Each year about this time I receive many solicitations in the mail for donations to area museums. I should qualify that statement – from large area museums. At best, smaller museums can afford to send email newsletters with fund appeals. As the director of a small museum, I don’t make this statement as a complaint or grievance. In fact, I am very pleased that I am not responsible for those mega-size electric bills and other expenses that larger institutions pay!
As might be gleaned from the last couple of posts on this blog, I am a strong advocate for cultural heritage institutions demonstrating their worth as community assets. My experience has shown that when we do so, economic support follows.
I am also a small museum junkie. Places like the Pearl Button Museum in Muscatine Iowa, The Santa Fe Trail Center in Larned, Kansas, and the Mennonite Heritage and Agricultural Museum in Goessel, Kansas are some of the larger of the small museums of which I have fond memories. When traveling on backroads, my wife and I always stop at any and all county and smaller museums. Unfortunately, these venues are often closed, have very restricted operating hours, or are open only by appointment.
As we near the end of the year and peak time of annual charitable contributions, I urge everyone to remember the small museums. Mega-museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Pink Palace in Memphis, and the Exploratorium in San Francisco – yes, they all need charitable contributions and support too.
But here is an example of how your donation to a small museum will make a difference. A bunch of years ago on a backroad trip to Colorado, I was driving through Baxter Springs Kansas on a rainy Sunday morning about 11:00 AM. As I drove through the small town to see what there was to see, I came across the Baxter Springs Museum Heritage Center. On the front door hung an open sign. Surprised and assuming that perhaps the staff had left the sign up from the day before, I parked my car. Sure enough, the museum was open and staffed by an elderly woman and a young teenager. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to that place – particularly their Civil War exhibit. I suspect that the cost for keeping the museum open on Sundays for out-of-town visitors and residents alike is less than $5000.00 per year. For a larger museum, like the Metropolitan Museum of Arts with a 2.5 billion dollar investment portfolio, that $5ooo.00 is a proverbial drop in the bucket. For Baxter Springs, the $5000.00 is a bigger chunk of the small town’s discretionary funds. (I notice on the Museum’s website they are now only open from 1 – 4 on Sundays.)
A few hundred or thousand dollars here and there will really make a difference in the visitor experience at small museums such as those reported in this post. The same total contribution to larger museums if even noticed, will only have a negligible impact.
As we reach the end of this calendar year, consider making a donation to a small museum. Here are some possibilities:
- Check out Wikipedia’s list of museums by state, find a small venue that you have enjoyed, and make a donation. (In fact, to put my money where my mouth is, that is exactly what I am going to do this morning!)
- Check out crowdfunding campaigns by museums on sites like Indiegogo and make a contribution to one that resonates with your interests.
- Of course, I also encourage donations to the institutions I am affiliated with – The C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa where your donation will go toward our upgrade to the Brister Archaeology Discovery Lab or to PIARA, where your donation will support the cultural heritage development in the rural Andes municipality of Huaylas, Peru.
Regardless of where you choose to make a contribution, know that such public support for the small museum is essential for their very survival.