Museum staff to be reassigned
By Frank Ruggiero
The staff of the displaced Appalachian Cultural Museum will be reassigned to other university positions, Appalachian State University officials revealed this week.
The museum’s remaining office in I.G. Greer Hall is set to close Friday, Sept. 1, when curator Chuck Watkins and his two staff members will be transferred elsewhere within the university.
“We will, of course, be retaining the ability to bring them back to work with the museum,” said Robert Lyman, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
“Since things are sort of dormant at the moment, we’re letting them work on other assignments until a more active stage develops in the museum’s reemergence.”
The museum was closed in April for renovation to University Hall to accommodate Appalachian State University’s new Institute for Health and Human Services, and the artifacts are being stored in the old Belk Library and the university warehouse.
The museum’s reemergence, though, could very well be in sight.
“On August 1, we submitted a $200,000 planning grant to the Golden LEAF Foundation to fund master planning of the Horn in the West site and some architectural studies for a new museum,” said Watkins, who will serve as acting director of the university’s public history program, a graduate program that trains students to work in non-academic history roles, such as museums, archives and government.
“We won’t hear on [Golden LEAF] until November, but we are planning on submitting another grant to look at exhibit development with the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, and that grant proposal is due in October, so we’re going to keep working on those things.”
Since the museum closed, the Boone Town Council has discussed the notion of using portions of the Horn in the West grounds, which it leases to the Southern Appalachian Historical Association, for a new Appalachian Cultural Museum.
With permission from the town council, friends of the museum conducted a feasibility study, and now are proceeding with grant applications to design a master plan, which would incorporate the museum, Horn in the West and other cultural community programs.
“We would absolutely love to see the museum in a new home,” said Lorin Baumhover, ASU chief of staff. “We’re pleased to work with the town of Boone and the mayor in that effort, and we fully support this kind of public/private partnership.”
Baumhover said the university is still searching for alternative sites in the community, “but certainly the Horn in the West would seem a very desirable location.” Were the grant approved by Golden LEAF, Baumhover said that option would be all the more likely.
“If we were able to get that grant, it would be wonderful for us,” Watkins said, “because we’d have a plan for that area and all the participants over there would have a good developmental plan for themselves.”
Though its exhibits are in storage, the museum still continues to offer numerous educational programs, but their future is in limbo.
“Our tour programs through (volunteer) Bettie Bond, the ones we have scheduled through the end of December, will continue,” Watkins said. “After that, we’re not clear on how to proceed since there will be no administrative staff to support those programs.”
Lyman said it is his college’s hope that the educational programming independent of the museum will be continued. “The trips have also been independent of the actual existence of the museum, so we’re hoping that that also would continue,” he said.
In the meantime, discussions will continue, and another meeting on the Appalachian Cultural Museum is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 6, at 4 p.m. at the Watauga County Public Library.