Legislators deliver $500,000 to purchase, renovate UP Museum

By Luke Britt/Editor

The muses, those nymphs of Greek mythology believed to inspire all art and knowledge, have been whispering in the ears of Union Parish’s legislative delegation, and fortunately, Rep. Chris Turner and Sen. Stewart Cathey were listening.

On Tuesday, Turner and Cathey were on hand to announce a $500,000 capital outlay for the Union Museum of History and Art that will allow the museum to purchase and renovate its home at 211 N. Main Street in Farmerville.

“The word museum comes from the ancient Greek idea of muses that inspire people to think and to create, and that’s the vision we all had in mind when we created this museum,” museum Programs Coordinator Jean Jones said. “This funding is a big step toward making that vision a reality. Actually, it’s more of a giant leap.”

Jones praised Cathey and Turner for securing the funding.

“Representative Turner and I have worked hard to deliver funding for all of Union Parish, and I am honored to be able to include the Union Museum of History and Art on that list,” Cathey said. 

The capital outlay is contingent upon the museum providing $125,000 in matching funds of which Jones said more than $110,000 has already raised by museum programs or pledged by donors. The remaining $13,000 must still be raised, she said.

Members of the Board of Directors, community supporters and others stand with the architectural drawing of the soon to be purchased and remodeled Union Parish Museum of History and Art. From left to right are Board Chairman Mary Barrios, Kelly Coburn, Pam Hallman, Pat Terral, Brittany Unkel, Jean Jones, Tom “Tuffy” Fields, Paul Coburn, Sen. Stewart Cathey, and Rep. Chris Turner.

“We are so grateful to the donors who caught the vision of what this museum could do for our community. Because of their generosity, we can meet the required match of $125,000 for this state funding opportunity to not only acquire the building, but also transform it into a spectacular community center,” said Jones.

The engineering firm Meyer, Meyer, LaCroix and Hixson of Ruston has been planning the renovation project since 2022, Jones aid, and on Tuesday an architect’s conceptual drawing created by TBA Studio Architecture of Monroe was revealed.  Those plans include the creation of an outdoor stage for public performances, landscaping and beautification of the exterior, improved parking and signage, interior museum-quality lighting and display areas, an archives room and remodeled, handicapped-accessible restrooms.

Founded in 2013, the museum first opened in a single room in the Union Parish Chamber of Commerce building and moved into its current location in 2020 when the building’s owners –Paul and Kelly Coburn – agreed to allow the museum to use the building rent-free until funds could be raised to buy it. Its first exhibit, Jones recalled, entitled “For the Love of Horses”, opened on March 13, 2020, the same day Gov. Jon Bel Edwards issued a proclamation aimed at slowing the spread of the Covid virus that closed schools and limited the size of crowds who could gather in public places.

“We were open for all of one day, and then we had to close,” Jones said. “Not quite what we had in mind.”

Undaunted, Jones continued to plan and coordinate ambitious programs and exhibits that, Board Chairman Mary Barrios said, “promote our history and the art of our community.”

“Jean is the driving force behind the museum,” Barrios said, “It’s her vision and hard work, and her complete unselfishness with her time and energy that made this possible.”

The museum currently houses a permanent exhibit, “First People of Union Parish”, which includes a collection of prehistoric indigenous people’s artifacts, and also a World War I display and the Union Parish photo gallery.

The museum coordinates popular events such as Folk Life Day, which highlights old time handcrafted arts, and the International Tasting Tour, which features food from around the world. Guest speakers frequently present lectures on historic people, places and events central to the region’s history. 

“History and art are made by living, breathing people,” Jones said. “Static displays are important to any museum, but interactive exhibits bring history and art to life. We try to bring as many of those exhibits as we can.”

The renovation project is expected to begin in the fall of 2024.

State Senator Stewart Cathey and Representative Chris Turner led the way during the recent legislative session to get approval for the Museum’s request. We owe a huge thanks to them for their effective work on behalf of the entire community.

We thank others at the announcement Tuesday: Oliver Neal, with the engineering firm Meyer Meyer LaCroix and Hixson, and TBA Studio architecture firm representatives Donna Cathey, COO, and Clint Whittington, principal architect. Neal began the project conceptual process in summer 2022, and brought in TBA, which completed the initial plans, created a rendering, and wrote the capital outlay application for the Museum.

We were pleased to thank building owners Paul and Kelly Coburn, who donated rent-free use of the facility by the Museum for five years starting in 2020. We were able to thank elected officials who attended the Tuesday celebration: 3rd District Judge Bruce Hampton, Sheriff Dusty Gates, Police Jury secretary/treasurer Paula Strickland, Police Jury member Curtis Moses, Farmerville Mayor John Crow, Assessor Lance Futch, School Board member Tommy Bennett, several local firefighters, and many more supporters.

Jean Jones
Programs Coordinator

We wish to thank these contributors to the museum’s Building Fund campaign:

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