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Museums important to Albany’s economy

Thronateeska and RiverQuarium discusses importance of Albany’s five historical museums

Tommy Gregors, executive director of Thronateeska Heritage Center and CEO of the Flint RiverQuarium, addresses the Kiwanis Club of Dougherty County Monday at its regular meeting. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)

Tommy Gregors, executive director of Thronateeska Heritage Center and CEO of the Flint RiverQuarium, addresses the Kiwanis Club of Dougherty County Monday at its regular meeting. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)

ALBANY — Tommy Gregors, executive director of Thronateeska Heritage Center and CEO of Flint RiverQuarim shared the importance of museums and historical centers in Albany with the Kiwanis Club of Dougherty County Monday.

Speaking at the club’s regular meeting at the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Albany, Gregors said Albany is fortunate to have its museums.

“We’re very fortunate that we’ve got five great museum institutions in our community; we’ve got Thronateeska Heritage Center, the Flint RiverQuarium, the parks at Cheehaw, the Albany Civil Rights Institute and the Albany Museum of Art,” Gregors said. “Many communities of our size do not have such a treasure of attractions that we have in our community, attractions that not only bring tourists to our community but also serve our community.”

Gregors said the museums serve as trustworthy keepers of historical information, providing education for the community and are economic engines for the community.

“We are a repository for historical information,”Gregors said. “This is where we all go to find out information about our communities and our families and our histories. Thronateeska was formed in 1974 as a merger of the Albany Junior Museum and the Southwest Georgia Historical Society. We’ve been collecting artifacts here in Albany since 1959. And you can imagine, pretty much any time somebody’s cleaning out an attic they bring it down to us. So we’ve got everybody’s stuff. We’ve got things you can’t even imagine.”

As places of education, the five institutions help many from the community learn about a variety of subjects. In the past year alone, Thronateeska and the RiverQuarium had more than 27,000 students come through the facilities.

“Museums are popular in the United States,” said Gregors. “More people go to museums than to all sports and theme parks combined each year. The two most attended types of museums in the country are zoos and aquariums and science museums and we’ve got both of those in our community.”

“Another important part of museums, and this proves true in our community as well, our museums are economic engines in our community. With the people we employ, with the dollars we invest, those are dollars that stay local, right here in Albany and Dougherty County primarily.”

Despite how important museums are to the community, Gregors pointed out that it is still a struggle for them to operate in a struggling economy. Gregors said Thronateeska and the RiverQuarium make roughly $6 per person but cost about $22 per person to operate. Therefore, he said, it is important to host fundraisers and reach out to both the private sector and the for government assistance.

“With the economy like it is, we still struggle,” Gregors said. “Most folks know that times are very very lean, but there are some positive trends. While some of the donations from larger foundations have decreased, individual giving is still holding up, so people see the value we have in our community and what we do for our community.

“Many times we talk about the government support for our museums, but for every dollar that is a public dollar invested in our museums, $7 is returned back to our community in economic investment through tourism, through people that are coming to stay overnight in our community.”

“We serve our community well,” Gregors said. “In Albany, with the five different museums we have, we cover a very diverse group of folks, from outdoor enthusiasts to civil rights, history, to science to space, to arts to culture, all of those things are right here.

“I talk to people in our community every day that talk about they’ve lived here 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, 40 years or more and have never been to the Planetarium, they’ve never been to the RiverQuarium, they’ve never been to the Civil Rights Institute, they’ve never been to the art museum or Chehaw and seen some of those exhibits we have. There is something for everybody. There is something that we can do for you at every one of our institutions in our community. I’d challenge you to participate, to get involved, to attend and come see what we do have.”