BERRIEN SPRINGS — New programming giving visitors meaningful and exciting experiences is on the way to the History Center at Courthouse Square in Berrien Springs.
“We are making a significant number of changes there, all for the better,” said Executive Director Rhiannon Cizon, who took over in August, during a the Berrien County Board of Commissioners meeting Thursday.
One thing that needs to be streamlined is the identity of the museum, which is operated by the Berrien County Historical Association (BCHA). She said the museum is called many things, including the History Center at Courthouse Square, the 1839 Courthouse and the Historical Courthouse County Park.
“One of the issues is we don’t know who we are,” she said. “By creating these more cohesive looks, we can start engaging and let people know who we are so they don’t see everything under the sun except BCHA.”
She said the logo – the History Center at Courthouse Square – doesn’t identify what the museum is about.
“In fact, when I applied for the job, I didn’t realize it was the Berrien County Historical Association,” she said. “I thought it was the Berrien Springs Historical Association.”
Another problem is that the museum is made up of several buildings, not just the 1839 Courthouse. Those other buildings include the 1830 Murdock Log House and Bennett’s Forge, the 1860/1873 Records Building and the 1870 Sheriff’s Residence and Jail.
She said she is still working with the association’s board of directors to finalize the new logo and identity.
Another goal is to get visitors involved.
“The idea is to create an experience that people are excited about,” she said. “When people are excited about things and there’s things to do, people keep coming back.”
She said the museum is partnering with Andrews University in Berrien Springs to present music the on the fourth Sunday of each month during Meriendas at the Courthouse.
She said bringing in interesting experiences leads to another one of her goals – to increase the number of volunteers. When people are excited about the experiences they had at the museum, she said they are more likely to volunteer.
“We want to create a community of volunteers,” she said. “We want people to enjoy coming out. If we have nothing to do, we have nothing to volunteer for.”
She said people who would like to volunteer can contact Tara Velez, the new services coordinator, by calling 471-1202, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
After the meeting, she said they want to pair volunteers with something they enjoy doing.
For example, she said the Pioneer Garden needs to be gutted and expanded – a perfect job for volunteers who have green thumbs. Other volunteers may prefer folding calendars so they can be mailed out.
She told the commissioners that she is bringing back old events and planning new ones.
“An old-fashioned Fourth of July ice cream social in conjunction with the village of Berrien Springs is coming back,” she said.
She said she created vendor and sponsorship forms for this event.
“In the past, nobody was doing anything like this,” she said.
One of the new events she is planning will be on Sept. 17.
“We’re going to do a big old party on the front lawn and utilize our grounds,” she said.
She said the museum is also available for private events.
“We want to have rentals, weddings, receptions, fundraisers, parties, come on down, rent my building,” she said.
In addition, she said they are now holding TNC Talk (Thursday Night at the Courthouse) on the second Thursday of each month throughout the year.
“Those were originally only in the summer,” she said.
Cizon said she is also working with the board of directors on a strategic plan. She said previous strategic plans said things like the association will write a book every year.
“That is not a strategic plan, guys,” she said. “That’s a to-do list.”
She said she is also applying for grants to fix up various areas of the museum.
Most importantly, she said she wanted the commissioners to know that the money they contribute to the museum is well spent.
“If you’re giving $91,978, ... then I’m going to make sure all $91,978 looks like it is being properly invested,” she said. “If you’re going to invest in me, then I’m going to show you that investment is working.”