Tag: IMLS

The Proposed Funding Cuts & the Impact on Small and Rural Museums

Mr. Trump’s draft budget blueprint eliminates many environmental, cultural, human services, and science based programs.  I will address two of the programs with which I have direct experience – the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Corporation for National and Community Service.

In 2007 I was hired as the Director of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, a small prehistoric venue in Southwest Memphis, Tennessee.  The Museum had fallen on “hard times” as it were.  In essence, my assigned task was to rejuvenate the place or the Museum would likely be shut down.  Over my nine-year tenure, we eliminated the Museum’s operating deficit and made up past deficits.  Also, the annual attendance doubled.  The C.H. Nash Museum began to play a critical role as a cultural heritage venue in Southwest Memphis, became an integral educational resource for the University of Memphis, and a national model for co-creating with a local community whose tax dollars supported the Museum.  Both the IMLS and CNCS were critical to that process.  Simply put, the successes of the Museum would not have occurred without the support of these two institutions.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services

The C.H. Nash Museum was able to take advantage of several services offered by the IMLS:

  • Connecting to Collections, of which IMLS is a founding partner, awarded the C.H. Nash Museum a set of books valued at over $1500.00 to help us become better informed on the best practices necessary for curating our 50 years worth of collections, many of which had not been properly cared for in decades.  The book award is no longer offered because now the IMLS provides that scope of resources online, a more cost-effective means for distributing the information.  Connecting to Collections also hosts regular webinars on a diverse range of issues.  All Connecting to Collections services are provided free to museums.  This service is absolutely critical to small museums throughout the U.S. that are operated by either volunteer or small staffs.  Specifically, small museums such as Chucalissa do not have access to funds to hire consultants with the expertise needed to conserve, preserve, and present the cultural heritage they curate.
  • The IMLS’s Museum Assessment Program (MAP) proved absolutely critical to our Museum’s turn around.  The C.H. Nash Museum was founded in 1956, but there was limited attention paid to its maintenance or upgrades over the years.  For example, in 2007, no museum exhibit was upgraded for nearly 30 years and many of the collections were not properly curated.  The MAP program consisted of a period of intensive self-study followed by a peer review from a nationally recognized museum professional matched specifically to our institutional needs.  The reviewer provided a series of recommendations grouped by duration (short-term, medium-term, and long-term) and cost (no expense, modest expense, or major expense).  Of importance to our governing authority, the peer reviewer’s recommendations came with the credibility of the nationally recognized leaders in the field – IMLS and the American Alliance of Museums.  The recommendations provided leverage for our Museum and were integral to our strategic plan developments.  Our Museum simply did not have the 15-20 thousand dollars necessary to hire a private consultant to perform these services.  Our total cost for the program was $400.00.

As the recently retired Director of a small museum along with my years of service on small museum boards and professional organizations, without question, the small institution, often in a  rural location will be most directly and negatively affected in eliminating the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Corporation for National and Community Service – AmeriCorps

To the extent IMLS allowed us to strategically reorient our Museum, AmeriCorps allowed us to carry out those changes.  NCCC AmeriCorps is the legacy of the 1930s-era Civilian Conservation Corps and is composed of youth between the ages of 18-25 who give one year of community service.  At the C.H. Nash Museum, we hosted six AmeriCorps teams over a four-year period.  These teams were integral to our ability to serve and engage with our neighboring community.  We devised a unique partnership where each 8-week AmeriCorps team spent 1/3 of their rotation working on each of three separate components: the C.H. Nash Museum, the surrounding community, and the T.O. Fuller State Park as follows:

  • Teams working in the surrounding community focused on minor to moderate repair and landscaping work on the homes of elderly veterans in the 95% African-American working class community that surrounds the C.H. Nash Museum.¹ In addition, team members served as mentors to neighborhood youth in this underserved community and leveraged corporate support for their projects. ²
  • Teams working at the C.H. Nash Museum developed skills and performed structural improvements to the site including creating gardens, lab exhibits, rain shelters, refurbished onsite housing and much more.
  • Teams working at the T.O. Fuller State Park completed maintenance projects such as refurbishment of picnic shelters and trail maintenance.  The T.O. Fuller State Park is particularly significant in Memphis history as the only such recreation facility available for the African-American community during the era of Jim Crow segregation.

Both IMLS and AmeriCorps teams led to building relationships and leveraging assets to bring additional resources into play that would not have been otherwise available.  For example:

  • The IMLS Connecting to Collections resources allowed Museum staff to generate the types of data based proposals to generate additional economic support from the governing authority.
  • Similarly, the IMLS MAP program help to demonstrate the fiduciary responsibility of the governing authority to the collections and infrastructure of the Museum, leading to additional economic support in the form of staff and material support.
  • The AmeriCorps Teams strengthened community connections that today allow the C.H. Nash Museum to host the community’s Annual Veterans Day event, the annual Black History Month Celebration, provide space and resources for a community garden, provide internships for local high school students, to name just a few.

