In the Beginning
In 1990, the Museum established a Board of Directors, which applied for and obtained non-profit status. A full-time museum professional was hired as the Executive Director on August 1, 1991. In the beginning, the Museum concentrated on creating an educational entity which presented the art and history of the carousel, and informed the general public about preserving this valuable yet vanishing piece of Americana. At that time the staff was restructured to create a department of public education, an exhibition development team, a public relations function, a procedure for operations, a structure for volunteer involvement, a membership structure, a long-term loan agreement, a collection management policy and an archives. In addition there was a need to begin serious research on the collection pieces and the subject matter.
Although called a "museum" when first opened, in reality, an "attraction" was launched. An "oh! ah!" atmosphere was created, but there were no structured education programs or exhibition materials accompanying the pieces. Immediate energy went into the research necessary to create educational programs, temporary exhibitions and special events. These activities would create the necessary press to bring people of all ages to visit and revisit the Museum, while generating income for general operation. Educational programs were launched that were accurate, informative and fun. Grant funding was obtained that allowed the project team to research, develop, design, and implement new exhibition material giving the visitors, for the first time, a choice of how they learned about the subject matter. Wonderful theme parties were produced as fundraisers for the Museum, but more importantly, it gave the community a new look at the Museum. We started paying attention to our visitors, and through informal evaluation, we started finding out who they were and where they came from, why they came, and what they liked and didn't like about their Museum experience.
The Museum has matured considerably over the past 26 years, and it continues to grow and evolve. We have been through many growing pains, all of them helping us to achieve independence, maturity, and some of our goals. There have been major improvements in many areas, including the expansion of the Museum collection, the development of our restoration department that provides carvers, painters and restorers the opportunity to work to restore antique pieces, create new carousel pieces and demonstrate the art of the carousel. This year we are concentrating on Board development, and orientation and we will revisit our strategic plan because we have achieved many of our goals. We have hired an Education Manager and developed new educational programs in order to broaden our educational menu, and we have continued to receive high praise on our existing programs. Our goal is to maintain the excellence created in our existing programming while developing new experiences for our visitors. Most importantly, we have produced new programs that coincide with the school¹s curriculum. This should help us bring in more school groups to the Museum.
In December of 1998, the State of Connecticut granted the New England Carousel Museum funding to create a permanent home for the Museum in Bristol and for the creation of the Cultural Center for Central Connecticut. The grant, coupled with funding from the Roberts Foundation, allowed us to purchase the Carousel Museum building. This gave the organization a permanent home and also gave us the opportunity to grow and expand out educational offerings and create more community events.
The New England Carousel Museum received the contract from the City of Hartford, in April, 1999, to manage and run the historic Bushnell Park Carousel. This spectacular carousel, created in 1914 by Solomon Stein and Harry Goldstein has 48 horses, 2 chariots and a wonderful Wurlitzer Band Organ. The Carousel turned 100 years old in 2014. Having the responsibility for this million dollar historic antique wooden carousel is a thrill and has allowed us to further fulfill our Museum mission, "to preserve and protect antique wooden carousels and carousel pieces."
As we evolved, The New England Carousel Museum has concentrated on expanding the building at 95 Riverside Avenue to include The Bristol Center for Arts & Culture. In November 2000, we expanded the Carousel Museum experience on the first floor of the building by adding three new galleries: one exhibition on the History of the Carousel, and two fine art galleries. Glo Sessions, a local artist of international reputation, allowed us to create a new show of her work to launch the new fine art galleries in the Cultural Center. Since that time we have had the opportunity of exhibiting over 70 art shows in the temporary gallery space that include fine art, folk art, photography, wood carving as well as other mediums. Once completed, we turned our attention to developing the second floor of the building.
The Museum of Fire History opened to the public on the second floor of the building in June, 2002. Carlyle Barnes donated his fire equipment and memorabilia collection as well as funding to create this new splendid museum. The opening of the Fire Museum was accompanied by rave reviews. A Museum of Greek Art and History is also created on the second floor along with the expansion of the Museum Restoration Department. Restoration has been in full production, helping to generate income for the Museum. We also completed the new second floor entrance that includes special needs accessible restrooms and a special needs ramp to the second floor.
With the many improvements we have made to the building, we now have many facility rentals at the Museum, including weddings, bar mitzvahs, dinners and performances. We also use the space to run classes and events. All of these activities help to generate income for the Museum. We have had spectacular chandeliers donated to the Museum, now installed on the second floor. The lighting has turned the area into a majestic facility rental hall. The installation of the passenger elevator has been completed and now makes our building totally accessible to special needs visitors.
The Installation of a donated working carousel in our building in 2012 has proven to be a big success for the Carousel Museum. The Carousel has been a major drawing card and has helped increase our attendance numbers, birthday parties, educational programming and facility rentals dramatically and has added to the destination appeal of our Museum.
We plan to focus our attention on two new projects for this coming year. With our new roof installed we plan to find the funding to install a new air handling system that will modernize the existing system and allow for air conditioning. The new system will better control the building temperature and will create a better atmosphere for the collections. It will also be more cost effective, will increase our attendance during the summer months, and will extend the length of our facility rental season creating more income for the Museum.
The New England Carousel Museum was founded as a nonprofit educational organization in 1990, in Bristol, Connecticut. At that time, the Carousel Museum rented 10,000 square feet of space on the first floor of the restored 33,000 sq. ft. hosiery factory building at 95 Riverside Avenue and owned one carousel horse for our collection. We displayed a diverse collection of carousel art and memorabilia all of which was on long-term loan to the Museum.