Over the past six years, I’ve dedicated a substantial amount of time in an effort to elevate Chattanooga’s historical footprint. At this point, a rise in funding and support for Picnooga needs to occur within its seventh year, or it could be it’s last. I’ve been successful with crowdfunding efforts for six years of operation, raising tens of thousands of dollars, in order to build a new collection of Chattanooga history. Although the collection of 4,000+ pieces is modest by terms of institutional collections, it is still impressive considering our meager budget and lack of full-time resources. However, as with any other archive, each item has been curated with focus. In turn we’ve fortuitously uncovered some very significant finds.
The majority of collected items have been shared online for everyone to learn more about. The core of the project has been to shine light on historical items hidden deep within public collections, save important items being traded publicly and make them accessible with minimal barriers. Through the dynamics of the Internet and social media, we are allowed to do just that.
Our social media following can be compared to that of the Atlanta History Center, which works in our favor, because it brings another tens of thousands of dollars of built value to the project. Our social presence is well engaged, and could be much stronger with more resources. The success of Picnooga is testament that the public wants to be engaged by local history on the scale of a much larger city, like Atlanta.
To move forward, we need to reorganize. This includes finding a safe, central archive, where all of the collection can reside. Currently, it’s scattered in three locations. We also need to better catalog the collection, and keep that inventory up-to-date. These are two projects I expect to execute this year. Furthermore, Picnooga needs to go full-time and expand its mission. Expansion would mean full-on responsibilities of a historical society, with a focus on digital access. We’d continue to build collections, pluck from the private layer and encourage more material donations.
The donations from crowdfunding efforts are diminishing, while operating costs are steadily increasing.
Six years ago, when the collection could fit in a shoebox, crowdfunding was an ideal method to give the project some gas. Then, if I had a specific mission to fund that I could clearly establish a need for, people would quickly respond to the call with enthusiasm. Today, every cause is funded online and the method is crowded, so there’s a cap on what can be realized moving forward. Even so, I am eternally grateful for the massive support that has gotten Picnooga this far. Without it, we would not have had the resources to aggressively collect our important accumulation of photographs, ephemera, and small historical artifacts.
Ultimately, we need sponsorship on a much larger scale to move forward. Through sponsorship, the acquirable opportunities, currently waiting, could be fully realized. But the dead and rotting elephant in the room is the $10 million loss of the Chattanooga History Center. This has substantially soured private funding for historical projects. But, for a fraction of the money raised for a history museum, the foundation of Picnooga could be used and built upon, to realize an actual location that represents local history. The functions of a history center could be actualized without the costly museum component. With a fresh and measured start, we could quickly become sustainable through the help of a secret sauce, which I will keep under wraps for now. I won’t debate the why’s of the History Center disaster, but it wasn’t due to the lack of passion or interest from the public. It’s unrealized ideal made its demise much more tragic to donors, and the general public. Of course no one can bring back the History Center, but utilizing a digital asset strategy, and the lower cost of exhibition over Internet access, could put Chattanooga’s history back on track.
Chattanooga, Tennessee is the largest mid-sized city in the United States without a local history museum, and I think Chattanooga could possibly live without one. However, without an active, full-time organization that focuses on a much needed, refreshed historical narrative, could cause long-term irremediable damage. With a few exceptions, the post-Civil War view of Chattanooga is still being pulled from collections nearly 100 years old, but has yet to be properly interpreted. Although there is valuable historical research, it is scattered, not cataloged and inaccessible, due to certain barriers. Additionally, elevated stories of diversity are very few, and the oral history of Chattanooga’s industrial past is lost every day, when there is no urgency in capturing it.
With that said, I hope that this appeal for sizable sponsorship will bring a favorable result to grow what me, many allies and the public believe will advance the Chattanooga community. Without it, I fear the foundation that we’ve built thus far will not be enough to continue the mission. I’m calling out to individuals, corporations and local foundations to step-up and move forward with an eager plan, which will motivate a greater impact.