November 15, 2013

Editorial: Recovering from lost funding


---- — Times are challenging for small museums in New York state.

Competition for operation-sustaining funds is fierce, especially now that the New York State Council on the Arts has grouped smaller museums in with those from the New York City area in competition for money.

Add to that a tenuous U.S. economy, which inhibits some individual donors from writing the size checks they would like to.

It is a struggle for survival for small museums, including many here in the North Country. They have fewer places to turn and need help from their friends in local communities.

The Adirondack History Center Museum and Essex County Historical Society, located in Elizabethtown, is a good illustration of the challenges faced by smaller facilities in rural areas.

Over the years, Director Margaret Gibbs has worked hard to secure grant money — and with remarkable success. Estimates are that she has brought in more than $1.7 million in grants over her 12 years at the helm. That is a testament to how much she cares about and believes in the History Center’s mission.

The museum has had so much success with grants that it hasn’t had to ask much of community members. But grant sources are drying up, and any allocations are smaller. More help in the form of volunteers and money is needed.

The History Center, in existence for 60 years, now must increase its individual donor base. It has sent an end-of-year appeal letter to supporters as it seeks to raise $40,000.

“Only through the generosity of people like you will we be able to continue researching and making relevant Essex County’s history and storied landscape,” wrote Board of Trustees President Carol Blakeslee Collin.

Gibbs and Collin are also encouraging area museums to work together for promotion and grant opportunities. “It is the only way small museums can survive,” Gibbs told the Press-Republican. “If we we can each tell our story ... it becomes a (joint) path through history.”

Cultural tourism is important to a history-rich area like the North Country. The Museum Association of New York reports that in New York, museums employ 17,000 people and add $1 billion to the state’s economy. And most of the 1,900 museums in the Empire State are small operations located outside the cities.

People who come to visit North Country museums are drawn off the main roads, and that leads them to small restaurants and lodging facilities around the area, where they will spend money, strengthening our local economy.

Area museums need to work in partnership, not competition, to ensure their future. They need to convince community members of their importance — both in documenting our history and in solidifying our economy.

These are taxing times for North Country museums. As they document our past, your financial support can solidify their future.