History Prize wins support

MARQUETTE – Mara MacKay and Sandy Sharp have a vision: They want to bring an event called History Prize to life in the Upper Peninsula.

That vision received backing earlier this month when the pair won the $5,000 Jumpstart award at the Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism.

The money will help bring the project to life, with the main event being geared toward international tourism during a History Prize tour headquartered in Ironwood, where the women resides, but touching many other communities.

“Resounding support from fellow Pure Michigan conference attendees fueled our enthusiasm and increased our motivation which is great since there is a lot of work ahead to develop the History Prize event,” MacKay said in an email.

Attending the Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism, MacKay took to the stage with just three minutes available to pitch the project, which one of five in contention for the Jumpstart award.

“From the very first day our team felt we were in a strong position among the five contenders; we were happy to represent the Upper Peninsula with History Prize,” Sharp said in an email.

Jumpstart is a Michigan Lodging and Tourism sponsored competition to help projects get started to boost tourism. The History Prize project was selected from statewide submissions. History Prize was chosen by popular vote from the 1,000 or so people attending the conference. That number set an attendance record for the conference, which took place at the Grand Traverse Resort in downstate Traverse City.

MacKay explained History Prize is modeled after another project that’s brought international attention to Michigan: ArtPrize, which takes place annually in the Grand Rapids area. ArtPrize has brought $22 million in new economic stimulus dollars along with 400,000 visitors, MacKay said, citing a 2013 study funded by Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., ArtPrize and Experience Grand Rapids.

What History Prize will be is a creative platform for living history, fixed exhibits and historical collections, MacKay said.

MacKay said the History Prize team from Ironwood will be using the first installment of $2,500 to begin planning and to reach out to sponsors and History Prize participants. And as winners of the Jumpstart competition, MacKay and Sharp will be given an opportunity to meet with Start Garden representatives to discuss additional funding options that could support their project.

Start Garden is a venture capital fund that invests $5,000 in two ideas each week in Michigan, then continues to invest incrementally as they gain momentum. The fund, which was launched in 2012, is backed by a $15 million dollar commitment from the DeVos family.

Sharp and MacKay acknowledged a number of special supporters from Superiorland, including Kaye Hiebel at the Marquette Regional History Center, Pat Black at the Marquette Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Munising Tourism Association, and Nancy and Jeff Dwyer at the Falling Rock Cafe and Bookstore in Munising for bringing the History Prize project to life.

At the Pure Michigan conference, MacKay and Sharp brought with them a team of supporters from the Ironwood area including Chamber of Commerce members and business leaders: Tim Erickson, Sandy Harden and Joe Terzano. Erickson is the director of the Ironwood Area Chamber of Commerce.

History Prize is scheduled to take place on the Gogebic Iron Range from June 20-July 8, 2016, but the scope is much larger than that. MacKay said History Prize event organizers intend to harness heritage partners from around the state of Michigan.

“The event is a catalyst for history lovers to unite, from the around globe, and celebrate culture, heritage and history,” she said.

For more information on History Prize, visit historyprize.org.

Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.