$300,000 National Endowment for the Humanities Grant and Purchase of Adjacent Property Will Significantly Enhance the Celebrated Amherst, Mass., Museum’s Offerings 

Emily Dickinson daguerreotype

(AMHERST, Mass., November 12, 2018) — The Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Mass., today announced a major upgrade and expansion made possible by a $300,000 National Endowment for the Humanities grant, which will protect historic collections at the existing museum, and the purchase of an adjacent property that will eventually open even more of the poet’s Homestead to visitors. The Museum, which attracts an average of 15,000 visitors each year, holds the largest and most diverse collection of objects related to poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) and her family, illustrating important themes in 19th century social and cultural history such as gender and domesticity, changes in aesthetic tastes, class and social prominence, and civic engagement.

The Emily Dickinson Museum, created in 2003 under the ownership of Amherst College, currently comprises two houses, The Homestead, a National Historic Landmark where Emily Dickinson was born and wrote nearly all of her poetry, and The Evergreens, where Dickinson family heirs lived until 1988. The NEH grant will be equally matched by Amherst College, which owns the Museum but does not fully fund its operations or restoration projects, and will be used for the replacement and expansion of the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems at The Evergreens. The Italianate-style home, built in 1856, has remained largely unchanged since the 1890s and contains thousands of historic objects related to the Dickinson family. 

The Evergreens

“Enhanced insulation and a new HVAC system in The Evergreens will create the kind of stable environment necessary for long-term protection and stewardship of this unique historic collection and will allow us to display significantly more of the collection,” said Jane Wald, Emily Dickinson Museum executive director. “We’re delighted that the National Endowment for the Humanities and Amherst College recognize the importance of the material legacy of a family whose contributions to our national literary culture are so profound.”

In July, the Museum purchased a third of an acre property on Triangle Street in Amherst, directly north of The Homestead. The Museum’s administrative offices, currently housed in the Homestead, will be moved into the newly acquired 2,200-square-foot building which, in turn, will allow the Museum to expand interpretation of the poet’s life and work by restoring additional spaces in the Homestead. The purchase was unanimously approved by the Museum’s Board of Governors, which also provided the bulk of funding in partnership with Amherst College. 

“The Museum is at an inflection point in its current trajectory,” said immediate past chair of the Board of Governors Ken Rosenthal, who led the fundraising drive. “An extraordinary visitor experience depends on moving administrative workspaces out of restorable spaces and sets the Emily Dickinson Museum firmly on a path into the future.” 

The NEH’s Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections program helps cultural institutions meet the challenge of preserving large and diverse holdings of humanities materials for future generations by supporting sustainable conservation measures that mitigate deterioration, prolong the useful life of collections, and support institutional resilience. The $600,000 project was one of 218 proposals that received a total of $43 million from the NEH this summer. In a highly competitive peer-review process, NEH approves only one out of four grant applications. 

From the time of the Museum’s founding in 2003, the Board of Governors and Museum staff have completed numerous projects intended to restore the Dickinson homes and grounds as closely as possible to their nineteenth-century appearance and to provide the mechanical infrastructure to support Museum functions. Most recently, in 2017, Emily Dickinson’s garden conservatory was reconstructed from original materials saved on site and the Homestead library interior finishes restored. 

The Museum’s mission is to spark the imagination by amplifying Emily Dickinson’s revolutionary poetic voice from the place she called home. It is open Wednesday through Sunday, 11 am to 5 pm. Learn more at www.EmilyDickinsonMuseum.org.