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EDITORIAL: Museum divestment the right move

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Our opinion: The Freeman Junior College/Freeman Academy Corporation should vote on Nov. 18 to allow Heritage Hall Museum and Archives to move forward independently.

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The goal of educational institutions is to prepare students to enter the world equipped with accumulated knowledge, continued curiosity and energized independence that will help make them more productive citizens who make a positive impact on the world.

Graduation is a celebration of separation between institution and student with the expectation of new opportunities.

That same principle applies to the relationship between Freeman Academy and Heritage Hall Museum and Archives. The time has come for the museum to “graduate” from Freeman Academy and move on independently to pursue opportunities based on the rich foundational support provided by the school for nearly a century. A proposal for divestiture — a formal, legal separation — has gained the support of both the Freeman Academy Board of Directors and the Heritage Hall Museum and Archives Board of Directors. A special meeting for a corporation vote on divestiture has been scheduled for Nov. 18.

With support from both the FA Board and the HHM&A Board, the negotiated proposal deserves to be approved, demonstrating support, trust and confidence in the ongoing missions of both the school and the museum. In addition, the larger community needs to support this transition.

It’s important to note the legal separation would not end the working relationship between the two organizations. The museum is not moving; it would lease from FA the property that has been its home for 45 years. In addition to retaining the name, the museum and archives would remain an educational and cultural resource for Freeman Academy with continued corporation and collaboration.

However, establishing the museum as an independent non-profit organization, with a governing board of directors, dramatically opens the door for the museum to expand its mission “to preserve, educate and foster appreciation for the diverse natural and cultural history of the greater Freeman area.”

Strong leadership within the museum board and staff has clearly helped further that mission. But a key component moving forward is expanding financial support for those efforts. That reality has helped drive the discussion about divestment.

A recent letter to the FA Corporation members acknowledges “the (FA) Corporation itself has not contributed directly toward the museum, nor assisted with fundraising projects, for any special capital projects the museum has undertaken.” Operating independently would open the door for the museum to pursue new funding opportunities, including grants that require independence; in some cases that means not being affiliated with a religious organization.

If divestment fails, museum leadership has said it will ask for financial support – at least five figures annually – from the corporation.

There’s no question the proposal is controversial; it’s been on the agenda of the annual meeting of the FA Corporation for the past two years, where constituents on both sides of the issue voiced passionate opinions. But the fact that the two governing boards have methodically and deliberately worked out an agreement is a powerful statement; these are the people who have done the heavy lifting. Their shared recommendation for a path forward serves the best interests of both the school and the museum.

Not that it will be easy. In a letter to the FA Corporation members, FA Board Chair Sherilyn Ortman said that regardless of the decision, “the issues that prompted the discussion have not gone away.”

But, she added, “what also does not go away is our common and unswerving commitment to the primary mission of the corporation … Christian education.”

Graduations are typically bittersweet experiences. There is pleasure and satisfaction in reflecting on what has been accomplished in a relationship nurtured over the years But, there is also a sense of loss, nostalgia and sadness – as in any separation. That’s certainly part of what’s at play as FA and HHM&A are poised to take this step.

In the same way we celebrate what lies ahead for graduates, we need to do the same for HHM&A. The school and its constituency can and should take pride for nurturing and being an active partner in what has enabled the museum and archives to reach this level of maturity. Now it’s time to move on.

The HHM&A Board is absolutely right in pushing for its “graduation” and the Freeman Academy Board is absolutely right in supporting it. The members of the Freeman Academy Corporation should accept, affirm and endorse that. So should the larger community.


The Courier editorial reflects the opinion of Courier publisher Jeremy Waltner and contributing editor Tim L. Waltner