By Srianthi Perera
The Gilbert Historical Museum is a link to the town’s past.
But in the future, the museum will be known as HD South.
The museum, which is run by the Gilbert Historical Society, has been transforming itself during the past few years from a mere repository of the town’s historic treasures to a vibrant arts, culture and history hub under a “communities for all ages” model.
To better reflect its new mission, it came up with the name. HD South also hints to its location, at the southern gateway to the Heritage District.
“We are very excited about the re-branding of our organization. Not only does it give us a new direction and focus, but the development of our programming and the overall elevation of arts and culture in the community will benefit residents and tourists alike,” said Kayla Kolar, the center’s executive director. “As the southern gateway to the Heritage District, our plan now and in the future is to bring more activity to that end of the district.”
The re-branding was formerly announced during a recent friends-and-family unveiling in the courtyard of the complex.
The director also announced plans to construct a new building, remodel the courtyard, which displays historic agricultural implements, and renovate the buildings that date to 1913 and are on the National Register of Historic Places, a sole recognition for Gilbert.
Guests toured three revamped exhibition rooms – the Farming Room, Town Room and the School and Community Room – which tell the history story anew.
Gilbert Mayor Jenn Daniels called HD South an anchor for the Heritage District.
“It’s the job and role of local government to contribute to preserve our town history. We have an important thing that we need to be learning as we preserve our history and share it with our community members,” she said. “We want to expand our opportunity, not repeat our mistakes of the past, but acknowledge them, welcome them and move forward.
“That anchor will continue to guide us as we look to the future of our community,” she added.
Kathy Tilque, president of Gilbert Chamber of Commerce, said historic preservation is economic development.
“Our Heritage District is a perfect example of that: a model of creating a place, a sense of being, to understand our history, celebrate that with all of the members of our community is key,” she said. “We look toward the historic society to lead us in that effort and just know that I’m right there beside you as we charge forward.”
The Gilbert Historical Society, which runs the museum, opened in 1982 as a private nonprofit. It was volunteer-run until 2005, when it hired Kolar as its first executive director.
When Arizona’s economy took a nosedive in 2008, the museum struggled to be financially sustainable and relevant in the face of changing technology.
The society took into consideration the demographics of Gilbert, with 37 percent of residents under 19 years of age and almost 25 percent over 50, Kolar said.
Hence, it adopted a new, inter-generational programming model called “communities for all ages,” founded at Temple University in Philadelphia.
While the town’s demographics were complementary to the model, the society noted that the nearly 250,000-strong population is lacking in arts and culture.
Hence, it expanded the mission to include not just history, but all arts and culture, Kolar said.
Last July, the center hired a part-time program coordinator, Thom Hulen, who implemented a new line of interactive programs including history cafes, science cafes, art workshops, storytelling, gardening and blue grass jam sessions. Almost all were designed to be intergenerational.
The museum also remodeled a room into an art gallery. Alan Fitzgerald, owner of Art Intersection, a gallery located in the Heritage Building, moved his “Gallery 4” to the space and curates most of the shows there. The Gilbert Visual Art League holds twice-yearly shows in the gallery as well.
The center hosted 59 new program events during the last 11 months and welcomed more than a thousand new visitors, said Katie Stringham, chair of Gilbert Historical Society.
Following on the heels of new programming and the arts venue in addition to the center’s traditional history-keeping role, it has introduced a new membership program with entrance discounts and other benefits, Stringham also said. Membership to HD South is available at many levels, from the $40 individual to $1,000 corporate.