Interpretive Plan for the Museum of Durham History

The Museum of Durham History is a small museum located centrally downtown in the city of Durham. Durham is part of the Piedmont Triad region of North Carolina, which also includes the hugely metropolitan cities of Raleigh, Greensboro, and Chapel Hill. As of 2014, Durham had a population of 251,893 people. Also as of 2014, the Triangle (composed of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill) had a combined population of 2,037,430 people. According to the 2010 census, the racial composition of the city of Durham was 42% white, 41% African America, 14% Hispanic, and 5% Asian. The age demographics for the city of Durham are spread approximately at 28% being under 18 years of age, 14% being 18 to 24 years of age, 34% being from 25 to 44 years of age, 22% being from 45 to 64 years of age, and 9% being older than 65. Of the total population, approximately 19% of the population of Durham lives below the poverty line. The largest employers in Durham are Duke University and Healthcare System, followed by IBM. Durham has the eighth-largest school district in North Carolina and is home to Duke University and North Carolina Central University.

The Museum of Durham History, or the Hub, is a small museum that occupies a former bus station in downtown Durham. The museum began taking shape in 2004 when Durham’s Cultural Master Plan identified a community history museum as one of its highest priorities. The plan noted “an array of programs in various historic sites and a number of walking tours. What is missing is a centrally located facility that can knit all these elements together into a coherent story of Durham’s past and its relevance to the present.” The non-profit museum opened its doors in October 2013. According to the museum’s website, the Museum of Durham History “is a 21st-century museum that uses stories about people, places and things to foster curiosity, encourage further inquiry, and promote an understanding of diverse perspectives about the Durham community and its history. The Museum is putting its mission into action through a personal approach to history that sets this Museum apart: an innovative, community model that engages with history through stories—the personal memories, experiences and family lore of our shared heritage.” The museum also has institutional values including relevance, inclusion, inquiry, innovation and trustworthiness.

The Museum of Durham History has some internal and external needs that should be addressed in the near future. Internally, it should work on procuring a larger space for the physical museum. Due to size constraints, the museum cannot currently collect, preserve, or exhibit artifacts and objects. The museum exhibit and office space are roughly 1200 square feet, which create problems and challenges for the young museum. As visitorship increases, a larger space will be vital to the survival and success of the museum. The museum should also consider relying heavier on local community partners, such as Preservation Durham, to reach across and work with Durham historical societies and properties. Because of the museums size limitations, partnerships and “pop-up” events at other spaces present a unique opportunity for more community engagement with larger audiences. Off-site programming would be a fantastic way to continue and encourage the idea of a “museum without walls” while still being inclusive and approachable to museum visitors. Externally, the museum should begin brainstorming for possible state budget cuts that could decrease school field trip funding. If students cannot come to the museum by way of field trips because of budget restrictions, the Hub should consider traveling pop-up exhibits and experiences to take to local schools. This would help local schools, especially lower-income, to still be able to experience and remotely “visit” the museum. The museum already uses local spaces such as schools and community centers to house past exhibits, so this would be a plausible and affordable project. A project such as this would also serve as advertisement to pull larger audiences into the physical space of the museum.

The Museum of Durham History is an innovative institution that works hard to introduce cultural institutions to communities that may not normally visit. Their community outreach and inclusivity has been successful so far in the Durham community. Interpretative changes as listed above would ensure the continued success and growth of the Hub.

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