More than 600 Lake Minnetonka history fans gave their input in April on what they’d like to see from their lakeside historical societies as six of the eight organizations now on the lake look at collaborative opportunities that could boost their viability in the years to come.
The Westonka, Wayzata, Minnetonka, Excelsior-Lake Minnetonka and Deephaven historical societies and the Museum of Lake Minnetonka (the steamboat Minnehaha) are all involved in the project. The survey was made available both to members of these organizations and to the general public; 588 people responded, and a pair of virtual town halls drew another 30-35 people between them.
From that input, some things were “very apparent,” said Aaron Person. Others, less so.
Person, who is president of the Wayzata Historical Society and who has taken lead on the realignment project, said there was strong community support for some kind of collaboration on media, including the potential for a joint newsletter or magazine, an overarching Lake Minnetonka history website and more cross promotion for events happening around the lake.
But “where things start to break down a bit,” he said, was in the response to tighter, more formal collaboration—creating an umbrella organization for administrative functions or full consolidation for instance.
“It kind of tapers off a little bit for that, and that’s totally expected because it’s bigger and it sounds more scary,” said Person, who added that survey respondents still gave support to both an umbrella organization and a full consolidation but that it was less homogenous than that given to the smaller forms of collaboration.
And tapering support for the larger efforts—the “scary” efforts—doesn’t mean zero support, said Person.
Person emphasized that many who responded to the survey did still view these favorably and that all options are still on the table as those on the project’s joint committee, comprised of representatives from each of the organizations involved, enter into phase two.
Phase two is making a decision on which areas of collaboration will get a closer look and under that scrutiny, get answers to more detailed questions: practically speaking, how would this type of collaboration actually play out? What would its financial impact be? How will members, archives, reosurces each be affected?
Person said the joint committee hadn’t yet made a decision on which forms of collaboration it would commission the full analysis for and reiterated that every option big and small is still being considered.
The realignment project is one that has had an extensive timeline, at least in the brains of those who run the six organizations. Informal conversations around collaborative efforts were already starting in the 1990s, Person had previously told the Laker.
Shared resources and duplicative administrative functions had made collaboration seem like an obvious idea even back then. Mounting volunteer fatigue only pushed the idea more, and the question of “what does the future for us look like?” only became more pressing as time went on.
The six organizations secured a $52,000 Heritage Preservation grant last summer for the purpose of hiring Arts Consulting Group to guide the research into realignment options. It’s been full steam ahead since then. “Now we have data to actually work with and opinions from a broad set of people,” said Person.
But the road ahead may still not be the smoothest. Person said that throughout the realignment process, what he and others have called an “exploration,” the feeling of identity—with an organization, with a city—has been “the number one holdup to collaboration efforts.”
“We haven’t really defined what ‘identity’ is, but still it keeps coming up again and again,” he said. “There’s this sense that people, they identify and care more about the community that they live in or the organization that they’ve been a part of for most of their lives.”
Person said there is concern among individuals that the smaller organizations might be subsumed by their larger counterparts or that one or more communities will be ignored while also having to hear about things from other places to which they have no attachment.
Person said he doesn’t foresee that happening, but that sense of identity might have to be something factored into the equation as the organizations try to balance their future viability with pride in where they came from and what they’ve been in past.
“It’s something you can’t really quantify,” he said. “It’s the emotional aspect of what happens going forward.”