U.S. Marshals Museum in Fort Smith Fights for Funding

by Luke Jones  on Monday, Mar. 4, 2013 12:00 am  

After several bumpy years, the U.S. Marshals Museum project in Fort Smith is starting to gain traction.

The $50 million project, to be situated on the banks of the Arkansas River near downtown Fort Smith, was first proposed in 2008.

“I think they probably picked the worst time since the Great Depression to embark on fundraising,” said Joe David Rice, tourism director at the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism.

Now, the project is fundraising at the state level and is preparing to campaign nationally. It recently passed the $10 million mark. The Melanie Holt Speer Foundation made a $200,000 gift in mid-February.

“We feel like we’ve done very well,” said Jessica Hayes, the museum’s vice president. She said the museum didn’t have a groundbreaking date, but donations were on track.

Steve Rucker, president of the Arkansas Museums Association, agreed that the project had a rocky start but he was also confident it could succeed.

“Typically, the first 50 percent or 60 percent of fundraising is the difficult part,” he said. “Once the money’s in the bag, people see you’re serious about opening the museum and are more willing to give out money. It’s going to have to be a national fundraising effort.”

“If you look around, Fort Smith is kind of like Pine Bluff in that it’s always been a community of overachievers,” Rice added. “With time, they’ll meet the goal, get the ground broken and get the museum up and running.”

Bringing It Home

Fort Smith beat out several other cities to be the location of the museum. Hayes said the story goes back to 1989, when the Smithsonian Institution was traveling the country with an exhibit on the 200th anniversary of the U.S. Marshals Service.

At the end of the exhibit’s travels, the U.S. Marshals Service partnered with a state park in Laramie, Wyo., to create a permanent museum. It closed in the early 2000s.

“Around 2005, the then-director of the U.S. Marshals Service, John Clark, really wanted to get a museum going again, one that was specifically about the Marshals Service,” Hayes said.



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