politics


A new state (for me), a new set of problems for historic and cultural organizations.  

The latest blow for Michigan’s cultural heritage communities is that in this week’s State of the State address, Gov. Granholm has proposed cutting the entire History, Arts and Libraries state department, the only department she proposed to eliminate.  She does support “finding other means to support these important functions,” but provided no details.   It’s unclear whether the departments in HAL would relocate to to other state departments or would be cut.  Certainly it would diminish the status of arts and culture on a state level, and possibly mean a decrease in grant funding, particularly for small libraries.

Another cut of interest to history folks is that of the Michigan State Fair, the nation’s oldest.  The governor said that the state would not provide the fair (or the UP fair in Escanaba) any funding at all in next year’s budget, and proposed selling the fairgrounds, on Woodward and Eight Mile in Detroit.  The fair’s director said they would look elsewhere for funding (though the major sponsors of the fair in the past have been GM and Chrysler), and proposals are floating up to move the fair to a more rural location.  Though the Michigan State Fair is not as large or prosperous as, say, the Minnesota State Fair, the Most Awesome Event Ever*, it’s definitely a valuable cultural and community event that deserves some smart thinking and preservation.

Also in Michigan history news, in the Feb 24 special election here in Detroit, otherwise known as this year’s first mayoral primary, there are several ballot proposals up for renewal, including the millage for Detroit history, culture and libraries.  I urge you to vote, and to vote yes on the cultural millage renewal.

 

*Which inspires me to do a Nina Simon-like post on What Museums Can Learn from the Minnesota State Fair.

If you watched the presidential debate on Tuesday, you may have noticed that John McCain counted a proposed $3 million earmark for a new “overhead projector” at the Adler Planetarium as an example of his opponent’s wasteful pork.  

On the theory that all publicity is good publicity, I’m pleased to report that this has spurred some discussion about museum funding on a national level.  At the very least, it’s called national attention to the dire state of the equipment at the Adler, which is a vital location of regional and national astronomy education, where the projector hasn’t been replaced for 40 years, and, since the federal government did not approve this request, where the quality of the experience may deteriorate.

The Adler has released a statement, which I’ll quote here since it’s a pdf:

Last night, during the presidential debate in Nashville, Tennessee, Senator John McCain

made the following statement:

 

McCain: “While we were working to eliminate these pork barrel earmarks he (Senator

Obama) voted for nearly $1 billion in pork barrel earmark projects. Including $3 million for

an overhead projector at a planetarium in Chicago, Illinois. My friends, do we need to spend

that kind of money?”

 

To clarify, the Adler Planetarium requested federal support – which was not funded – to

replace the projector in its historic Sky Theater, the first planetarium theater in the

Western Hemisphere. The Adler’s Zeiss Mark VI projector – not an overhead projector – is

the instrument that re-creates the night sky in a dome theater, the quintessential

planetarium experience. The Adler’s projector is nearly 40 years old and is no longer

supported with parts or service by the manufacturer. It is only the second planetarium

projector in the Adler’s 78 years of operation.

 

Science literacy is an urgent issue in the United States. To remain competitive and ensure

national security, it is vital that we educate and inspire the next generation of explorers to

pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

 

Senator McCain’s statements about the Adler Planetarium’s request for federal support do

not accurately reflect the museum’s legislative history or relationship with Senator Obama.

The Adler has approached the Illinois Congressional delegation the last few years for federal

assistance with various initiatives. These have included museum exhibitions, equipment and

educational programs we offer to area schools, including the Chicago Public Schools.

 

We have made requests to Senators Durbin and Obama, as well as to 6 area Congressmen

from both political parties. We are grateful that all of the Members we have approached,

including Senator Obama, have deemed our activities worthy of their support, and have

made appropriations requests on our behalf, as they have for many worthy Illinois nonprofit

organizations.

 

As a result of the hard work of our bipartisan congressional delegation, the Adler has been

fortunate to receive a few federal appropriations the past couple of years.

 

However, the Adler has never received an earmark as a result of Senator Obama’s efforts.

