The Brownsville Historical Association was founded in 1947, and is one of Brownsville's oldest non-profit organizations that examines and preserves history, heritage and cultural arts. With 60 years of service, we are dedicated to serving the local community and creating opportunities for every resident to learn about, participate with, and come to an appreciation of the connection between our history and cultural art. The Brownsville Historical Association operates the Brownsville Heritage Complex which consists of the Stillman House Museum, Brownsville Heritage Museum, The Aiken Education Center, The Heritage Resource Center, and The Children's Cultural and Learning Center. The Association opened the Old City Cemetery Center in October 2007.
Since the opening of the Stillman House Museum in 1960, Brownsville's population has doubled; and it is expected to double again in the next 15 years. In an effort to keep pace with this rapid growth, the Brownsville Historical Association added a Heritage Resource Center in 1988 as a storage facility for its archival collections. It later added an interpretive photographic museum called the Brownsville Heritage Museum in 2002 in order to showcase its vast photographic collections. The Aiken Education Center was added in 2004 to provide much needed additional programming space and a gallery for rotating temporary exhibits. Most recently, the Association refurbished the Stillman House Carriage Apartment in order to create a space for learning activities and hands-on workshops for children.
Services include year round programming on history, heritage and cultural arts of the Rio Grande Valley region in the buildings that comprise the Brownsville Heritage Complex. The Brownsville Historical Association provides an informal learning environment designed to stimulate curiosity, imagination, and understanding of history and cultural arts. A wide variety of educational programs are offered at the museums and at various venues throughout the community with our outreach program.
The Brownsville Heritage Complex is the only place in the Rio Grande Valley where a visitor can view a 19th century home, visit a history museum, learn in a hands-on learning center, enjoy cultural arts exhibitions, and do research all in one location.
In the past 60 years, the Brownsville Historical Association has served a vital role in the educational and cultural growth throughout South Texas and Northern Mexico, and has acted as a catalyst for the redevelopment of historic downtown Brownsville by providing various educational programs and walking tours.
In late 2005, the BHA met to revise the mission statement, adopt both a vision statement and a strategic plan for the organization. What resulted from these sessions was a renewed commitment to the residents of Brownsville, with a focus on reaching underserved and diverse audiences. While most of the history of the BHA focuses on historical programs, during the strategic planning sessions it became apparent that there was a need to offer a more comprehensive and interactive interpretation of history in order to engage the public. BHA endeavored to bridge the perceived division between the history and the culture of the community as a way to engage new audiences. BHA also adopted the goal of improving the quality of life for all residents of Brownsville, Texas and its environs by providing life-long learning experiences about the history, cultural arts, and heritage of the region, and to continue to attract tourism to the heart of Historic Downtown Brownsville.
BHA decided to move in a new direction that made the museums a "town square" for people in the community to have conversations that stimulate thought and draw connections between history, heritage, and cultural arts. By making history and cultural traditions relevant to issues and interests of today, BHA hopes to foster life-long learning experiences. One dramatic change at BHA was the incorporation of exhibitions of art and contemporary art based on cultural and traditional history.
With a broader approach and a stronger commitment to incorporating multidisciplinary arts to public programming and exhibitions, and a strong outreach program, BHA's visitors have quadrupled within the first year of the initiation of the strategic plan. Visitors to the BHA reflected a broad cross-section of the Brownsville and the surrounding region with 30% of the visitors coming from surrounding cities of the Rio Grande Valley.
The most important accomplishment is that BHA established a strong relationship with the underserved community surrounding the museums through this new approach to history and cultural arts programming. This underserved and impoverished community is known as the Buena Vida neighborhood.
According to recent statistics about the Buena Vida neighborhood 62% of families lives under the poverty level. 48% of the household income is less than 10K a year. 82% of the children live under the poverty level. 50% of the houses in the Buena Vida neighborhood were built before the 1950s. 20% of the houses were built before the 1940s. 66% of the families are renters; 70% of the population receives assistance from the government, 45% of the population is over the age of 60, and 70% of the population of 60 is non-employable.
In an area of the country where quality of life opportunities are exceedingly limited and access to arts and cultural programs are cost prohibitive, it became BHA's goal to meet its mission by offering admission at little or no cost to the families of Brownsville. As the Rio Grande Valley and Brownsville continue to grow at an unprecedented pace, this economic and demographic growth is accompanied by a need for significant cultural and educational growth. This is especially true for the young people of the Rio Grande Valley where more than one third of the population is under 20 years of age. To prepare these youth for success and leadership, it was essential that BHA expand its reach and focus on providing significant cultural and educational resources.
With 90% of its programs, admissions, and workshops offered free of charge or at a nominal cost, BHA presented over the course of one year: 21 history and cultural art exhibitions, 26 gallery talks, 17 presentations with guest speakers, 9 book signings, 3 summer camps, 22 cooking workshops, 6 trolley tours, and 16 hands-on workshops.
This service to the community was accomplished through a variety of programs and exhibitions and is one of the many reasons why BHA was awarded The Award of Merit in 2002, and awarded the John L. Nau III Award of Excellence in Museums by the Texas Historical Commission in 2007.
Because of the need to provide programming to an increasing audience in the small buildings that comprise the Brownsville Heritage Complex, the City of Brownsville expressed an interest in helping BHA expand its facilities. One expansion calls for providing cultural arts and historic programming in the heart of the Buena Vida neighborhood through the Old City Cemetery Center. The center is part of a larger plan to save and restore one of the city's most important historical and cultural resources. Funding for this center is provided through a partnership between BHA, the City of Brownsville, and the Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation. The Old City Cemetery Center opened on October 18, 2007. The programs offered at the Center consist of historical and cultural programs based around the historic cemetery and the surrounding neighborhood.
Another long-term expansion includes the revitalization of Brownsville's old Market Square. When completed, the building will house the new collections storage facility, the Market Square Museum and Cultural Center, El Mercado Artisan Market, the Brownsville Police and Fire Museum, and the Rio Grande River Museum.
The Brownsville Historical Association was founded in 1947, and is one of Brownsville's oldest non-profit organizations that examines and preserves history, heritage and cultural arts. With 60 years of service, we are dedicated to serving the local community and creating opportunities for every resident to learn about, participate with, and come to an appreciation of the connection between our history and cultural art. The Brownsville Historical Association operates the Brownsville Heritage Complex which consists of the Stillman House Museum, Brownsville Heritage Museum, The Aiken Education Center,