NEH gifts $500k for GRPM archives research center

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An NEA grant will help the Grand Rapids Public Museum realize its vision for a 21st century archive. GRPM courtesy art.

The Grand Rapids Public Museum has been awarded a $500,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, as announced by Representative Hillary Scholten (D–MI3). Established in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the NEH supports research and learning in various humanities disciplines through peer-reviewed proposals nationwide.

The 170-year-old institution is publicly owned and houses more than 250,000 unique artifacts, narrating the history of Kent County and beyond.

“The Grand Rapids Public Museum plays an absolutely essential role in telling the stories of West Michigan’s history, people, and communities,” said Scholten. “This grant will help the Museum continue its work and expand its ability to educate West Michiganders of all ages.”

This significant grant is part of the NEH’s commitment to fund 260 humanities projects across the country. Noteworthy is the nature of this grant, which requires the GRPM to raise an additional $1,500,000 to fully leverage the grant and complete the designated projects, underscoring the importance of community support in realizing these ambitious goals.

“The Grand Rapids Public Museum is thrilled to receive this Infrastructure Challenge Grant from the NEH for our Community Access to Collections project,” said Alex Forist, GRPM’s Chief Curator. “The two-story space, adjacent to both the Grand Rapids Public Museum High School and the Community Archives and Research Center, will feature an artifact lab, classroom, and meeting spaces where visitors of all ages can engage in research and hands-on learning with artifacts and specimens from the GRPM collections,” Forist said.

The funding will play a pivotal role in the renovation of the Community Archives and Research Center, a project with two key components:

Community Space Development: This involves constructing a two-story community space to enhance accessibility for K-12 schools, postsecondary students, teachers, and researchers. The space will feature a large open lobby, a state-of-the-art artifact lab, an event-supporting kitchen, and classrooms capable of accommodating multiple groups simultaneously. A smaller conference room will also be available for more intimate meetings and discussions.

Collections Area Improvement: This component includes the addition of a new Processing Room, Science Lab, and reconfigured storage areas. The Processing Room will handle functions such as artifact cleaning, repair, photography, 3D scanning, and research. The Science Lab will provide a versatile space for processing new science collection specimens. The reconfiguration of storage space will involve new units and art racks, enhancing visibility for tours and researchers while ensuring artifact protection.

This grant marks a significant step toward realizing GRPM’s vision of a 21st-century archive, balancing collection preservation with increased access for learning, tours, professional development, and community programming. The Community Access to Collections project is an integral part of GRPM’s ongoing campaign to raise $50 million for an expansion that will double the number of students the Museum can serve, transforming it into a dynamic regional educational center.

The renovation aims to revolutionize access to the Museum’s archives, shifting from an appointment-only model to a more inclusive walk-in approach, thereby enhancing access and increasing capacity for educational activities.

Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, the museum is located at 272 Pearl St., NW. For additional information, including hours of operation, admission fees, Kent County discounts, and exhibit/event listings, visit grpm.org. Explore more about the Grand Rapids Public Museum and its NEH-funded projects at www.grpm.org/expansion.

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