This is clearly evidenced by recent transparency laws implemented by the Congress, which

have resulted in the names of all requesting Members being listed next to every earmark in

the reports that accompany appropriations bills.

 

October 8, 2008

For a small local history museum, the Dorothy G. Page Museum has been getting unusual amounts of national publicity.

The city-owned museum in Wasilla, Alaska has been spotlighted (or, well, mentioned in passing) in discussions of VP hopeful Sarah Palin’s record as mayor of the smallish town near Anchorage. After Palin took office in the late ’90s, she fired or asked for the resignation of many top city officials, including the museum director, John Cooper, and the library director (who was later spared). Palin also pushed through drastic budget cuts for the museum, whose mission is “to identify, collect, preserve, research, interpret and exhibit the cultural and historical heritage of Wasilla, Knik and Willow Creek areas,” cutting $32,000 a year from a museum with an annual budget of around $200,000. Additionally, three long-term employees were told that one of them must leave and all three resigned in protest. Media reports unfailingly describe these staff members as “septuagenarian,” “grey-haired,” “matronly,” or just “old.” For this I’ll excerpt an article from the Anchorage Daily News, August 1997, which has been making the rounds on the web (for instance, as well as this, and Jessamyn has discussed the library implications):

Opal Toomey, Esther West and Ann Meyers don’t seem like politically active types. There are no bumper stickers on their cars, no pins on their lapels.But the three gray-haired matrons of Wasilla’s city museum decided to take a stand last week. Faced with a $32,000 budget cut and the prospect of choosing who would lose her job, the three 15-year-plus employees decided instead to quit en masse. They sent a letter to the mayor and City Council announcing they plan to retire at the end of the month, leaving the museum without a staff. They also sent a message: They’d rather quit than continue working for a city that doesn’t want to preserve its history.

”We hate to leave,” said Meyers, who at 65 is the youngest of the three. ”We’ve been together a long time. But this is enough.” If the city were broke, it would be different, she said. ”If they were even close to being broke.”

Instead, the city is flush thanks to a 2 percent sales tax passed in 1994 that has left it with $4 million in reserves. There is no reason the museum’s budget should be cut, Meyers said . . . .

The women are only the latest to leave the city payroll, noted John Cooper, who was the museum’s director until Palin fired him last fall.

In addition to Cooper, Wasilla Police Chief Irl Stambaugh left last winter after Palin fired him, and planning director Duane Dvorak and Public Works director John Felton turned in their resignations this summer.

”People are voting with their feet,” he said.

Palin maintains she is doing what voters asked. To have $4 million in reserves is prudent. That’s not even an entire year’s budget, she said.

Much of the latest flap over the museum is a misunderstanding, she said.

All the council wanted was to cut back the museum’s hours in winter from seven days a week to five. The women made the decision to resign, Palin said.

West, Toomey and Meyers disagree. They say they were told that one of them would have to leave in September.

Unfortunately, when small museums have their budgets cut, it usually doesn’t make national news. And if it makes national news ten years later, as it has here in Wasilla, that’s too late for the artifacts and the dedicated volunteers and staff. The city’s website, though, shows the museum open six days a week during the tourist season, including a visitors center and museum with exhibits, and a historic town site with several preserved buildings. My hunch is that these budget cuts made continuing exhibits and programs more important than collections care, but that perhaps the funding has been restored by now. Wasilla also has several other museums, though the city only runs the Page museum and historic town site.

The lesson I draw from this incident, far from being a reflection on national politics, is that, on the contrary, local politics is far more influential for small museums. As I’ve said before, it just takes one county commissioner or mayor who doesn’t understand what museums do and thinks your museum is a waste of money to make decisions that will endanger the future of your museum. And on the local level, it’s much easier to find out candidates’ positions on museum and humanities funding and to influence those positions with your museum advocacy bloc. Susie at Museum Audience Insight notes that museum enthusiasts, a statistical group they call “museum advocates,” vote at a much much higher rate than the general public, 3.5 times more in the state of Connecticut this year. So, small history museums: you and your supporters can have a political voice.

