HELENA — With news that it has retained its status as a nationally accredited institution, the Montana Historical Society is launching a fundraising campaign to pay for a $30 million expansion of its facilities.
Standing next to a large illustration of the building plans set up in his office, Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger chatted with American Association of Museums President Ford Bell via speakerphone Wednesday morning.
“We're delighted that you called,” Bohlinger said. “You've given us cause for celebration, and, indeed, we will.”
He highlighted some of the historical artifacts he's borrowed from the society to decorate the walls of his Capitol work space. In addition to an assortment of art, these included massive buffalo and bull elk mounts, which looked down on the proceedings.
Part of the reason the Historical Society was willing to loan out such items, Bohlinger said, is because it's short on space for everything it's acquired over the years. That's mainly why the society's leadership says it's hoping to expand, reconfiguring its current North Roberts building and connecting it underground to a new center that would include a 15,000-square-foot exhibit gallery and meeting rooms. It's expected to meet the society's space needs for the next half-century, said spokesman Tom Cook.
The Historical Society's reaccreditation status puts it in a better place for fundraising, said Interim Executive Director Mike Cooney. The society was first accredited by the Association of Museums in 1973 and is now one of 777 out of an estimated 17,500 museums in the country who bear a stamp of approval from the organization. The accreditation title will last for 15 years.
A team from the association visited the Historical Society last summer, compiling their findings in a report that found “no major deficiencies in any MHS program” and a “strong sense of 'pulling together' for a successful future,” according to a press release. It did note, however, that the leadership needs to aim for more stability in both public and private sector funding and “raise awareness for the value of the Montana Historical Society and for Montana history,” the release stated. Last month, the society's Board of Trustees met with a consulting company to discuss the best approaches for conducting its fundraising campaign and garnering supporters.
In general, Montanans care about their history, Cook said, which likely has something to do with the fact that the people here are only a few generations removed from the state's earliest settlers.
Bohlinger expressed an obligation to secure that legacy.
“If we don't preserve our history — if we don't record the happenings of the past — we are a lost people,” he said.
He also asked, jokingly, whether Bell could help scrounge together $30 million.
“I've never been asked that question before,” Bell said.