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Higgins Armory a thing of the past; Signatures, pleas and a Facebook page can't save the museum.

Byline: Steven H. Foskett Jr.

WORCESTER - A last-ditch effort to prevent the shutdown of the Higgins Armory failed at the museum's annual meeting Wednesday.

James C. Donnelly Jr., Higgins Museum board of trustees president, came out of the closed-door meeting to announce that the plan to move the collection of arms and armor to the Worcester Art Museum and close Higgins Armory Dec. 31 passed 55-10 in a vote of the incorporators of the museum.

The board of trustees voted unanimously in favor of the move, but after news broke of the decision a group of incorporators, led by founder John Woodman Higgins' granddaughter, Clarinda Higgins, mounted a push to fight the decision. The museum announced March 8 that trustees concluded the museum did not have a large enough endowment to ensure its future.

Ms. Higgins said she was sad and disappointed, but was grateful for the support she received from the community, including 2,000 signatures and the creation of a Facebook page fighting to save the museum.

She said it would be too easy to be negative, but said the move might be a chance to look at things differently. She said her family enjoyed many Thanksgivings at the museum, and wondered if they couldn't enjoy one last one in November. She encouraged people to continue to patronize the museum until it closes.

Mr. Donnelly, who said he celebrated his 10th birthday at the museum, said the decision to integrate the collection with the Worcester Art Museum gave him "profound joy" that the move will create a legacy that will carry the collection into the future.

The future of the steel and glass curtain-style building, believed to be one of the first of its kind when construction was completed in 1931, is less certain. Mr. Donnelly would only say that a committee will try to find the best and most sensitive options for its future use.

Museum Director Suzanne W. Maas used words like sadness and grief to describe her reaction to the decision, but said she has been energized by working at the 82-year-old museum. She said Helmutt, the armored dog, would be making the transition.

"We can't take the building with us, but we can take Helmutt," she said.

Still, it was a bittersweet moment when the vote was taken, Ms. Maas said.

"I've never felt so sad for doing the right thing," she said.

Ms. Higgins said she felt like she was not given enough time at the meeting to present an alternative vision that would keep the museum open. She said she wanted to push for a national fundraising campaign, and said the museum could collaborate with academic institutions to make the building more efficient.

But Mr. Donnelly, who characterized the debate at the meeting as civil and thoughtful, said that time costs money, and that money could be put to better purposes to preserve the collection, rather than keep the museum going.

Matthias Waschek, director of the Worcester Art Museum, said he envisioned a five-year process to fully integrate the Higgins collection into the museum. But as soon as possible - spring 2014 was given as a goal - an exhibit will go up in which major pieces from the Higgins collection will be shown. There are around 2,000 pieces in the collection, and processing them will take time, he said.

A small group of supporters of keeping the museum open stood and held signs outside the museum before the meeting.

Richard Johnson, a Worcester native who is the curator of the Sports Museum at TD Garden in Boston, said he couldn't believe the museum could be shut down. Along with Mr. Donnelly, Mr. Johnson also celebrated a birthday at Higgins in his youth, and thought it was reasonable for the incorporators to take some time to come up with a rational solution.

"This place is the Fenway Park of museums," he said.

Contact Steven H. Foskett Jr. at Follow him on Twitter @SteveFoskettTG.


CUTLINE: (1) Museum founder John Woodman Higgins' granddaughter, Clarinda Higgins, before the annual meeting Wednesday. (2) A small group of museum supporters were outside of the museum before the board meeting.

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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 28, 2013
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