The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation has reinvented itself as the Lincoln Presidential Foundation with an expanded mission related to the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln. On April 1, 2021, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (ALPLM) severed its relationship with the foundation. As a result, the foundation no longer serves as the fundraising and membership organization for the ALPLM. The foundation continues to foster Lincoln scholarship and share the story of Abraham Lincoln and his legacy, but ALPLM is no longer its exclusive partner. The foundation recently announced a new partnership with Lincoln Home National Historic Site and the National Park Service (NPS).
The foundation was created in 2000 as a nonprofit organization to help establish and support the ALPLM. For years there was a rocky relationship between the foundation and ALPLM, which Illinois Times has covered extensively.
The foundation is now dedicated to working in partnership with others locally, nationally and globally to support and provide educational and public programming, research and access to historic places and collections related to Abraham Lincoln. "The foundation is looking at Lincoln's legacy on a national level," Erin Carlson Mast, president and CEO of the foundation, told Illinois Times. Previously, Mast was president and CEO of President Lincoln's Cottage in Washington, D.C., operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The foundation will continue to present the Lincoln Leadership Prize, which honors exceptional individuals for their service in the spirit of Lincoln.
In March 2022, the foundation entered into an agreement with the Lincoln Home National Historic Site to serve as its philanthropic support organization. Timothy Good, superintendent of Lincoln Home, said he welcomes this partnership since it is difficult for a park the size of Lincoln Home to compete for federal funding. As a result of this partnership, the M.G. Nelson Family Foundation of Springfield is donating a six-figure gift to create a new visitor experience for young people. "This will be the first time in the site's history that a space is designed specifically for a youth audience," said Mast.
The Lincoln Home National Historic Site contains more than a dozen buildings within a four-block, 12-acre area. The new youth-centered exhibits will be in the Corneau House, located diagonally across the street from the Lincoln Home. Exhibits targeted at youth 10-14 will focus on the historic neighborhood and provide new perspectives on the life of Abraham Lincoln. McCullough Creative is the contractor for the design-build, which will take approximately one year. The donation covers the total cost for interpretive planning, design, fabrication and installation of exhibits. This project has been on the long-range plan for years, with no available funding. "After years in the making, the foundation is finally able to make this project a reality," said Good.
Foundation receives grant for nationwide study
The foundation is also undertaking a nationwide study through a $25,000 grant from the National Park Foundation (the official nonprofit partner of the NPS) matched by private donors. There are hundreds of sites associated with Lincoln throughout the country, but there is no organization that focuses on issues and resources that collectively affect all of these sites. "More organizations would like support and to collaborate," said Mast. "We need to evaluate existing and new models to determine the best, most sustainable way to do that." The foundation is considering a variety of approaches, including philanthropy, advocacy and programmatic partnerships. The Potrero Group, a California-based consulting group that has done feasibility studies for other national parks, is conducting the study, targeted for completion by the end of January 2023.
Untangling relationship with ALPLM
A number of issues needed to be addressed to untangle the relationship between the foundation and ALPLM after the memorandum of agreement was terminated. Projects funded through grants and contracts with the foundation are being completed in accordance with terms of the agreements. The ALPLM created its own membership program and is now responsible for the museum store.
The most significant unresolved issue is the remaining debt for acquisition of the Taper collection, which is owned by the foundation and on loan to the ALPLM. In 2007, after encouragement by respected Lincoln experts and Illinois state historians, the foundation acquired the $25 million collection of over 1,500 items from renowned collector Louise Taper. At the time, the Taper collection was widely considered the largest and most diverse collection of Lincolniana still in private hands. Over $24 million has been raised to pay expenses for principal, interest, fees and insurance, but in excess of $8 million remains on the loan, which comes due at the end of October. It is unclear what will happen then. Funding for the Taper collection continues to be listed as a fundraising priority on the foundation's website.
Think anew and act anew
Sergio "Satch" Pecori of Springfield, chairman and CEO of Hanson Professional Services Inc., serves as chair of the foundation board. He says it was evident that ALPLM wanted to go in a different direction. It was a natural transition to collaborate with Lincoln Home. "The foundation has a great relationship with Lincoln Home," said Pecori. "It is a true partnership." The foundation is also looking forward to working with other entities it can help to carry on the Lincoln legacy. Borrowing from Lincoln's message to Congress during the Civil War, Mast said, "We intend to 'think anew and act anew,' and lead our own projects." Pecori says the foundation is off to a good start.
Karen Ackerman Witter is a former associate director of the Illinois State Museum. After retiring from the state in 2013, she was hired as a consultant to evaluate ALPLM policies and practices and make recommendations about best practices and steps towards accreditation.