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18 Historic Ohio Sites, Museums Could Close

Walker Evans Walker Evans
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Press Release:
Ohio Historical Society Seeks Additional State Support, Local Management Partners To Keep Historic Sites Open

Yesterday, Executive Director and CEO Bill Laidlaw of the Ohio Historical Society reported to the Higher Education Subcommittee of the Ohio House of Representatives Finance Committee that the organization is requesting additional funding in the state’s biennial budget to keep 18 of its historic sites and museums open after June 30. He also stated that the Society will be reorganizing to focus on activities that will build a solid financial foundation for the future.

“We will focus on collections and sites preservation, access for research and education, and statewide outreach-three core areas to create a new foundation from which the organization can grow and thrive,” Laidlaw said. “These services will provide the strongest return on investment for state dollars and will provide the greatest public value for Ohioans.”

Laidlaw went on to say that as a result of the changing priorities and to make use of limited state funding, the Society will:

  • Preserve its historical collections and sites;
  • Rebuild the State Archives by expanding services to state and local governments;
  • Increase public access to the state archives and collections;
  • Allow the public to see and experience more collections at the Ohio Historical Center in Columbus and at the National Afro-American Museum & Cultural Center in Wilberforce
  • Expand services that support the efforts of individuals and groups who are involved in history efforts in local communities throughout the state; and
  • Create new and innovative ways for people to connect directly to history—physically and online.

The Ohio Historical Society is slated for an 11-percent reduction-or $1.3 million less-in state’s 2010 and 2011 budget allocations now under consideration in the General Assembly. The proposed budget would reduce OHS state funding by more than 22 percent since the beginning of the 2008 fiscal year, with the Society’s historic sites and museums taking the brunt of the cuts, according to Laidlaw.

Up to 18 of the Ohio Historical Society’s 58 historic sites and museums-those that are staffed by OHS employees-may have to suspend operations temporarily if additional dollars or local management partners aren’t found by June 30. The Society requested increased support in the state’s proposed biennial budget to allow more time for the transition of these sites to partnership agreements and to ensure that funds are available to local partners, so that these sites can continue to be educational and economic resources in their communities.

“We’re trying our best to keep these 18 sites open,” Laidlaw said. “In general, they are the largest and most significant historic sites that we manage on behalf of the state. An additional $1.2 million would allow more time for the Society to seek out partners to assume the day-to-day responsibilities for managing these sites. Discussions are underway in many of these communities, but potential partnership arrangements take time and financial resources to develop.”

The affected sites are located throughout the state: Adena Mansion & Gardens in Chillicothe, Armstrong Air & Space Museum in Wapakoneta; Campus Martius Museum and Ohio River Museum in Marietta; Dunbar House in Dayton; Flint Ridge near Brownsville; Fort Ancient near Oregonia; Fort Hill near Hillsboro; Fort Laurens in New Philadelphia; Fort Meigs in Perrysburg; Harding Home in Marion; National Road/Zane Grey Museum near Norwich; Newark Earthworks in Newark and Heath; Piqua Historical Area in Piqua; Serpent Mound near Peebles; Wahkeena near Lancaster; Youngstown Historical Center of Industry & Labor in Youngstown; and Zoar Village in Zoar.

In the Ohio Historical Society network of 58 historic sites and museums-the largest of any state historical organization in the nation-29 sites are currently operated through local partnership agreements between the Society and a local organization or government entity. In such agreements, daily operations are performed by the local partner while the Society provides support services in the form of marketing-communications, maintenance, curatorial and fund raising. Managed partnered sites typically receive an annual subsidy and keep income from admission, store sales and facility rentals.

Laidlaw said, “In our experience managed partner sites greatly benefit from enthusiastic community support. In return, they help to reduce the Society’s operating costs and to maintain the level of protection and upkeep available to these state treasures.”

The Society receives about 60 percent of its $20 million operating budget from the state for performing more than two dozen mandated activities. Laidlaw also mentioned that other budget implications include reducing public hours at the National Afro-American Museum & Cultural Center in Wilberforce if its state funding also isn’t increased in the biennial budget.

Currently, the Society is facing a $736,000 operating deficit triggered by a more than a 10-percent cut in state funding in the 2009 fiscal year. To immediately reduce the deficit, it will implement a previously announced furlough for March 28-April 3 for all OHS employees and services among other cost-cutting measures to be announced later this month.

Established in 1885, the Ohio Historical Society, a nonprofit organization, serves as the state’s partner in preserving and interpreting Ohio’s history, archaeology, natural history and architecture. It provides services in nearly every community in the state.

Individuals wanting to help the Society can:

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