Issaquah History Museums tackle tough times, convince public why history matters

January 8, 2013

By Warren Kagarise

The recent past for the Issaquah History Museums sounds almost like a hardscrabble chapter from local history.

Executive Director Erica Maniez, staffers and volunteers face a perennial challenge to convince the public why history matters and, more importantly in the short term, why the organization needs donations to continue operations, especially as nonprofit organizations dedicated to human services command the spotlight.

“We’re serving the past, the present and the future of Issaquah,” Maniez said. “The stuff that we do is not direct services. It’s not fulfilling an evident, immediate need that people see.”

Still, history is important, as any elementary school student responsible for memorizing Revolutionary War battles or the Gettysburg Address knows.

How to help

Donors can give to the nonprofit Issaquah History Museums at the organization’s website, www.issaquahhistory.org/donate.

“What we are delivering is not as obvious,” Maniez said.

The organization operates on a shoestring budget, with limited corporate and government support. The anemic economy poses a hindrance to fundraising, and although grants fund large projects — such as exhibits, facility improvements and some programs — onetime funding cannot cover annual expenses.

The organization reduced staff time as a result — 82 hours per week in 2012 and 75 hours per week in 2013.

Besides budget constraints, staffers must make the most of cramped storage space for artifacts and photographs.

The museums rely on a small staff to assess, label, catalog, photograph and store the 12,500 artifacts added to the museums’ collection in the past 10 years.

“The collections that we have need to be cared for at a certain level in perpetuity,” Maniez said.

But maintaining the thousands of artifacts and photographs is a constant fight against time.

Over the summer, staffers reorganized the museums’ administrative offices in the Gilman Town Hall Museum. The building is more than a century old, and the museums set up the space 10 years ago to serve only two staffers.

In the past decade, though, museums leaders added three more staff positions, and collected 7,300 additional artifacts and 5,200 more photographs.

The overhaul removed a sink to create more workspace for the staff. Workers shut off the valve after removing the sink, but water dripped from the plumbing, pooled upstairs in a storage area, dripped through the floor and flooded the research area.

The deluge soaked more than 50 artifacts — portraits from the late 1800s, class photographs from Issaquah High School, and original artwork from local artists Dorothy Jackson and Jean Wolverton Petite.

The museums team sprung into action and, using cat litter and coffee filters to extract moisture, managed to salvage most artifacts without damage. But some paper items wrinkled from the water, and a photo of Issaquah High graduates now carries a permanent water stain.

Once cleanup concluded, what-ifs flooded Maniez’s mind. The effort to salvage the waterlogged artifacts drained valuable staff time. More significant damage could have posed a more significant challenge for recovery.

“Nothing was irretrievably lost, thank goodness,” she said.

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