Longtime residents of Elgin will remember field trips to the Elgin Public Museum of Natural History and Anthropology, exploring George and Mary Lord’s private natural history collection, including a three-legged calf heads and the huge Ice Age Irish elk hanging near the entrance.
A few years ago, we wondered if future generations could discover the museum at 225 Grand Blvd.
The coronavirus pandemic has thrown more curveballs for staff, board members and volunteers. There were no field trips. Fundraising has become more difficult. Revenue plummeted because the museum was unable to open during the shutdown.
Instead of celebrating its centenary, the public museum in Elgin had to reorganize.
“We have worked hard despite the obstacles the pandemic has put in our way,” said director Sharry Lynn Blazier. “Ironically, the pandemic has done us a lot of good. It gave us plenty of time to think about getting our house in order.
Today, she is very optimistic about the future of the museum. “We’re definitely on the right track,” she said.
Blazier recently gave Elgin City Council an update on the museum’s year-end finances, attendance and what’s to come this year. The board approved $60,000 in funding for the museum to maintain exhibits and provide educational programs to the community.
Under the contract, the museum must continue to provide a balanced budget, diversify its sources of revenue, increase its volunteer base, membership and general attendance by 20%, and establish new partnerships. It must also adopt a five-year strategic plan that identifies new exposures and outlines rebranding efforts.
Last year, he ended the year with a slight surplus of $29,000, Blazier said. The 2022 budget shows projected revenues of $110,000, including a one-time donation of $15,000 and expenses of $88,000, records show. Donations in the first half of 2022 already exceed last year, she said.
Four thousand people participated in special events and programs last year. It had the highest rate of renewals and new members, which was a vote of confidence, Blazier said. New board members have brought renewed energy to the museum, she said.
It held 55 programs in 2021, an increase from 2020. In 2019, there were 140 programs, Blazier said.
The Elgin Public Museum hosted events such as star gazing, a celebration of the winter solstice with song and campfire, musical performances by the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra and an exhibition of Lords Park through the lens of local photographers, Blazier said. She hopes to have more programs this year celebrating the city’s diversity.
Blazier, who served as educational programs coordinator and then became director in November, wrote grants this year to fund renovations to the La Salle Expedition and endangered species exhibit. A private donation funds improvements to the children’s discovery room.
The history of the museum is also on display, with timelines and treasured items like Tilly, a bear that once lived in Lords Park Zoo.
Construction of the museum began in 1906 and was completed in 1920 to house the Lord Collection, according to city records. It was called the Elgin Audubon Museum. It is the oldest building in Illinois used for its original purpose, city officials said.
When the Audubon Society disbanded in 1961, the city took over operations until 1975, when a nonprofit agency formed to manage the museum, according to city documents. It later became the Elgin Public Museum.
“There is a growing appreciation of what an architectural, anthropological and all-around gem is. It is an asset to the town of Elgin,” Blazier said.
A tour of the Elgin Public Museum will be offered to residents on Saturday, May 14. Visit the museum’s website, Elgin Public Museumfor more details.
Gloria Casas is a freelance journalist for The Courier-News.