Tom Garcia: Legacy grant could help History Center tell vital stories

Tom Garcia

As the former Curator of Collections and Exhibits at the History Center of Olmsted County from 2009-2011, I'd like to respond to the recent Post-Bulletin article about the HCOC possibly refusing a Legacy grant. That grant would support to a future exhibit about native peoples, the Dakota and Ho-Chunk, but disagreements related to that grant have led to the firing of an HCOC staff member.

In the article, the president-elect of the board of directors, Jim Suk, referred to the mission of the HCOC as limited and not encompassing the scope of the exhibit idea associated with the Legacy grant.

Please do not believe the History Center's Mission is limited — it has unlimited potential, to support the telling the stories of a fascinating place, and people, through time. Like IBM, Mayo and the Sisters of Assisi Heights, the story of local native peoples is rich and very broad and continues today. We share all of this history together, and it has local, regional, national and international significance.

Commonly referred to as a Legacy grant, this one was applied for in October 2013, resubmitted in January of this year and recently funded — meaning it was successful and now only needs to be signed off by the museum to be fully approved. If this grant is accepted by the History Center, it will pay for research that will present storylines for a future exhibit about the native peoples of our area. At this time, however, the board of directors has indicated that they will not sign off on the grant.

An area of concern stated by Suk is that this grant was not written by the HCOC. While factually correct, the museum professionals at the consulting firm Museology had input from HCOC staff and community partners for several years and followed their lead when the application process moved forward. Museology performed this work pro bono.


Suk also talks about the "income" generated by the grant not being received by the museum, while at the same time acknowledging the museum "would get the fruits of that labor." The bottom line for any Legacy grant is that the institution benefits and the community benefits.

What seems to be another overriding concern of the board — Suk in particular, along with Executive Director Lisa Baldus — is the potential scope of the exhibit, not only in size but also final content. This is jumping way ahead. The grant is not the exhibit. The decisions that are to be made about how big an exhibit is, what storylines are eventually used, where it will be located and when it will be open will all come later, after the work of the grant has been finished.

Furthermore, these decisions will change. That's part of the creative process, which is never any one person's vision.

These conditions give this board a great opportunity to get involved now, to learn more about how history is produced, to participate in the shaping of an important story, and most important, to get to know their native community partners who have been working on this project with HCOC staff for more than five years.

It is my opinion that the new director and a sizable portion of the board of directors have confused the grant with the exhibit by not having a true understanding of the exhibit process. I believe the financial concerns of the museum in relation to this grant have more to do with paying staff salaries than receiving actual income from the grant.

And finally, I believe the decision to fire Cara Clarey was an overreaction to circumstances that seem to point to a breakdown of communication from the top down, rather than the opposite.

Tom Garcia has a degree in anthropology with a concentration in Museum Studies and has worked at several museums in Minnesota. He also is a former Green Beret and an enrolled member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

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