Chrysler Museum, strapped for cash, closing to public
The Walter P. Chrysler Museum in suburban Detroit is closing to the public and will become a special exhibitions museum controlled by Chrysler Group.
DETROIT -- The Walter P. Chrysler Museum in suburban Detroit will close at year's end, following years of fundraising challenges and operating at a deficit.
As of Jan. 1, the museum, which is located on the Auburn Hills campus of Chrysler headquarters, will be closed to the public as a six-day operation and shift to a special exhibitions museum, controlled by Chrysler Group LLC.
The Walter P. Chrysler Museum Foundation, which operates the museum, notified its five remaining employees and 126 volunteers of the plans today.
"Our museum has faced the same financial challenges that many other, even long-standing, cultural institutions have encountered," said Brian Glowiak, president and CEO of the Walter P. Chrysler Museum Foundation. Glowiak also is vice president of the Chrysler Foundation and director of civic relations and community engagement for Chrysler.
"We believe the only viable strategy is to merge the … museum foundation into the Chrysler Foundation."
Chrysler, which owns the museum building and has been providing support, including exterior security, maintenance and free rent to the museum, plans to purchase all of the museum foundation's assets for several million dollars "in order to preserve our proud heritage of what is on display," Glowiak said.
The proceeds from the sale of the assets — namely, its collection of 67 historical vehicles and displays — will transfer to the Chrysler Foundation, along with the museum foundation, and support charitable causes funded by the corporate foundation.
Glowiak said he expects the merger to be completed by year's end.
"The intent is we will maintain the museum, not as a six-day museum as it operates today, but for special exhibitions for employees, retirees and the general public," Glowiak said.
"It's a new chapter. The goal here is Chrysler, by repurchasing those assets, has the ability to continue to preserve its heritage and celebrate with the public through special exhibitions."
As a public charity, the museum foundation had five years to show it passed the nonprofit test of public support by being able to raise at least one-third of its total support from public gifts and grants.
Given its inability to raise sufficient funds from the public during that period, the Chrysler Museum Foundation was set to shift to a private nonprofit, which would have limited its ability to raise public funds, Glowiak said.
When a charity loses its public support status, "it's not going to be supported by other foundations, including corporate foundations" because the process becomes complicated and arduous, he said.
Chrysler Corp. built the museum in 1999 and paid for construction of all of its displays.
Faced with the weak economy and its own financial challenges, in 2008 the carmaker created the nonprofit Chrysler Museum Foundation to operate the museum.
"Unfortunately, since 2008, the museum has struggled," like other cultural organizations, Glowiak said.
The museum had operated at a deficit for four years or more. It had a reported loss of just less than $804,000 in 2010, and $657,510 last year. It is forecasting a similar operating deficit this year, Glowiak said.
On its federal tax forms, the museum foundation reported total revenue of $518,612 in 2010 and $443,165 last year.
In addition to grants and donations, the museum collected revenue from admissions, facility rentals and gift shop sales.
Over its 13-year history, the Chrysler Museum hosted special events, including a Mopar exhibition to celebrate the Chrysler parts and service group's 75th anniversary, cruise nights throughout the summer and an annual summer display of hundreds of vehicles by the Chrysler Employee Motorsport Association.
Its current exhibit, "Cars, Trees & Traditions," features brightly decorated Christmas trees, the museum's vintage vehicles and vintage clothing styles tied to each car's era.
The museum remains open to the public through year's end, with admission prices ranging from $4-$8.