The origins of the Visitor Center Project came in fall 2012, when I was introduced to museum patron Thomas Tischer in the museum’s café. Tom soon pointed at the exterior door to the café area and asked, “Don’t you think that the main entrance to the museum should be there?” Knowing the long walk from the parking lot to the museum’s main entrance and familiar with Rochester’s occasionally inclement weather, I summarily agreed.
In 2017, Tom approached me and said that he wanted to make a meaningful contribution to advancing the George Eastman Museum during his lifetime. We agreed that we would work together to make the museum more accessible and convenient, in part by relocating the main entrance to be near the parking lot. He donated funds to pay for the project’s architects. More important, he committed to contribute $1 million in matching funds if the museum was awarded a $1 million grant from the New York State Council on the Arts. We were fortunate to be awarded this grant in December 2017, and Tom fulfilled his commitment.
As is often the case, the project became more costly as the idea of a more welcoming entrance became a comprehensive visitor center, including a completely renovated education and meeting hall and a new café, museum store, and restrooms. After decades of loyal and generous support of our institution, Tom has committed more than $1.5 million to this project. In recognition of his vision and benevolence, we look forward to dedicating the Thomas Tischer Visitor Center.
George Eastman founded ESL Federal Credit Union one hundred years ago. As a visionary and community-minded business leader, he recognized the importance of helping Eastman Kodak employees manage their finances, which is why he launched ESL, originally as the Eastman Savings & Loan Association.
Other than Eastman Kodak Company, ESL Federal Credit Union is the corporation that has provided the largest cumulative support to the Eastman Museum. Our institutions have been close partners for two decades. Given our shared connection to George Eastman and our longstanding collaboration, we were thrilled last spring when ESL Federal Credit Union agreed to pay $1 million to acquire the naming rights to the to-be-constructed ESL Federal Credit Union Pavilion.
This new glass-and-steel structure will welcome visitors to the museum while preserving the historic façade of George Eastman’s garage. ESL Federal Credit Union’s $1 million commitment enabled us to decide that we could proceed with construction of the visitor center in January 2020.
We are deeply grateful to Tom Tischer, the New York State Council on the Arts, ESL Federal Credit Union, and other major donors who have advanced the Visitor Center Project with gifts and pledges of at least $100,000: trustee Kevin Glazer and Rachel Glazer; longtime patron and friend Dr. Dawn F. Lipson; trustee Nannette Nocon and Nocon & Associates, a private wealth management practice of Ameriprise Financial Services; and trustee Debby Wilson and our longtime benefactor the Elaine P. & Richard U. Wilson Foundation.
The Monroe County Industrial Development Corporation has awarded a $30,000 grant to support educational elements of the project. An anonymous patron donated $30,000 in honor of three individuals who have made great contributions to the Eastman Museum over several decades.
We celebrated the groundbreaking for the Visitor Center Project on January 6, but our fundraising efforts must continue. The Eastman Museum has received funds and pledges totaling $4 million toward the $5 million goal that will enable us to complete and fully fund the entire scope of this transformative project.
One optional element of the project is the installation of a new Colorama — 48 feet wide by 14.4 feet tall — in front of the cooling towers at the far end of the museum’s parking lot. The Colorama would greet visitors to the museum with images from Eastman Kodak’s legendary, monumental installation in Grand Central Terminal (hundreds of source photographs are in the museum’s collection) or newly commissioned works by contemporary photographers. Inclusion of the Colorama in the project depends on necessary fundraising for its construction costs and an endowment for periodic replacement of the immense photographic image.
To learn how you or your institution can contribute to transforming the visitors’ experience at the George Eastman Museum, visit eastman.org/construction.
Bruce Barnes, PhD
Ron and Donna Fielding Director
March/April 2020 Bulletin