Hemingway Foundation in financial straits

Museum on brink of closure

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By Stacey Sheridan

Staff Reporter

The Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park (EHFOP) has launched a fundraising campaign to keep the Hemingway Birthplace Museum in operation. Titled, "Help Us Keep the Doors Open," the campaign was created to help the museum survive the crippling loss of revenue caused by COVID-19.

"There's just no funding to stay open past the next couple months," said Keith Strom, Hemingway Foundation executive director. 

The museum's revenue is down by about 80 percent, according to Strom.

Managed and operated by the foundation, the museum is located inside the historic Queen Anne-style home at 339 N. Oak Park Ave., where literary giant and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway was born and lived as a young child.

Well over a century old and lovingly restored, the house retains many of its original features, allowing museumgoers to step back in time and experience what life was like at the turn of the 20th century.  Now, it is unclear if the museum will make it to next year.

EHFOP does not have a reserve fund or significant endowment. Supplemented by contributions from donors and museum members, Hemingway Birthplace Museum receives most of its revenue from visitors and tour admissions.

"We normally get 7,500 to 10,000 visitors a year," said Strom.

In compliance with the state-wide stay-at-home order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the museum stopped allowing visitors for most of spring and summer, its busiest seasons.

"We were pretty much closed down for six months," said Strom.

While the museum has resumed giving tours following public health and safety guidelines, the reduced capacity of the tours and the time lost has made it extremely difficult for the Hemingway Birthplace Museum to remain operational.

"There's just no way to recoup what we lost," said Strom.

The foundation has created a GoFundMe campaign as part of its fundraising efforts. Since its creation on Friday, Sept. 25., the GoFundMe has raised $7,855 of its $75,000 goal.

For those wary of donating through the internet, the foundation is also accepting written checks, made payable to EHFOP. People can mail donation checks to EHFOP, P.O. Box 2222, Oak Park, IL 60303.

The foundation has also been applying for grants and is being considered for a handful. According to Strom, the foundation received $1,900 from the Oak Park Area Arts Council and some funding through the federal Paycheck Protection Program.

However, the funds the foundation has received cannot close the gaping hole in lost revenue.

"We're looking for a lifeline, so that we can get enough funding to make to stay open to next spring," said Strom.

In a positive circumstance, the foundation has no outstanding mortgage on the birth home, said Strom.

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, EHFOP partnered with local businesses, including Oak Park Brewery and The Book Table to encourage people that visited the museum to explore other parts of Oak Park and spend money in the village.

"We're bringing dollars into the Oak Park area," said Strom. "A lot of people will come and visit us, then visit another attraction and have lunch in the Hemingway District."

While it is dedicated to one of the world's most revered novelists, the Hemingway Birthplace Museum encourages creativity and artistic pursuits in all people, young and old. The museum hosts lectures, arts performances and book discussions. It also hosts an annual short story competition called, "Hemingway Shorts" and provides scholarships for students.

The museum is a very small operation with only two full-time staff members – Strom and volunteer coordinator Carla Mayer, whom Strom called an "incredible asset." Everyone else who works at the museum does so on a part-time or volunteer basis.

The Hemingway Birthplace Museum continues to offer virtual tours, which were implemented at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. However, the foundation lacked the marketing budget to promote it, due to its devastated revenue stream.

"It hasn't hooked in nearly as much as we had hoped," said Strom.

Strom remains hopeful the museum's fortune will change with support from not only the Oak Park and River Forest communities, but the wider arts and literary communities.

"We're in a dark, bleak period here," said Strom. "Help us keep open."

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Reader Comments

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Jeremy Horn  

Posted: October 7th, 2020 1:36 AM

To Jim Bowman: Thank you. We, the community can definitely do this to save the childhood home of Oak Park's finest.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: October 3rd, 2020 6:33 PM

"Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with that there is" ? Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

Keith Strom  

Posted: October 1st, 2020 3:52 PM

These times call for the help of community and would very much be appreciated. To learn more on how you can support us go to: www.savehemingway.com or www.hemingwaybirthplace.com

Jim Bowman from Chicago  

Posted: October 1st, 2020 1:44 PM

I'm with Jeremy and others in hoping for salvation for the house and foundation, but in an age of shutdown and canceling, one can only hope.

Jeremy Horn  

Posted: September 30th, 2020 9:48 PM

I am hoping that the community of Oak Park can come together and donate whatever money they have to save the childhood home of Ernest Hemingway. I was so excited to visit his childhood home in July 2017, and was completely blown away with so much history and legacy, before he became a world famous Pulitzer Prize author. This will be a huge blow for the Village of Oak Park. We can do this! Let us save this childhood home.

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