In February 2009, an article in The State-Journal Register (SJ-R) touted the imminent opening of the National Museum of Surveying in downtown Springfield, Ill. Construction was nearly complete on the 10,000 square foot space, located in the former Roberts Brothers Building at 521 E. Washington, and a high-tech video exhibit purchased by the museum through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (called “Science on a Sphere”) promised to be a significant attraction.
Months passed, however, and most of the museum’s rooms remained empty. Boxes of instruments gathered dust in the basement. In April, the same newspaper reported that the opening of the museum would be delayed due to a decline in funding. According to Bob Church, executive director of the Illinois Professional Land Surveyor’s Association and the treasurer of the museum’s board, the funding problems were largely due to the recession. But was it also a lack of interest?
One person who read the original SJ-R article commented, “I can’t seem to get myself excited about a surveying museum.” That comment speaks volumes about the image surveying has in the eyes of the public. It’s also a good indication of the need for the museum. This museum offers a prime opportunity for surveyors to demonstrate what they do and why it’s so important. While many of the displays will be focused on the nation's history of surveying and mapping, others will provide glimpses of the future for an exciting juxtaposition of the traditional and the high-tech. The goal is to create exhibits that “inspire, amaze and surprise.” However, the museum can’t achieve that goal without the help and support of surveyors.
Earlier this year, IPLSA hired Julia Langfelder as associate executive director. At the same time, the museum was going through a leadership transition and needed someone who could focus on the business aspects, such as fundraising and marketing. Langfelder volunteered.
She’s been making progress. In June, the NCEES Board of Directors agreed to provide $75,000 to construct a 45-seat theater and to develop educational materials for students in grades K–12, and local contributions are allowing the museum to apply for Tourism Attraction Development Grant Program (TAP) funding from the state of Illinois. But more is still needed before the museum can open.
“Funding remains our primary need right now,” said Langfelder. “We have to pay off the contractors and establish funds for general occupancy and administration costs, and we need money to fund exhibits and purchase equipment for education. Even if we can obtain the grant, we’ll still need more support.”
Langfelder noted that in addition to monetary donations, volunteer participation is crucial. “While the museum has a national board of advisors, it could benefit from a business committee to get it on track and help it stay on track,” she said. “I can also see subcommittees being formed to achieve specific goals.”
She is optimistic that professionals and educators alike will support the museum if they can envision its potential impact. “This is an excellent opportunity to educate people about surveying and reach out to the next generation.”
But will surveyors reach out? Does the profession as a whole support this endeavor? Or is it primarily a pet project for a few esteemed history buffs who want to see numerous displays of antique surveying instruments? I can’t help but wonder. Yet, if the surveyors don’t support this museum, who will?
What do you think? Please post your comments below.