Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Museum Realities

I mentioned I had the opportunity to visit the Lincoln Museum in Springfield. While visiting, I picked up a newspaper saying that Richard Norton Smith is leaving as director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. The article reads “The museum is on pace to draw 600,000 visitors in its first year. The annual budget is $9 million (although today at lunch I was told the budget is $12 million.) By contrast the annual budgets for other presidential museums range from $1.8 million to $4.8 million (Ronald Reagan). Unlike these museums, the Lincoln museum gets no federal money for operating costs. Despite sky high attendance, gate receipts which stood at $2.5 million in mid-December are not nearly enough to pay costs, so state and private funds must make up the difference. The state isn’t likely to pony up for new bells and whistles, so if the museum wants new attractions to keep folks coming back, private donors will have to pay for them. The museum foundation hasn’t raised sufficient cash to have an acquisition (traveling exhibits) fund, so it must rely on gifts from collectors of Lincoln artifacts.”

I called the Dubuque, Iowa National Rivers Museum today ( I had a 21/2 visit with the development director last summer) to see how they were doing financially. They said that attendance was down to 251,000 from 301,000 the first year. Projected attendance this year is 241,000. They have fallen short of meeting operating costs both years and are conducting fund drives to make up the deficits. (This Museum was originally largely funded by the State of Iowa to boost state visitor numbers.)

As Peoria proceeds with the planning of a new downtown Museum, many are skeptical that proceeds will cover deficits. Same is true with the planned expansion of the Glen Oak Zoo which has been stuck on about $19 of the projected need of $32 million for more than two years. And what about operating costs for both projects? With no endowments of substantial size mentioned to date, who will fund the deficits?

Many questions will need to be answered over the next few months and some big ego busting decisions will probably have to be made. If not, taxpayer, be super-aware.

I suggest as do many of my friends, that one project would be dropped and the contributions shifted to a long term operating endowment for the one project that proceeds. Most believe the project dropped should be the zoo because the Peoria Park District does not have a good track record in handling losses and their fund raising efforts seem to be static. However, if both do finally get off the ground I suspect more people will be looking for a more tax friendly environment. They know they can always come back to visit.


Anonymous said...

If the Peoria Zoo has a bad track record, what about the record of a museum organization that rarely comes up with interesting exhibits and its large claim to fame is the huge used book and magazine sale it has? Lakeview is a joke and always has been. To put these people in a facility 5 times bigger than the one it has now is a prescription for financial disaster. Heck, most of the people who live in the Peoria area could give a rat's hind end about its history, let alone someone coming to the Par-A-Dice from Terre Haute.

The only type of museum that could become a regional draw would be if we moved a half dozen homes down to the Sears area that were representative of the "ages" in Peoria. Fix them up and have the museum stuff in those houses. Coupled with the Caterpillar Museum, THAT would draw ME in- something out of the ordinary and interesting, not just some huge used book sale and showing off a 400 year old French table around the calendar.

Merle Widmer said...

Could be. However, I believe we are going to get one or the other if not both. Since Cat is planning to continue their museum, two museums might achieve more make the downtown more of an overall draw.

While I like zoos, I believe an expansion of Wildlife Prarie with a suite type hotel would have a better chance of breaking even. You do realize the PPD budget for this year is $48,800,000.00. Do you think we can handle a $60 million dollar budget which I predicted a year or so ago?

B. Ridley Critz said...

Ah, well, I see by today's PJS that the zoo's reconstruction is still projected to begin this summer. This despite being woefully short of the needed funds.

It occures to me that the only way this can happen is "tax-funding" intervention, at the least via a Park District guarantee of a loan. Can you say "taxpayers pay again?" The heck with the district's PROMISES that this would not happen. I suspect it's happening as we speak.

And the new museum -- ah, for the accuracy so seemingly wanting. Will the movers and shakers of Peoria be honest as to our local history? Will there be even one, small exhibit honoring Peoria's long gone, but celebrated, madams and their houses of assignation?

I think a small, two-room exhibit would be nice. Enter via the front door to view (clothed) models of girls waiting to be claimed, the madam (live, an actress with patter) greeting all customers, and a bartender pouring libations, and one door to the rear. Enter the interior door and you see a hall, from which you enter the typical bedroom where the ladies of the evening plied their trade.

Will we see this? I highly doubt it. In no case has any publicity indicated any mention of this part of our past. Yet, Peoria's history will not be told correctly without it. Too many "deals" were made in houses with so-called "ill repute."

Two civic ventures, one likely to violate promises made to the public at the inception and the other revising history to the satisfaction of those who want to sweep the "color" of the town under the rug.

I am disgusted.

Merle Widmer said...

Boyd, I also believe our noted scribe and historian, Bill Adams should have some wall space for out of towners (and newcomers) to know more about the local history that Bill so artfully details in his book and JS columns.