations of the building housing the artifacts. That building, owned by the city of Battle Creek and located in Leila Arboretum, had been home to the museum since 1934.

The Battle Creek Regional History Museum has several items on loan from the Sojourner Truth Institute.Necessary repairs would have cost “a substantial amount” for the museum. Prior to its temporary shutdown in March 2020 because of COVID-19 the museum had an annual operating budget of $300,000, Museum Executive Director Eltine DeYoung, said in February 2021.
 
The Kingman Museum collection has since been moved to the Regional History Museum at 307 West Jackson Street where its is being stored. Reid says Kingman’s board members are discussing the possibility of moving the museum’s collection into an existing building or a new building where exhibits and programming similar to those offered in their former building could resume.
 
Eltine DeYoung, Executive Director of the Kingman Museum, describes the collection as one “steeped in natural history, science and world cultures.”
 
Recognizing the importance of continuing to exhibit parts of their collection, the museum’s two part-time staff led by DeYoung has been and continues to create pop-up displays highlighting some of the collection at local venues including The Milton and the Art Center of Battle Creek.
 
As Kingman leadership works with BCCF to determine where the museum should fit in the community, Reid says, “We’re looking closely at where we should be and what services we should be providing. We’re trying out our collections and making sure people understand what collections we have while also looking at educational opportunities and we’ll continue to have a presence at major events like Fall Into the Arts.”
 
Some of the collection of dolls of the wives of U.S. presidents at the Battle Creek Regional History Museum.The museum’s summer educational programming designed to serve area students will take place at KCC which also has a planned display of math and science-related parts of the collection.
 
“We are continuing to engage with students and kids and families and that has always been one of our strengths because the collection has always been an educational collection,” Reid says.
 
In addition, there will be an exhibit in late summer on the mezzanine level of The Milton focused on Battle Creek history.
 
Creating a better space and a collaboration
 
As discussions continue about a different space for the Kingman collection and funding sources to make that happen are identified, the Regional History Museum is undergoing a major renovation in three phases of the building it purchased in 2015. 

The museum currently uses about 3,000 square feet of the building’s total space – 49,000 square feet – to display its collection of artifacts that include a statue of a Native American that was removed from Irving Park, a stained-glass window that was removed from City Hall depicting a white man hitting a Native American, and memorabilia showcasing music legends such as Del Shannon, Junior Walker, and Bobby Holley, each of whom is from Battle Creek.
 
Corridor leading the conference room of the Battle Creek Regional History Museum.“Battle Creek is so full of so much history. There’s so much we can share,” Sturdivant says. “We get a lot of people who come in and say ‘I never knew you were here.‘”
 
Sturdivant says his organization has already spent about $400,000 to install a new fire suppression system, new restrooms, and a new community/education room. He says the funding came through grants from the BCCF, anonymous donors, and an endowment.
 
These improvements will enable the museum to expand its current exhibit space to about 16,000 square feet. It will provide opportunities to show more of the collection at one time while also offering a new home for the Historical Society and its collection.

The Historical Society is currently located in the basement level of the Fieldstone Building owned by Bronson Healthcare. A 39-bed adult psychiatric unit was on the upper floor of the building. Bronson has a new location to serve adult psychiatric patients and will be using the entire Fieldstone Building for other purposes requiring the relocation of the Historical Society’s collection.

Doug Sturdivant, president of the Battle Creek Regional History Museum Board of Directors, looks at framed posters.The Historical Society’s collection includes historical books, maps, newspaper articles, and stories that detail the lives of important local personalities such as cereal giants W.K. Kellogg and C.W. Post and his wife, Leila, in addition to significant historical landmarks such as the Battle Creek Sanitarium and the Seventh-Day Adventist Village.
 
Sturdivant says the collection is an important addition to what the Regional History Museum will be able to offer to the general public. They also will find this vast amount of local history displayed in innovative ways.
 
“We are coming up with different displays and designs and what you will see here will be a little different than what you see in a typical museum,” Sturdivant says. “We want to develop some kind of ‘wow’ exhibits and more hands-on and informative activities. We recognize that we will have to keep changing our exhibits and displays to get people to keep coming back.”
 
At the end of the day, it's really about satisfying the needs and wants of the current and future museum-goers, Reid says.
 
“The members of Museumish are looking at ways that we as a collective can move forward together,” she says. “We want the public’s input.”
 
In the midst of this ongoing process, McCullough says it’s vital to let residents and those outside of Battle Creek know what is already here.
 
“We’re just sitting on such a treasure trove of artifacts and history and a lot of it is just unseen by the public and when we get that opportunity to showcase it, it will really resonate with people.”

Read more articles by Jane Simons.

Jane Simons is a freelance reporter and writer with more than 20 years of experience and also is the owner of In So Many Words based in Battle Creek. She is the Project Editor for On the Ground Battle Creek.