GASTONIA, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — Supporters of the Gaston County Museum heard music to their ears Tuesday night.

County Chairman Chad Brown told residents that full funding for the art and history museum is now included in the budget for the next fiscal year. The facility has been around for nearly 50 years in the heart of Dallas, but its future has been in peril based on commissioner comments at a March budget session.

Brown’s statement came as a Gaston County who’s who appeared for public comments at the commissioner’s meeting. Chief among them was Marshall Rauch, the 100-year-old former state senator, and Gastonia city councilman. He recalled the opening of the Schiele Museum of Natural History in 1961 and its longtime support.

“From nothing, you see what the Schiele Museum is now,” Rauch said. “You have that challenge. The beginning of a fine history-art museum is before you. You can end it, or build it like they built the Schiele. I was there when they changed the name from Gastonia Museum to the Schiele Museum. I made the motion for the first $50,000 contribution from the state of North Carolina to the Schiele.”

Rauch’s wife, Jeanne, was a founding member of the Gaston Museum board member when it opened in 1976. Since it showcased the county’s roots in the textile industry and illuminated local artists. Its current exhibit, “Into the Darkroom: Photography as History and Artform,” is described as a complete exploration of the technological and creative medium of photography.

The bicentennial would come in 2026. Kim Norwood spoke for the current board.

“With your assistance, I ask you give our board and staff the opportunity to continue to move forward to help bring the present and past together to help us form our future projects,” Norwood said. “We would like to work hand in hand with commissioners to see that you see fit.”

Former Gaston County Sheriff Alan Cloninger has a deep personal connection to the museum.

“My mom’s name’s on it,” he said in an emotional plea. “It meant a lot to her, but we as people in this county can’t let that museum die. It holds the history of not just Dallas but the whole county. If there’s nowhere for future generations to go to to see what has occurred in this county, the pains we’ve gone through, what successes we have had, what failures we have had. Once you forget the past, you’re prone to repeat the past.”

The complete Gaston County budget vote will take place on May 9. Last year the county provided $90,000 for the museum. According to Scott Warren of the North Carolina Museums Council, that figure represents one-fourth of 1 percent of the entire budget.

While past local leaders came with nostalgia, Warren brought the cold, hard facts. He showcased how the museum has thrived from the COVID pandemic, both in person and online.

“The pandemic had attendance challenges for museums across the state,” he said. “Through innovative programming and creative outreach coming out of COVID, the museum had a 317 percent increase in visitation, 217 percent increase in social media engagement, and a 26 percent increase in virtual engagement. Resilience like this is no accident. It offers the county a long-term investment in its culture.”

Editor’s note: Scott Warren’s job title was corrected in this article on Wednesday.