“Stunned,” “shocked” and “disappointed” were the words used by Chris Schnug, president of the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture board, after learning that the governor’s 2011-’13 budget proposal calls for closing the museum and slashing staff funding from 34.8 to 2.8 full-time equivalents.
Yet she also was “very optimistic” that the MAC will, in the end, remain open.
Under the proposal, state funding for the MAC and its associated Eastern Washington Historical Society would drop by 55 percent, from $6.3 million to $2.9 million, leaving the building, in Schnug’s words, “an empty shell.” The MAC moved into a $30 million facility in 2001.
The budget proposal specifies “a very limited staff … to preserve the state historical collections and archives and to protect facilities.” Yet this may cover only the Eastern Washington Historical Society collections and archives. Schnug said the MAC’s collections – tens of thousands of historical and art objects – might have to be moved off-site, leaving “an empty facility maintained by a skeleton crew.”
“I don’t know what they’re thinking,” Schnug said.
The MAC recently landed a major national touring exhibit, “Leonardo da Vinci: Man, Inventor, Genius,” scheduled to open on June 3. Schnug said she thinks the budget proposal will allow the museum to stay open until the exhibit closes on Labor Day. Yet after that, the museum would be closed at least through the biennium, which ends in summer 2013.
Even maintaining the facility will be difficult under this proposal, said Schnug.
“Do you keep the lights on?” Schnug asked. “Or do you mow the lawn? It will deteriorate.”
However, Schnug also said she is “optimistic, very optimistic that the MAC will prevail” and remain open. She said she believes the Legislature, which will make the final budget decisions, has been supportive.
Schnug said she is well aware that the museum will have to depend more on alternative sources of funding. The museum has already proven adept at raising more local funds. It has raised “consistently in excess of $1 million” annually over recent years and ended the 2010 fiscal year in the black, despite already absorbing a 21 percent decrease in state funding over the past two years. Staffing has already been cut 40 percent.
The MAC was not the only museum to take a hit in the governor’s proposal. The Washington State History Museum in Tacoma was also slated to cease operations.