In summary, elimination of the IMLS and the CNCS will also cut the potential for projects such as those noted above at the C.H. Nash Museum.  In 2012, the House of Representatives passed H.Con.Res.112 that called for eliminating the National Endowments for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts noting that “The activities and content funded by these agencies  . . . are generally enjoyed by people of higher income levels, making them a wealth transfer from poorer to wealthier citizens.”  My examples demonstrate such statements are erroneous.  In fact, as demonstrated in the case of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, the elimination of IMLS and CNCS will directly impact the small and particularly rural museums that serve as the cultural heritage hub for their communities and will not put “America first” an alleged goal of Mr. Trump’s budget.

An immediate and strong response must be sent to all legislators to counter proposals to eliminate these and similar programs that truly do put all of America first.

 

¹References for this work include the following: Making African American History Relevant through Co-Creation and Community Service Learning by Robert P. Connolly and Ana Rea; The C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa: Community Engagement at an Archaeological Site by Robert P. Connolly, Samantha Gibbs, and Mallory Bader; AmeriCorps Delta 5 – Unparalleled Community Service by Robert P. Connolly; AmeriCorps, Archaeology and Service by Robert P. Connolly; AmeriCorps Archaeology and Museums by Robert P. Connolly.

² AmeriCorps NCCC: The Best of the Millennial Generation by Ana Rea.

A Simple Yet Effective Advocacy Opportunity

walker art

The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) has designated August 10 – 17 as Invite Congress to Visit Your Museum Week.  The AAM notes that this “work period” is an excellent opportunity to have legislators visit museums to see the role of U.S. cultural heritage institutions as a public resource for education and engagement.  This year, the AAM posted a 12-step guide for arranging the visits from the initial invite to thanking the official for their participation.  This advocacy event is a simple yet effective means for communicating with the individuals who vote on the funding for many of the programs that support our work.

For example, at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa we benefit directly from the Institute of Museum an Library Service (IMLS) programs, an agency that in the past few years has been considered by some as providing services that are not “core” to the Federal Government.  However, for Chucalissa the IMLS services are essential to our operation.

Three years ago we received a Connecting to Collections Bookshelf Award that provided over $500.00 worth of best practices literature on a range of museum operations.  Our staff regularly consult these books for everything from determining pest control standards to digitizing photos.

Over the past three years we participated in both the Institutional and Collections Stewardship components of the Museum Assessment Program (MAP).   We applied to take part this fall in the Community Outreach component.  Our participation in MAP is essential to our development as an institution.  Again, based in the best practice expertise of the IMLS and the AAM, for the MAP process we complete a self-assessment in the component area and are matched with an expert who completes an on-site peer review and evaluation.  At Chucalissa, the recommendations of our MAP reviewer proved crucial for the policies and standards we ultimately developed.  Our governing board has taken the MAP evaluations very seriously and provided the resources for implementation of key recommendations.  Today, our stakeholders recognize the C.H. Nash Museum for the renewed and essential role that we play in our community.  Without a doubt, the two federally funded programs noted above are critical to that success.

The above discussion leads me to ask: Is it the federal government’s responsibility to fund the administration of these types of projects, such as MAP and the Bookshelf award?  Are these truly essential services contrary to the House Budget Committee statements in the past year?   I argue emphatically yes.  Here is why:

First, museums by definition are nonprofit institutions, charged with presenting and preserving the cultural heritage of a community or interest.  That is, like schools and other government agencies, they operate for the community good.  For the MAP and Bookshelf examples I note above, organization and dissemination on the national level simply makes sense from both logistical and economic considerations.  The expertise that the national organizations such as the IMLS and AAM bring to the local community cannot and would not effectively be replicated locally.

Second, the MAP and Bookshelf programs provided our Museum with information and direction to run more efficiently from both mission and economic perspectives.  For example, our Institutional MAP provided insights to stream-line and focus the application of our mission.  In no small part because of our participation in the MAP program, our annual revenues have increased and we reduced our expenses.  We are now more “grant ready” to seek and receive added outside funding.  We have set a goal of creating an institution that going forward will be sustainable.

This leads to perhaps the most critical point for cultural heritage institutions today – the need to be relevant to the public we serve.  I do not believe the purpose for going to Museum Advocacy Day in Washington D.C. or inviting our elected officials to museums this August is just so we can ask for increased funding or protecting our economic self-interests.  Rather, these processes are first about building relationships so that our relevance to the public as cultural heritage institutions is understood.  The way I think this works is summarized in an article recently published about C.H. Nash Museum in the Museums and Social Issues journal:

We consider the relevance of our cultural institution to the community of prime importance. We believe that if in 2007 we had asked the residents of Southwest Memphis what the C.H. Nash Museum meant to them, in all likelihood, their response would have focused on how some of “our children visit for school field trips and Chucalissa is where the Indian Mounds are located.” If we ask that question today, we hope the response will include “Chucalissa is the place where there is an exhibit on the cultural heritage of our community; where there is a resource center on our community history; the place where we hold our Black History Month celebrations; where our traditional foods garden was planted last year; where the AmeriCorps Teams that work in our community live; and also where the Indian Mounds are located.”

So, if we ask ‘is the community more likely to vote for public funding and find relevance in our institution in 2007 or today,’ the answer is obvious.  Federally funded programs have helped us develop that relevance.  Telling that story of relevance to our elected officials allows them to have a complete picture not just to impact their funding decisions, but to become a part of the story they tell and highlight from their districts.

How will your cultural heritage institution take part in Invite Congress to Visit Your Museum Week? 

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