The Historical Society of Washington didn’t have an annual meeting last year. Last year, the organization’s finances were in shambles, after a series of bungles and snafus around the use of its home, the Carnegie Library in Mt. Vernon Square. Staff were furloughed in May, and the library had to shut its doors to researchers entirely. The building hosted the Choosing to Participate exhibit over the summer, but just barely—-the Historical Society had to raise $350,000 on short notice to cover the electric bill.
In recent months, though, things have started looking up for the near-death Society. In November, it reached an agreement with Events D.C. to cede 80 percent of the building for the remaining 88 years on the lease, while doing its own fundraising to cover bills and expenses. The next month, in a tremendous vote of confidence, the Kiplinger family donated its collection of Washingtoniana, which will give the Society some credibility after being passed over by another prominent collector.
So when the organization held its annual meeting last night, the gathering had an atmosphere of a city emerging from a seige. Chairman Julie Koczela ran through the steps being taken to rebuild: They’ve secured a million dollar loan to cover liens and debts, and raised $270,000 from foundations to support the Society’s $550,000 annual budget. They’ve got 500 members, and want to grow to 1,000 (join here). They’ve filled a few more spots on the board—-among them Claude Bailey, the Venable super-lawyer who reps Walmart and helped negotiate the new lease arrangement—-and are working through the 450 research requests that poured in while the internet was shut off. The library will open for Emancipation Day on April 16th, and back up to full capacity later in the summer.
And perhaps most importantly for the organization’s self-esteem, it’s putting in order the 4,000 prints, sculptures, and photos donated by Austin and Knight Kiplinger, who spoke reassuringly to the members last night about a future secured in large part by a gift of the past.