Historian Al Klyberg has been working on the idea of a Rhode Island history museum for 30 years. The project, begun as a celebration of Rhode Island’s 350th anniversary in 1986, evolved in the mid-90s into a plan to build the Heritage Harbor Museum in the former South Street Power Station in Providence. But with a downturn in the economy in 2008, the developer abandoned the project.
While the museum was no longer a viable option, Al and others leading the effort were not deterred. With a buy-out of their interests in the property, the Heritage Harbor Foundation has established this organization endowment at the Rhode Island Foundation.
“The good thing is that through all the project changes, the goal has not changed. We’re still dedicated to getting all the sources of Rhode Island history to the end user, the Rhode Island public,” explains Al.
This fund will allow Heritage Harbor to offer a grant program “devoted to increasing the history literacy of the Rhode Island public, both school age and adult.” Al stresses that the grants will be made to “maturely thought out, serious proposals” by Rhode Island museums, historical societies, and similar organizations. He believes several months of research will be necessary prior to a nonprofit submitting an application.
The grant program is based on the same “Six Big Ideas of Rhode Island History” that were to provide the structure to the museum’s exhibits: Rhode Island Turning Points, a historical overview of Rhode Island; Bay Adventures, a history of Narragansett Bay; Ocean State Journeys, the transportation history of Rhode Island; Wonders of the World, the industrial history of Rhode Island; Cultural Crossroads, a focus on Rhode Island people and traditions; and Rhode Island Family Album, a look at Rhode Island communities and common cultures.
Pat Conley, president of the Heritage Harbor Foundation board and historian laureate of Rhode Island, believes working with Rhode Island Foundation on the project is a natural fit. “We can make a real impact in promoting the state’s cultural history. And by working with the Foundation, our goal will remain intact in perpetuity.”