Public helps save Independence Museum in Exeter

New Hampshire Union Leader
March 17. 2014 7:35PM

The American Independence Museum might have become history if not for a rebound in 2013 that pushed it back in the black.

Four paid staffers were laid off in late 2012, and the museum — celebrating New Hampshire’s role in the nation’s founding — suspended operations because it was losing money.

It faced “an uncertain future,” Julie Hall Williams, the museum’s executive director, said last week. “They didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Williams, who was hired in April 2013, said the community rallied around its museum, which opened June 1 last year, a month later than normal.

“I think it was the incredible support of our board and the community,” she said. “People heard we closed. People were sad, scared that we were closed. They came out and wanted to support us, so it wouldn’t happen again.”

In 2012, the non-profit museum collected $50,000 less in revenues than it spent but reversed that by taking in $75,000 more than it spent in 2013.

“We made a lot of progress in 2013,” said Allison Field, president of the museum’s board of governors. “It was a year of transition, rebuilding and reinvigoration.”

In 2013, the museum hired two part-time staffers and for the first time, stayed open for two days a week in November and December.

A record 176 memberships were purchased, a 14 percent increase over 2009, the previous highest year. There also was more than a 100 percent increase in the museum’s annual fund revenues.

Williams credits people hosting events to help expand the museum’s membership. “Grass-roots, word of mouth, neighbor telling neighbor,” she said.The museum in downtown Exeter includes the 18th-century Ladd-Gilman House and Folsom Tavern.Last year’s 2,500 visitors ranging in age from 2 to 102 came from as far away as Russia and Japan.

The museum is hoping to attract 3,500 people this year from May 1 to late November.

“We’re really investing in our marketing this year,” she said. “We feel the biggest challenge for this museum is people don’t know we exist.”

Van McLeod, commissioner of the state Department of Cultural Resources, called it “an extraordinarily important museum” to keep open.

“If we lost that, we lose a major story telling of our position in the American Revolutionary War,” he said.This year, the museum hopes to add a third part-time employee with a budget prediction to “hopefully break even for the year,” Williams said.

“I think it’s a great chance to really learn about New Hampshire’s role in the founding of our country,” Williams said.

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