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Pew Center awards $230,000 grant to Mercer Museum


The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage said Monday that it will provide a $230,000 grant, over two and a half years, to the Mercer Museum in Doylestown, to support a major initiative, titled “Plus Ultra: Awakening the Mercer Museum Core.”

The project will allow the museum to prototype and reinvent two of 12 empty rooms located in the original historic core of the castle into community-centric, intimate spaces designed for meaningful and active learning through the power of objects, the Mercer said.

The project marks a new curatorial and programmatic approach for the Mercer, as the museum’s presentation of its core collection of over 50,000 objects – including 18th- and 19th-century tools and artifacts that represent 60 different crafts and trades – has remained virtually unchanged for more than a century, the Pew Center said.

The grant was one of 39 awarded Monday in support of the Philadelphia region’s cultural organizations and artists, the Pew Center said. The 2019 awards total more than $8.4 million and provide funding for 12 Pew Fellowships and 27 project grants. The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage is funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Inspired by the Latin motto Plus Ultra, meaning “more beyond,” Henry Mercer spent his life as an archaeologist, historian, storyteller, collector and artist, and a true advocate for the humanities.

Stirred by his curatorial compass and commitment to community and learning, the museum said it seeks to reintroduce itself as a place for guests to pursue meaning while contemplating human ingenuity. The initiative will offer guests “fresh, engaging perspectives and reinterpret unused areas into lively, informal spaces,” the museum said.

“We are thrilled to receive this grant from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage to reawaken our historic Mercer Museum core and bring to life Henry Mercer’s vision of community engagement in new and exciting ways,” said Kyle McKoy, president and executive director of the Mercer Museum & Fonthill Castle.

“Mercer founded the museum in 1916 to house his collection of early American material culture, to encourage people to see beyond the mundane, and to view ordinary objects in extraordinary ways.

“Moving forward, we wish to preserve this awe-inspiring collection while exploring new, community-created opportunities to engage with our objects in more personal ways, including multi-sensory experiences, live demonstrations by artists and craftspeople, as well as storytelling. The objects will transition from passive artifacts to modern catalysts for conversation and community.”

A historic collaboration between Mercer Museum staff, local neighbors and community connectors, leaders from the museum field, community engagement experts, and contemporary artists, will enable the project to explore relevant community needs, redefine existing interpretive approaches, evaluate impact, and reposition the museum as a valuable resource for learning and bridging connections, the museum said.