BIG RAPIDS, MI – The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University is undergoing a huge expansion to make room for the museum’s ever-growing collection, which serves to showcase how racist ideas and anti-Black images dominated American culture for decades.
The estimated $18.5 million expansion will be led by Washington D.C.-based design firm Howard+Revis and is expected to be completed in 2024, university officials announced this week.
University officials plan to build a new, 31,130-square-foot exhibition space to house the museum, which is currently located in the Ferris Library for Information, Technology and Education (FLITE) on the Big Rapids campus. The stand-alone building will be called the Jim Crow Museum, Archive and Research Center.
The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia has amassed the nation’s largest public collection of artifacts spanning the segregation era, from Reconstruction through the civil rights movement. But the museum, home to 14,000 mostly racist artifacts, has outgrown the FLITE space since it opened in 2012, officials say.
The new, larger space will be valuable in addressing limitations with the current facility, including a lack of visibility and tight configuration, and providing space for more robust programming, said Tracy Revis, a principal and senior designer at Howard+Revis Design.
“The museum has so much material, and yet it’s so condensed,” Revis said in a prepared statement. “I think we can help tease out the stories there, give it a little more breathing space and allow the stories to unfold more.”
Ferris State’s racist memorabilia collection, which serves to spark dialogue about racism and intolerance, first started in 1996 with a 3,000-piece collection donated to the university by David Pilgrim, who is now the museum’s curator and university’s vice president for diversity, inclusion and strategic initiatives.
As the collection grew over the years, the university officially opened the expanded $1.3 million Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia in 2012 to showcase the collection.
“I want this small school in Big Rapids to be a national leader in the discussion of race and social justice,” Pilgrim said prior to the museum’s launch in 2012. “I don’t think the average American understands the role that Jim Crow played in shaping today’s race relations. America had a racial caste system that was not dismantled until the 1960s and 70s.”
The Jim Crow Museum is now a national and international resource that draws visitors from around the world to Big Rapids, according to the university.
Cyndi Tiedt, the museum’s collections manager, said partnering with Howard+Revis to design the new, bigger exhibition space is a critical step in the museum’s future.
“This collaboration represents the creative synergy and passion of both teams, and we are delighted to work with a design firm that appreciates and amplifies the museum’s mission,” Tiedt said.
Designers of the new space want to focus on showcasing the museum’s artifacts in a way that maximizes educational value, said Elizabeth Eubanks, director of exhibit development at Howard+Revis. Eubanks said the museum’s biggest strength is the powerful, real-life examples of racism in the collection.
“Understanding the subject material is one thing, but the strength, depth and breadth of this collection is not something a lot of museums have,” Eubanks said. “So, we understand that’s really great ground to work with. We feel we can contribute to bringing context to the objects, bringing the historical narrative forward, bringing actual individuals into the story.”
Museum design firm Neumann/Smith Architecture will develop the conceptual plans for the future Jim Crow Museum, Archive and Research Center, according to the university.
The firm’s plans include climate-controlled storage and archives, expanded exhibition space, research and reading rooms and new staff offices.
Ferris State plans to raise all the funds for the project from philanthropic, corporate and governmental sources through a comprehensive fundraising campaign, according to a university spokesperson.
The university is expected to select a construction management firm later this year and break ground in 2023.
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