Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Some Hope for Pennsylvania Museums

You may recall that I have written a bit about the massive budget cuts to museums and historical sites that have been part of the legacy of former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell. 

On February 16, 2009 I blogged about Rendell's decision to cut funding to the State Library of Pennsylvania, resulting in the loss of fifty staff positions.  About a week later I discussed the implications of Rendell's budget for the State Museum of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

In March 2009, I called your attention to "Our SLOP Bucket," a round-up of editorials and media coverage related to Rendell's cuts to the library budget of the State Library of Pennsylvania. Also in March, I offered a reflection on how the Rendell cuts were affecting the Clinton County Historical Society in Lock Haven.

In February 2010 I reported on a petition circulated by Geneva College students to protest Rendell's cuts to museums and historical societies.

In March 2010, I wrote an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer entitled "State is Erasing History." Following the publication of the op-ed I appeared on WITF radio with Barbara Franco, then executive director of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, to discuss the Rendell cuts.

Finally, last June I wondered how Rendell could write an op-ed praising the new Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia after presiding over a budget that took millions of dollars from state museums and historical societies.

So needless to say I was slightly encouraged today as I read about a bipartisan report affirming the educational and economic importance of museums to the health of the Commonwealth.  Here is a taste from the article in The Patriot-News:

Many of Pennsylvania’s 1,200 museums and historical sites have taken a financial drubbing at the hands of state lawmakers over the past six years.

Funding through various grant programs and direct appropriations, which totaled $29.3 million in fiscal year 2005-06, had declined to $2.7 million by 2011-12. As a result, many museums have laid off staff, cut operating hours and raised admission prices.

Now there are signs of a thaw, for museums in particular, and the arts and culture community as a whole.

“We are optimistic about that,” Rusty Baker, executive director of the Pennsylvania Federation of Museums and Historical Organizations, said recently. “I think there are definite champions for our cause now. I think legislators believe in museums.”

While there are no guarantees that increased arts and culture funding will be part of Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed 2013-14 budget, several recent developments are driving hopes in a museum community that stretches from the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the east to Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum in the west.

Chief among them is a bipartisan study of museum funding completed in November by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee.
The five-month study, which cost about $72,800, does not make specific recommendations about funding but does acknowledge that the state’s museums make significant contributions to tourism, economic development and education.

Among the findings: Pennsylvania’s 25,000 arts and culture organizations contribute more than $2.5 billion annually to economic activity and generate more than $1.8 billion in household income for their 127,000 employees.