Melissa L. Dunlap, executive director of the Niagara History Center (Niagara County Historical Society) in Lockport, was presented with the Museum Association of New York’s Individual Achievement Award at a conference in Corning. The honor was in recognition of Dunlap’s 32 years of accomplishments at the Niagara Street museum, 28 of which she has served as executive director.
Dunlap began her career at the Niagara History Center in 1990 when she was hired as registrar, and a year later promoted to curator. She was named executive director in 1994.
At that time, the museum complex consisted of the Outwater House (the main museum building), and four smaller structures on the Niagara Street site. A capital/endowment campaign in 1998 enabled the society to purchase new property and update existing ones. By the end of the decade – with funds raised from the capital campaign, grants and board support – Dunlap expanded the museum complex to include 229 Niagara St. (Kandt House). This was built an addition to the Yates barn, which doubled the size of that space. The Pioneer Building was renovated, including the Tuscarora exhibit, and other improvements were made.
In the early 2000s, Dunlap worked with a local committee to create the interactive Erie Canal Discovery Center in the old Hamilton House, which opened in 2005. The Charles Rand Penney Gallery was added to that facility in 2011. Dunlap has also replaced the roofs and furnaces in every building the History Center owns. During her tenure, the budget and staff tripled.
With the assistance of volunteers, board members and other staff over the past 30 years, Dunlap has written and received dozens of grants to improve and expand the History Center’s properties, exhibits and educational programs. Under her leadership, the History Center saw an increase in museum visitors, school and community groups, program audiences and outreach to the public.
Dunlap has served, and continues to serve, on numerous boards, committees and community forums to promote history, the arts and collaboration among diverse groups and organizations.
A press release stated, “The Museum Association of New York is a nonprofit organization, based in Troy, that strengthens the capacity of New York state's cultural community by supporting professional standards and organizational development. They provide advocacy, training and networking opportunities so that museums and museum professionals may better serve their missions and communities.”
An annual conference is held at a different museum location every April.