St. Charles History Museum wants your input
An information and education center. A gathering space and event venue. A hub for local artifacts and historic archives.
The St. Charles History Museum wears several hats, most of which cater to an audience wider than history buffs and preservationists, Executive Director Alison Costanzo said. As leaders continue their outreach efforts, they now are looking to refine their scope -- and they're asking residents for direction.
"We are the cornerstone of this community, so we want to be serving our community the best way possible," Costanzo said. "We're really just trying to see what's next for us."
In the past four years, she said, the museum has added events and educational programs, increased staffing levels and started putting together temporary exhibits highlighting local stories of historical significance.
The nonprofit organization went through a rebranding initiative and upgraded its marketing strategy, resulting in a greater community outreach and online presence. Visitor attendance also jumped from about 5,000 in 2015 to roughly 12,000 last year.
This year, Costanzo said, the museum is focusing on creating a strategic plan to guide its next set of goals.
"The bottom line is, we want the community to use us as a resource," she said. "We're not the same institution we were four years ago. We've come leaps and bounds. I'm really proud of what we're doing."
The museum this past week conducted an online survey, the results of which will be reviewed with a consultant. The strategic planning process also will include holding a board retreat and forming a focus group, while continuing to seek feedback from residents.
To implement new ideas and expand its outreach, the museum has been trying to diversify its revenue sources and increase cash flow, Costanzo said. The nonprofit last year obtained a liquor license so it could host events and rent its downtown space for special occasions -- a program that will be fully launched later this month.
Additionally, leaders are requesting a greater financial contribution from the city of St. Charles for the next fiscal year.
The city council approved allocating $42,000 in hotel/motel taxes toward the museum for 2018-2019 -- a roughly $10,000 increase from the year before. It also agreed to consider incremental increases of about $2,000 each year as part of its annual budget process until 2022-2023.
During a city committee meeting this week, several aldermen said they would support raising their contribution to $44,000. The city's funding makes up about 26 percent of the museum's total revenue, with the remainder mostly coming from fundraising, grants, memberships, donations and the gift shop.
In a separate project, the museum has proposed installing a digital sign in front of its building at 215 E. Main St., a city-owned property. The sign could increase foot traffic and promote museum activities, Costanzo said, while also providing a visually prominent space for the city and other St. Charles organizations to put up messages.
The museum would seek city funding for the project, which could cost between $40,000 and $50,000, Costanzo said. Aldermen also suggested partnering with other community groups.
"Putting a sign in front of the museum would be a game-changer for us," she said. "It'd be a really great asset to the downtown."