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History museum takes new online approach at buying artifact

dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

The Charlotte Museum of History is being credited with finding a new, lower-cost way to expand its exhibits collection: an online fundraising campaign similar to GoFundMe.com.

In this case, it’s an arts fundraising site known as power2give.org, which is typically used to raise money for such things as mural projects, music classes for low-income kids and scholarships.

The museum is seeking $8,480 to buy a 12-by-10-by-4.5-foot hydrological map of the watershed systems that were key to the growth of Mecklenburg County. That’s roughly 3,000 miles worth of creeks.

New Jersey artist Lauren Rosenthal originally created the elaborate artwork for inclusion in the exhibition “Keeping Watch on Water,” a 2015 project of UNC Charlotte Urban Institute and UNC Charlotte College of Arts + Architecture.

Charlotte Museum of History Executive Director Kay Peninger says the piece will be an incredible learning tool for the 5,000-plus students who visit the museum and adjacent Hezekiah Alexander Homesite site each year.

“These creeks affected the layout of the city. It shaped the way people settled in the county in the 18th century, whether they needed water for farming, livestock or a mill,” Peninger said, noting they also played a role in the Revolutionary War.

“The patriot militia used the creeks as a defensive asset when they were retreating before the British Army entered Charlotte. The creeks provided cover for them, where they could turn and fire.”

It was Peninger’s idea to ask the ASC to allow for a different use of power2give.org, which was launched locally in 2011. In that time, it has raised more than $1.5 million for 482 projects.

Peninger has been aggressively seeking new sources of funding since taking over the museum in 2013 amid a financial crisis. The museum had been in financial tailspin for years, suffering staff layoffs and closing to the public for a time. It had also announced a plan to vacate its 32,000-square-foot headquarters because of a lack of funding.

Under Peninger’s leadership, the budget is balanced, its debts are paid off and educational programs are expanding. And the museum is staying in its building.

H. Perry Mixter, vice president of development for ASC, acknowledged that buying art through power2give is new for Charlotte. But he says the site is open to any project related to the arts, so this works.

Artist Lauren Rosenthal says the piece is part of a series of watershed systems she has created using geographic mapping software. She calls herself an environmental artist.

“There really is nowhere else that it would have the same meaning as it would have in Charlotte, so I hope it stays there,” she says.

How to help

To help the Charlotte Museum of History purchase an exhibit of Mecklenburg County’s 3,000 miles of creeks, visit: https://www2.power2give.org/campaigns/38

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