Greetings, and a very Happy New Year to you! 2021 is a special year for the Friends of the THC, as we enter the 25th year of our partnership with the Texas Historical Commission. We have come a long way from the days of the excavation of La Belle, building support for a myriad of the THC’s programs and projects over the years. I want to take this opportunity to send a shoutout to all the Friends development officers/executive directors that came before me—the late Linda Lee Littlefield, interim ED Mary Carroll Foley, Toni Turner, Lisa Avra, and Rebecca Borchers—we would not be here without your leadership. This year, we look forward to celebrating our partnerships, our work, and our amazing supporters in a variety of ways. We have planned activities and events through the year—virtual for now and hopefully, later in the year, in person—and we look forward to having you join us. Please stay tuned for more information coming your way!
With warm regards on behalf of the Board of Trustees and the staff of the Friends of the THC,
Anjali Zutshi, Executive Director
Celebrating 25 years as partner to the Texas Historical Commission: The Genesis of the Friends
By Jim Bruseth
The beginning of the Friends of the Texas Historical Commission goes back to 1995. I was working at the THC as the Director of the Department of Antiquities Protection, and we had just discovered the shipwreck La Belle, a French vessel that sank in 1686 off the Texas coast. Our plans were to mount a major excavation of the wreck as soon as possible and this meant we needed a lot of money. While the State of Texas would provide important funding, significantly more would be needed from private sources. I discussed the issue of privately raising funds with then-THC Executive Director Curtis Tunnell.
Staff had previously urged Curtis to form a nonprofit to support the THC’s fundraising efforts and he had declined to do so. Curtis’ argument was that the agency had twice before created nonprofits to assist the THC and each time the organizations' boards had voted to move away from supporting the THC to take on broader preservation missions. But this time, with the discovery of La Belle, Curtis understood the importance of private fundraising for the excavation and agreed to establish a new nonprofit. I was given the responsibility to make it happen.
I worked with a pro-bono attorney in Dallas to establish the Friends. This had to be done on my own time, as I could not use state resources to develop the legal documents needed to establish a nonprofit. To prevent the Friends from following the path of previous THC nonprofits that became independent, we used the IRS tax code to establish the Friends as a supporting organization, with the sole purpose to assist the THC. With the attorney’s help, I developed the bylaws and filed for an IRS determination letter granting the Friends a tax-exempt, nonprofit status. We received the IRS letter in 1996. This determination letter from the IRS even showed my personal home address as the mailbox for the Friends!
The first officers of the Friends were Curtis as president, Anice Read (then-director of the Main Street program) as the secretary, and me as the treasurer. I also served as the bookkeeper. We received our first gift from the late Dennis O'Connor of Victoria, Texas— $250,000 in AT&T stock—and were off and running. Soon, additional funds began coming in. This support, combined with a state appropriation of $1.75 million, allowed us to begin planning the excavation of La Belle for late 1996 and early 1997. Right then, to make matters interesting, a short-lived issue arose when our Texas Attorney General representative gave his opinion that the THC was not able to use a nonprofit, and advised us to disband the Friends and send the money we had raised back to the donors. Curtis, Anice, and I considered this recommendation—and decided to not do it. If we had, likely the shipwreck of La Belle would not have been excavated, and even more importantly, there would be no Friends today. Sometime later we modified the THC enabling statute to allow us to use nonprofits to assist with fundraising.
Once the Friends was up and running, we added other board members, including Harriet Latimer, who became the second Friends president. Curtis, Anice, and I resigned from the board to let the new members operate the organization.
Having been deeply involved in setting up the Friends, I find it extremely gratifying today—25 years later—to see the great success the organization has achieved, thanks to the hard work of many dedicated and talented board members and staff members. Millions of dollars have been raised to help the THC do a myriad of critical preservation projects for the people of Texas!
Developing a Digital Engagement and Crisis Response Program for Texas State Historic Sites
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Texas Historical Commission (THC) has pivoted to an accessible, remote-learning format at its historic sites and museums. The sudden shift from in-person visitation to virtual engagement with visitors has necessitated that the THC create digital educational and interpretive content that is available and accessible to a wide range of audiences—from K-12 students, to post-secondary students, researchers, and history enthusiasts.
