Museums tighten belts, hope for more funds

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Capital News Service
LANSING – Arts and cultural venues in the state generated more than $2 billion in 2010 in tourism spending – more than golf, winter skiing, boating, sailing, hunting, fishing and viewing sporting events combined, a new Creative State Michigan report shows.
However, the recession has hit Michigan museums hard.
The Detroit Science Center closed due to financial hardship last year, for example, and the majority of Michigan museums have curtailed their opening hours.
Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Snyder included $6.15 million in his 2013 budget proposal for the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs — a $3.6 million increase in state funding and the largest recommended increase since 2002.
“If it is approved by the Legislature, our applicants such as nonprofit arts and cultural organizations will be eligible to receive more grants, awards and other funding from us,” said John Bracey, executive director of the council.
“Certainly there is a way for nonprofit Michigan museums to get the benefits if the proposal is approved,” he said.
In 2011, the council awarded $2 million in grants to arts and cultural organizations, educational institutions and municipalities in 41 counties to support arts programming.
“These programs have provided important levels of support for arts and historical museums across Michigan,” said Jennifer Goulet, president of ArtServe Michigan in Wixom.
“Arts and cultural institutions of all sizes have been impacted by the economic downturn with reductions in state and federal grant funding, tightening of corporate support through grants and sponsorships, and impacts on individual contributions as families or individuals faced their own decisions on how to spend more limited dollars,” she said.
However, Goulet said the Creative State Michigan report shows that, for every $1 in state funding for the arts in 2009, 211 nonprofit organizations contributed $51 to Michigan’s economy in spending on programs and operations, demonstrating the important economic impact of the cultural sector statewide.
Susan Steele, executive director of the Michigan Museums Association in Dearborn, said although her association hasn’t researched the impact of the economic downturn on its members, it knows this is a tough time for them.
Caitlyn Perry Dial, curator of the Heritage Museum and Cultural Center in St. Joseph, said her museum always struggles to keep and maintain membership, much less grow it.
“We survive mostly on our member donations. However, we did see a downturn in our donations,” she said.
To bring in extra revenue, the museum lets the public rent some facilities, including the parlor and conference room, audio-visual theater, founders’ garden and exhibit halls.
Meaghan Black, an education specialist at the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center in Alpena, said that although her center is a federal agency, it started a nonprofit friends group because its main funding from Washington was stagnant.
“We are struggling so we need assistance from outside the government,” Black said. “With our increased costs, we are actually less funded.”
Black said the Alpena museum has seen increased attendance but that doesn’t help because it charges no admission. “However, it may be an option eventually.”
Most Michigan museums charge admissions, and few are still free.
The Michigan Historical Museum in Lansing, which had been free since it opened in 1989, started charging admission last year.
The main reason for the charge, however, is not because of its tight budget, director Sandra Clark said.
“We want to improve our programs and we need more dollars than we have without charging admission to be able to do that.”
The money goes not only for exhibits and education programs, but also for marketing, she said. “We never had a marketing budget, and we still get many people after being here for 20 years who walked in and said, ‘I never knew this was here.’
“In some way it adds value as well. When you charge for something, people tend to think it is more valuable than when it’s free,” she added.
There is no admission charge on Sunday, she said, “because we don’t want to ever have a situation when someone can’t come in and enjoy the museum because of the admission.”
Being accessible to a diverse audience base is also crucial, said Julia Gourley, executive director of the Krasl Art Center in St. Joseph.
“We try to be cognizant not just of the museum or the arts supporter, but work hard to be accessible to anybody regardless of their educational level or area expertise,” she said.
Although most museums are still tightening their belts, a few institutions seem to be getting out of the dreary shadow of the weak economy.
“The economic downturn for our museum is over,” said Kathryn Sharbaugh, assistant director of development at the Flint Institute of Arts, which serves more than 150,000 visitors annually.
In 2011, the number of visitors and annual appeal donors increased, and overall income was up 17 percent more than in 2010.
“Our endowments have gone down but we average those, so we are in a cycle and that helps us,” Sharbaugh said. “We were not fluctuating that much with our budget because of our cycle mechanism.”
Also, the recession in some ways proved beneficial to the museum, Sharbaugh said. “People are looking for an affordable alternative to vacations, as well as something within a day’s drive so that they can spend the whole day doing it.”
Jeff Taylor, director of the American Museum of Magic in Marshall, said his museum has had a similar experience.
“We have not had to shut down any services — in fact, we have tried to expand services,” he said.
Although the museum has been open regular hours for only three years, its attendance is increasing steadily.
“Our museum had great success in 2011 with grant funding for special programs,” Taylor said. That included money from the Kellogg Foundation for magic camps, the Institute of Museum and Library Services for audience development, the Michigan Humanities Council for an online program called “Magic in Michigan” and the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs for summer programs.
Taylor said the museum has offered evening lectures and magic camps and hosted magic performances, “all in an attempt to fulfill our mission, but to increase our revenue as well.”
Museums provide valuable services in many ways, Taylor said “For me, the most important function of the museum is education.
“We preserve material, but we do so to educate future generations. Magic is not something that interests all people, yet we know from experience that if they view and participate in this art form, we can spark a level of curiosity that they may not have had before,” he said.
© 2012, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.

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