A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to travel to Washington, DC with museum colleagues from across the country. We descended on Capitol Hill to inform our senators and congressional representatives of the importance of the museum industry to tourism, economic development, education and general community vitality. It was a brisk two days in our Nation’s Capital, but as I spoke with our elected officials I carried with me a secret weapon.
It’s no surprise that individual philanthropy helps maintain our local arts and culture community, but my secret weapon was the recently released Chronicle of Philanthropy study entitled, How America Gives 2014.
Here’s the secret. The state of Tennessee is the 4th most generous state in the union. But, drumroll please, Memphis is the second most generous metropolitan area in the country, with our residents on average contributing 5.1% of their income to charitable causes!
Since relocating to Memphis, I’ve heard quite a few statistics -- 27% poverty rate; child poverty of 45.7%; and in a city that is majority minority, 33.5% of African Americans and 47% of Latinos live in poverty. But I hadn’t heard about the generosity of local citizens. What’s important about these numbers is that overall, nationwide individuals earning between $25,000 and $50,000 have increased the percentage they give to charity by nearly 4.5% since 2006!
For those of us that depend heavily on the generosity of our neighbors this is wonderful news. It’s because of you that the National Civil Rights Museum counts itself as one of a select group of museums that is accredited by the Alliance of American Museums. It’s because of you that the National Civil Rights Museum was able to complete a multi-million dollar renovation in 2014. It’s because of you that we have increased our ability to have a 21st century museum that allows visitors to interact through multimedia installed throughout the museum. And for that, we are incredibly grateful.
As we move forward into our next life phase, we hope to connect the assets held within the museum’s walls to more of our neighbors and the relevant issues facing our communities. We plan to increase our role as a partner, collaborator and convener. We want to increase the percentage of local visitors to the museum, but give national visitors a clear reason to visit Memphis and the National Civil Rights Museum. We’d like to help groom the next generation of civil and human rights leaders. And we want all local school districts and school-age children to see the museum as an incredible educational asset. But we don’t want to stop there, we want this rich history to be available to all young people through the use of technology. This is only possible with your continued generous support.
First, I’d ask you to come visit the museum, particularly if you’ve not visited since the grand reopening in April 2014. Second, I’d ask you to consider becoming a member of the museum. Or, if you are currently a member, renew your membership for another year. And, third, I’d ask that you include an annual gift to the museum in your portfolio of personal philanthropy.
Our commitment to you is to continue to provide a superior experience about the journey of Africans to America and the struggles and triumphs they experienced through the civil rights movement of the 20th century. And we will work to bring you quality programming and opportunities to connect the learnings from the civil rights movement to inform our collective work in the community today.
Thank you Memphis for caring and giving!