The Carnegie Museum of Kings County has been organized to re-open Hanford’s history museum. The museum, formally run by the nonprofit Hanford Carnegie Museum Inc. (HCM), closed permanently on September 28.
Jack Schwartz, board president, read a statement before the Hanford City Council’s October 6 closed session that had agendized a discussion about the museum’s future.
“I am here tonight to let the residents of Hanford and Kings County know that we have incorporated a new non-profit corporation: the Carnegie Museum of Kings County. This new nonprofit is not affiliated with the current group that operated the museum,” said Schwartz.
Earlier this summer, the new corporation sent HCM a proposal concerning the historical artifacts in its possession. Schwartz said in his statement, “Long-time civic-minded residents learned of the current financial difficulties at the Hanford Carnegie Museum. We met and agreed to try preserve the museum which is so important to our community.”
Schwartz said that HCM acknowledged receiving the letter but has not responded.
Cultural and historic venues throughout the country are experiencing financial challenges and are closing their doors, a fate that also befell the Hanford Museum. Because of the economic shutdown due to coronavirus, HCM was not able to hold public events or fundraisers that are the backbone of raising the money needed to pay its bills.
According to a press release put out last week by HCM Board President Silvia Gonzalez Scherer, the city of Hanford evicted the group from the city-owned building because it couldn’t pay the annual $8000 insurance bill. She said that the board asked the city for financial help but it declined.
HCM’s lease with the city was through 2031, but keeping the building properly maintained and paying for insurance were conditions of the lease.
The history museum was housed in the former Carnegie Library built in 1905. The building has served as Hanford’s history museum since 1975.
The City of Hanford and HCM have had a contentious relationship.
The city tried unsuccessfully to evict HCM since last year. A letter from the Hanford City Council informed Gonzales Scherer in August of 2019 that unless a list of 18 repairs were completed within 10 days the city would terminate its lease with the museum.
The threat of eviction from the city required the museum to acquire the services of the Dias Law Firm. After the city’s final inspection on September 3 its lawyer said, “At this point we need to start asking not what the city wants but why. Why has the city been leaning on the museum recently?”
HCM rallied its volunteers and completed the list of repairs in the required time except for some concerning external cracks that needed the assessment of engineers.
During public comment before the city’s October 6 closed session, former city council member David Ayers said that there is much community support for the new group to succeed in preserving the building and re-opening the history museum.
Evan Gilsi, the board’s vice chair, is a middle school history teacher and said he was anxious for the museum to open so he could incorporate Hanford’s history into his lesson plans.
Both men, along with Michael Semas and Schwartz, comprise the board of directors.
Diane Sharp, who is running uncontested for Hanford City Council District C, gave a show-and-tell during public comment. She displayed several historic books and some 1950’s high school memorabilia she intended to donate to the new group.
Her message, heard loud and clear by the attendees, was that the new group plans on opening the history museum with or without the artifacts held by HCM.
All of the historic artifacts that were displayed or stored in the Carnegie building are the property of HCM, a nonprofit charged with the duty to preserve them for the benefit of the residents of California. This means that the artifacts cannot be sold, and it also means that HCM is not obligated to hand them over to the new group.
According to Gonzales Scherer, the collection was “packed up and taken to a secure and large location to be stored.” She ended last week’s press release by saying, “The Hanford Carnegie Museum board desires to rise again when a new location is found. Donations of funds are tax-deductible and the board welcomes well-wisher comments.”
Schwartz understands that the Carnegie Museum of Kings County has to work cooperatively with two entities, the city and HCM. In the proposal sent earlier this summer to HCM, the board of the Carnegie Museum of Hanford and Kings County wrote that they hoped “the memorabilia donated by so many members of our community can continue to form a basis of the museum going forward. We hope to work with them because the historic building and the community’s artifacts together are greater than the sum of the parts. In the meantime, we will be moving forward to bring the history of Kings County to life.”
Schwartz says the first step, though, is to work with the city to assess the building. The new group wants to use the city’s engineers to determine what maintenance the building needs so that everyone is on the same page.
Gonzales Scherer would not return phone calls or texts concerning the Carnegie Museum of Kings County’s proposal. A person who has worked closely with the HCM board said that she had been instructed to not say anything to anybody.
She did want to say, though, that, “our nonprofit is not closed it is active and working.”