Museums, the keepers of our natural and cultural history, are searching for their place in the public consciousness at a time when state and federal budgets are in crisis. With a state budget deficit projected to be $11.5 billion and long-delayed construction programs crowding in line for funding, museum representatives spent this year's Illinois Museum Day keeping their issues before legislators.
Museums, the keepers of our natural and cultural history, are searching for their place in the public consciousness at a time when state and federal budgets are in crisis.
“Everyone we talk to has had a positive museum experience growing up,” says Larry Suffredin Jr., Cook County commissioner and lobbyist for Museums in the Park, a coalition of 10 museums in Chicago, including the Chicago Art Institute, Field Museum of Natural History, Adler Planetarium and Shedd Aquarium.
“Unfortunately, we are not a state function that is required like schools and roads.”
Suffredin was in Springfield on March 24 for the annual Illinois Museum Day Celebration and Spring Workshop at the Illinois State Museum. The gathering included meeting with elected officials at the Capitol following the morning workshop.
With a state budget deficit projected to be $11.5 billion and long-delayed construction programs crowding in line for funding, museum representatives spent the day keeping their issues before legislators.
“Nobody said, ‘Hey, it’s impossible,’” Suffredin says. “Now it’s up to us to follow up and make sure we are in the final version of the budget.”
The Illinois State Museum in Springfield is under the purview of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. And now the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency is being pulled in under the umbrella of DNR.
DNR director Marc Miller has said that he and Gov. Pat Quinn are working to find the money to reopen historic sites closed by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. No timetable to reopen shuttered sites such as Springfield’s Dana-Thomas House has been given.
Ford Bell, president of the American Association of Museums based in Washington, D.C., says the definition of museums stretches to encompass the biggest art museum and the smallest historic home. Aquariums, zoos and public gardens also qualify.
“Our strength is in staying together,” Bell said.
Bell says museums need to do a better job of letting the public know what they have to offer.
“The 850 million museum visits last year is more than all sporting events combined,” Bell says. “Museums are very significant drivers of tourism.”
Nationwide, there are about 18,000 museums in the United States. There are about 1,000 museums in Illinois, with 24 accredited by the American Association of Museums, including the Illinois State Museum. In the U.S., about 800 are accredited.
The state museum celebrated receiving accreditation for the fourth time Tuesday.
“Only about 4 percent of the museums in the country are accredited,” says Illinois State Museum director Bonnie Styles. “It’s a very, very rigorous process, and there are no free rides. We were thrilled to get our fourth.”
Chris Young can be reached at (217) 788-1528 or email@example.com.