Among AAM’s projects is museum advocacy on a national level.  Recently, they sent Tammis K. Groft, deputy director of collections and exhibits at the Albany Institute of History and Art, to Washington as a “citizen-lobbyist” to speak to a committee about the importance of NEH Preservation and Access Grants.   She wrote a few blog posts on the subject on the AAM’s advocacy blog.  PAG grants are a major way museums of all sizes fund collections stewardship projects, and the funding for the program is slated to be cut by 50% next year.  Contact your elected officials to advocate for NEH conservation programs!

The Humanities Advocacy Network is also a great resource for humanities advocacy, including preservation and history programs.  You can sign up to get action alerts and email your representatives from the page.

I’d love to see more blogging from AAM or other organizations on museum and history advocacy issues.  The wrangling over appropriations can be very opaque, and a human voice really helps to clarify issues and make advocacy work seem much more possible for small museum professionals and those without much lobbying practice.  (My occasional posts about Minnesota cultural legislation don’t cut it.)

All this is prefatory to mentioning that AAM’s museum advocacy day will be February 23-24, 2009:

AAM is pleased to invite museum professionals from around the country to
Washington, DC on February 23-24, 2009 for Museums Advocacy Day.  During the
two-day program, participants will be briefed on AAM's legislative agenda and
will learn how to effectively communicate the value of museums to public policy
makers. The second day will consist of visits to Capitol Hill where advocates
will make their case to Congress.

In 2009, a new Congress and a new administration will begin working on a wide
range of issues, including funding for museum programs and the reauthorization
of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).  We need to make our
voices heard!

February 23 will be a day of advocacy training, where you will:
hear from a range of Capitol Hill experts about the political landscape in 2009
be briefed on AAM's legislative agenda for museums
get tips about meeting with elected officials and the stats you need to make
your case
learn how to participate in "year-round" advocacy, engaging elected officials
in the ongoing work of your museum
network with advocates from your state about your upcoming Capitol Hill visits
attend an evening reception with Members of Congress and staff invited
Tuesday February 24 we will take our message to Capitol Hill. Advocates will
gather in groups by state to make coordinated visits to House and Senate
offices to make the case for continued federal support for museums. Museums
Advocacy Day will begin on Sunday, February 22, with optional visits to your
favorite Washington, DC museums.

"There could not be a more critical time for museum advocates to make their
case on Capitol Hill," said AAM President Ford Bell.  "With so much at stake,
we need to effectively communicate the value of museums to our elected
officials."

For more information please contact our Government Relations team at (202)
218-7703.

Stay tuned for more details about the final program.

But for now, SAVE THE DATE - February 23-24, 2009!

This bill was proposed last week in the Minnesota State Legislature. It says that all state documents should be produced or at least saved in an interoperable non-proprietary XML-based format. Very interesting, and definitely a help to folks archiving and preserving born digital materials. Are other state governments doing the same?

H.F. No. 176,  as introduced – 85th Legislative Session (2007-2008)   Posted on Jan 17, 2007

1.1A bill for an act

1.2relating to state government; establishing Preservation of State Documents Act;
1.3proposing coding for new law in Minnesota Statutes, chapter 16E.
1.4BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MINNESOTA:

1.5    Section 1. [16E.0355] PRESERVATION OF STATE DOCUMENTS ACT.
1.6Effective July 1, 2008, all documents including text, spreadsheets, and presentations
1.7of the state of Minnesota shall be created, exchanged, maintained, and preserved in an
1.8open, XML-based file format, as specified by the chief information office of the state,
1.9that is:
1.10(1) interoperable among diverse internal and external platforms and applications;
1.11(2) fully published and available royalty-free;
1.12(3) implemented by multiple vendors; and
1.13(4) controlled by an open industry organization with a well-defined inclusive process
1.14for evolution of the standard. By that date, the state of Minnesota shall be able to accept
1.15all documents received in open document format for office applications and shall not
1.16migrate to a file format currently used by only one organization.

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