Fort Smith residents gathered Thursday (April 25) to discuss ideas of how to raise private funds to help complete the U.S. Marshals Museum in Fort Smith. About 60 people attended a discussion hosted by Believe in Fort Smith and the River Valley Economic Development Council on the topic.
“We’re excited to help the U.S. Marshals Museum team find new ways to finish the job and open the doors to a national treasure right here in Fort Smith,” said Mosie Boyd, town hall co-host.
A group of panelists presented a common theme of getting the community — to include all of the Arkansas River valley, not just Fort Smith — excited and involved in the museum effort again.
“We need to get back some of the enthusiasm from the start. We need to recapture that,” said retired Circuit Court Judge Jim Spears. “Can any of these ideas give us $19 million? No. But they can give us an avenue to get there.”
Panelist Carter Milligan with the University of Arkansas Young Republicans, noted the organization was planning a banquet and a portion of the proceeds raised from it would benefit the museum. He also suggested I Heart Fort Smith shirts reminiscent of the I Heart New York shirts as a way to raise funds. His idea was elaborated on by Rick “Big Dog” Hayes with KISR Radio, who suggested printing Marshal on the backs of some and Outlaw on the backs of others.
“You’ve got to give them what they think is cool,” Hayes said. “I can tell you which shirts would sell fast.”
Other ideas presented included talking to local businesses either for donations or to display donation containers for customers to donate to the museum, concerts and events, and phone banks manned by volunteers that would reach out to large donors on a national stage.
Panelist Sherry Toliver with the Fort Smith Historical Society suggested setting up a Friends of the Marshals Museum program that would allow anyone to donate a small amount monthly to the museum.
“It could be $10 or $20, which isn’t much, but if they agreed to have it automatically deducted from their bank account each month, it would add up. And each year, they could have the option of renewing for another year,” Toliver said.
Audience participant Jon Baker, who is with American Public University System College Republicans, said the organization is committed to partnering with the museum for dinners and runs and other events to raise funds.
“I also want to bring up a pennies campaign. Right now, I challenge everyone in Fort Smith to bring your pennies in for the museum. We can raise some money,” Baker said.
A GoFundMe campaign to raise $2 million was established earlier this week to pay for production of “guest experiences” at the U.S. Marshals Museum and help close the gap on $15.3 million needed to complete the facility. As of Thursday evening, 32 people had donated $3,740 to the fund.
USMM Foundation President Jim Dunn said the campaign was created in response to requests about how to help with fundraising. Redwood City, Calif.-based GoFundMe keeps 2.9% of donations. From 2010 to 2017, the online platform raised more than $5 billion through more than two million campaigns.
“This GoFundMe campaign is great,” said panelist Sam Price. “All those people who said they supported the museum, they just might not have supported a certain avenue to raise the money can give. When they give, they will know they are important. They will know they are involved, and we are asking families to be a part of this. When donors see the community wants this, it’s going to make them even more excited and more willing to give.”
According to museum information, there are five sections of the museum experience: To Be a Marshal, The Campfire: Stories Under the Stars, Frontier Marshals, A Changing Nation, and Modern Marshals. The museum also plans to include a monument from the Five Civilized Tribes of Oklahoma, a National Learning Center, a Hall of Honor, retail space, and a cafe.
In January 2007, the U.S. Marshals Service selected Fort Smith as the site for the national museum. A ceremonial groundbreaking was held in September 2015 on a site near the Arkansas River in downtown Fort Smith, and museum officials initially hoped to have the facility open by late 2017. Fundraising delays pushed the opening date of the estimated 50,000-square-foot facility to September 2019.
A call for a sales tax came after fundraising efforts fell short of closing the gap. Fort Smith voters on March 12 rejected a one-cent, nine-month sales tax that would have raised an estimated $16 million for completion of the museum. At the time, the museum had raised enough money – $35.5 million – to pay for construction of the facility, which began in July 2018. The remaining funds were needed to build the exhibits and “experience” of the museum.
The museum is set to dedicate the building and the Hall of Honor Sept. 24, the 230th anniversary of the Marshals service. The goal is to open the museum late 2020, museum officials have said.
The U.S. Marshals Museum recently received $1 million from Northwest Arkansas-based real estate investor Laurice Hachem, who is also a member of the foundation board.