At the same time, THC historic sites have also been navigating the impacts of other natural disasters and traumatic community experiences, like Hurricane Harvey and its impact on Fulton Mansion State Historic Site in August 2017, the devastating tornado that destroyed Caddo Mounds State Historic Site in April 2019, and the impact of the El Paso mass shooting on the Magoffin Home State Historic Site in August 2019.
The “layering” of the COVID-19 pandemic—on top of natural disasters and traumatic community events—has highlighted a critical need for new response and engagement tools for site staff and their service communities.
In order to address these two distinct and critical needs, the Friends of the THC, as the nonprofit partner to the THC, requested and was awarded a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services CARES Act Funding Program. The grant, which will fund the THC's “Digital Engagement and Crisis Response Program for Texas State Historic Sites," will allow the THC to create educational and interpretive programming in a digital format that is available on a platform accessible to users with varying levels of access to online content. The digital programming will provide online visitors of all ages a comparative level of information and experience as in-person visitors would have. The grant also provides funding to create and make available a “Crisis and Trauma Response Toolkit” that will offer structured and guided responses to trauma and disasters at the historic sites.
The Historic Sites Division of the THC will create content-rich multimedia interactive e-book and virtual tour experiences that can be accessed by any device and operating system. This e-book and virtual tour content will meet the distance learning requirements of schools and will also include self-facilitated tours for on-site use, online exhibits, and more. The e-books and virtual tours will be part of a virtual “THC Library," allowing the state agency to build and expand its digital offerings over time, eventually covering each historic site managed by the THC.
The Friends of the THC will engage the International Coalition for Sites of Conscience (ICSOC) to develop the Crisis and Trauma Response Toolkit. Working with staff from Fulton Mansion, Caddo Mounds, and Magoffin Home state historic sites, the ICSOC will facilitate a lab where staff will work with peers and outside experts to deepen their understanding of trauma, healing, and community resilience. The ICSOC will also manage the development and creation of 10-12 linked resource modules that will serve as a physical and/or digital “toolkit” on responding to trauma and disasters at historic sites. Finally, the ICSOC will advise the THC on the creation of a virtual memorial and exhibit space for Caddo Mounds State Historic Site that can be shared with the communities that were impacted by the devastating and fatal tornado.
The Friends of the THC is able to serve as a partner to the THC, securing grants like the federal CARES Act Funding, thanks to the generous support of our donors. To support our work, join our Spirit of Texas Program today.
Friends Alliance Award Winners
Historic Sites Friends Groups dedicated to supporting the THC's state historic sites, or individual volunteers who have gone above and beyond in supporting a site, may be nominated for a Friends Alliance Award. The Friends of the THC is pleased to announce the 2021 Friends Alliance Award winners. Please join us in recognizing the following recipients for their commitment to supporting Texas' state historic sites.
Virtual Training: Four-Part Development and Fundraising Series
The Friends of the Texas Historical Commission is offering a four-part online development training series to our nonprofit colleagues across Texas and beyond. Registration is available for the full series as well as for individual sessions. However, we encourage you to consider participating in all four sessions to get the full benefit of the information and discussions.
Dates: March 25 & 26, April 1 & 2
Full Registration: Register for all four sessions for a single price of $189
$169 early bird pricing through March 5
Individual Session: $59
Intern with the Texas Historical Commission as a Preservation Scholar
The Preservation Scholars Program is administered by the Friends of the Texas Historical Commission and places undergraduate and graduate students who identify as part of an underrepresented ethnic and/or cultural group in a ten-week, paid summer internship with the THC.
In-person and virtual internships are available. Learn more on the program website, or sign up for the next Zoom information session on January 28, 5 p.m. CST.
Hosted by the Friends of the Texas Historical Commission, the THC's Real Places 2021 Conference provides an opportunity for preservationists and officials to network and learn with County Historical Commissions, Main Street managers and participants, historic preservation officers and design review boards, architects and engineers, historians, archeologists, curators, interpreters, managers of museums and historic sites, as well as THC staff, Texas Heritage Trail Regions, and other partner agencies. There's still time to register!