At a time when most history museums are cut out of the state budget, two donors gave the Fire Museum of Maryland a combined donation of $185,000. The donations will help replenish its endowment and help the museum to conserve the third largest collection of fire apparatus and artifacts in the world. They will also provide matching funds for new grant opportunities. Both donors requested amenity with their donations of $25,000 and $160,000.
While the $160,000 was part of a planned giving program earmarked for the endowment, the $25,000 went directly to more immediate needs. It will be used to retain museum staff, maintain museum operations and defray rising utility costs. It will also be used to match other contributions and grants that will go into making the building a more energy efficient.
Over the winter, FMM plans to upgrade the insulation and brick up three of its four bay doors in the Children’s Discovery Room in an effort to conserve energy. In order to make the Museum, built in 1971, more environmentally friendly, fundraising efforts are underway to replace the Museum roof and eventually add a new Visitor Center at the entrance to the Museum. The Center will further insulate the Museum when it is open to the public.
The donations came just as historic sites and museums are facing additional cuts to the Maryland Historical Trust around Thanksgiving. The MHT budget, which provides state grants for preserving and interpreting Maryland artifacts and history, had already been cut from over $1.25 million in FY2008 to just under $224,000 for FY2010. In addition, history museums did not receive any of the earmarked federal stimulus funding or staff retention funding. For the last three years, there are members of Congress who have been calling for historic sites and museums to be cut from the federal budget.
“Individual gifts to museums are more critical today than ever,” said FMM Director Steve Heaver. “The fire museum is gratified to have received this support and plans to build upon these two gifts in order to continue its long-range goals.”
The $160,000 donation was willed to the Museum as part of its Planned Giving Program where donors leave either property or investments to the Fire Museum. The planned giving program gives donors different types of opportunities and levels of involvement for providing funding to the FMM in the future. The Museum is seeking similarly minded donors to provide matching funds for state and private grants already in the works for 2010 and beyond. With the $160,000 boast to the endowment, FMM can continue to use the interest to help with operating expenses and to continue to provide school tours to more than 3,500 students each year.
The collection and exhibits are housed in three exhibit spaces, totaling 23,000 square feet. As the third largest collection in world, it has 40 hand-drawn, horse-drawn and motorized antique fire engines dating back to the early 1800s. At the rear of the Museum is a working Telegraphic Alarm System Office, which was operated in Baltimore’s City Hall until 1923. Demonstrations are available during public hours. The newest exhibit is an ongoing reconstruction of the 1871 Engine Co. 8 Fire House, located on W. Mulberry Street in Baltimore until it was razed in 2005. The original cast iron façade is one of the few remaining in the country.
On the horizon, FMM will be receiving some of the steel structures from the World Trade Center that fell on Sept. 11. The steel will form a permanent tribute to the fallen heroes of that day.