Hi All,I am working with a university museum and discovering several significant collections "hidden" throughout the colleges of the university. When a new Provost or Chairperson was hired, they questioned the purpose of the collections, and their staff were pushed into basements and closets. This has happened several times over the history of the collections. Two staff are working for free to continue to protect and catalog the collections. The museum has no budget to bring the collections within the museum collection (the museum exhibits are objects loaned from the college collections).What have other universities done to protect collections financially? I have a few thoughts:One would be to try to create an endowment to fund the collections, and another would be to try to have the collections adopted by the state museum. Thank you!
Not as much discussion here as I thought there would be...
I echo the previous statement regarding endowments. Our tactic here at Texas is to build endowments with very specific requirement on how those endowments are to be spent. Endowments are a financial vehicle that university administration understands, and if you are building them as we are, it demonstrates support from the community.
Where I often see natural history museums and collections fail is in outreach to our governing boards and administrators. We do not typically have the visibility that art and history museums enjoy. Natural history exhibits are slower to turn over, it is expensive to mount a single skull, much less an entire dinosaur... But, we do research, we support research, we provided data for research, we are the repositories that provide for repeatability in research. Show that off.
When I was a curator at the San Bernardino County Museum, we had enormous success as a (primarily) natural history museum and we receive strong support for the collection. We succeeded by educating the chain of command about our mission through show-don't-tell experiences. It was a lot of work, but staff were supported financially, benefits improved, the museum and collections expanded. Our strategy was to invite county supervisors and their chief staff members to all of our events and create incentive and enticements for them to come. We followed up with their staff, we checked schedules and made sure that we had a little something special for them to see and do. If a supervisor was interested in birds, we showed them research on the egg collection that saved local birds, or work on bird migration that produced a PhD dissertation. If they were motorheads, we invited them to Route 66 events and "Train Days". We developed eco-tours and behind the scene exclusives for these VIPs. At each event we repeated our mantra of the importance of museum collections for primary and continuing education, research, and culture in our area of the world; we emphasized up the value in terms of return on the tax dollars that museums provide, the attraction to local business, and related community improvements.
When I was first hired at the SBCM, we did none of this. The museum had virtually no support from the County government, and was on the precipice of losing accreditation. After myself and several other new curators came on board, we adopted this educate-your-bosses and boards approach, and raised millions of dollars. We enjoyed strong support from the County for museum expansions and renovations, and we added satellite museums. We received accolades from the museum community, accreditation reviews, and DOI sections for whom we served as repository. We achieved success because of the relationships that we built with county supervisors their staff and other state officials. Once they understood the importance of collections and the politically advantage of FREE good news from their support of cultural venues, we turned just about every one of those politicians (most of them staunch conservatives) into supporters.
My other comment is specific to state-owned collections - these are public collections held in trust for the people. There is a fiduciary responsibility for those collections to be supported. This should be clearly articulated to the powers that be, preferably in a tone that reflects it as an honor and privilege, rather than an onus. Government's public trust responsibility is existential - if a government cannot support its own physical property and culture, then what is it? How can they claim an ability to govern if they aren't able to protect the property of the state? Your governance should know the legal pitfalls of failing to fulfill their public trust responsibilities as well as the benefits of doing so.
My 2 cents -
J. Chris Sagebiel (he/him/his), collections manager
Texas Vertebrate Paleontology Collections
J.J. Pickle Campus, The University of Texas
10100 Burnet Road, VPL Bldg. 6
Austin, Texas 78758
American Alliance of Museums2451 Crystal Drive, Suite 1005Arlington, VA 22202