Museums could benefit in proposed state budget

Pennsylvania museums and historical sites have suffered major funding cuts over the past six years, sending curators and directors scrambling to make adjustments.

In many of the 1,200 museums and historical sites across the state, the decrease from $26.6 million in total funding during the 2005-06 fiscal year to $2.7 million in 2011-12 has caused staff lay-offs, declining operating hours, and hikes in admission costs.

Warren County has not been immune to the nationwide slashes, reports Michelle Gray, managing director of the Warren County Historical Society. “The Historical Society has not received government support (in terms of general operating costs) for two years now,” said Gray. “We received a Keystone Grant for the roof and other project grants through the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, but no general operating support.”

Rusty Baker, executive director of the Pennsylvania Federation of Museums and Historical Organizations is optimistic that the drought in government funding will be over soon. “I think there are definitely champions for our cause now. I think legislators believe in museums,” said Baker.

A November bipartisan study of museum funding by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee revealed PA’s 25,000 arts and culture organizations contribute more than $2.5 billion annually to the economy, provide jobs to more than 127,000 employees, and generate more than $1.8 billion in household income.

“Museums provide value to their communities,” the report stated, “not only in terms of economic development but also by preserving the past and maintaining collections that adults and children can access for their pleasure and education.”

It’s difficult to be a non-profit organization,” said Gray, “fortunately we have a lot of wonderful resources that help us stay alive as a community resource.”

The recent formation of a bipartisan, bicameral Arts and Culture Caucus in the General Assembly has led to increased optimism that funding may soon return to many arts and museum locations that have felt the effects of the cuts.

In November, a one-time dispersal of more than $1 million in general operating support grants to more than 50 arts and culture organizations through the PA Museum and Historical Commission spurred hopes that the funding will return. Optimism aside, there are no guarantees that the increased funding will be a part of Governor Tom Corbett’s proposed 2013-2014 budget.