Museums make case to avoid cutbacks
Mothballing MAC could violate law, official says
OLYMPIA – The proposed state budget would “mothball” the Museum of Arts and Culture in Spokane and another facility in Tacoma, shutting out the public and possibly running afoul of federal law on Native American artifacts, a legislative panel was told Thursday.
Directors of the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture and the State History Museum in Tacoma said Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget plan for 2011-’13 cuts them back so severely that they would cease most operations.
“We wouldn’t continue to exist,” said David Nicandri, director of the Washington State Historical Society, which operates the 16-year-old Tacoma museum.
The MAC wouldn’t have a large enough staff to open its exhibits or its archives to the public, director Ron Rector said. That would close off one of Spokane’s top three tourist attractions, Eastern Washington’s main art museum and the largest collection of Columbia Plateau Indian artifacts outside the Smithsonian Institution, he said.
“We would not be able to have access for the tribes coming into the museum for the artifacts that are part of their culture, part of their religion,” Rector said. “We would fall out of compliance with federal law on repatriation of Native American artifacts.”
Although the state faces budget problems, it needs to balance the needs of the people, the environment and culture, Rector said.
Nicandri noted in a later interview that Gregoire’s plan has what he terms “contradictory public policy” – it cuts money for public museums in Spokane and Tacoma but continues support of museums in Seattle, Bellingham and Pullman on university campuses.
Rep. John Ahern, R-Spokane, said governor’s proposed cuts would “pretty much destroy our heritage.” But that spending budget is being rewritten by both houses of the Legislature and Rep. Zack Hudgins of Tukwila, chairman of the General Government Appropriations Committee, said both parties support the museums but have to “find ways to run the government.”
Last year Gregoire’s supplemental budget proposed combining the two historical societies and their museum operations as a way to save money. But the Legislature balked and Rector said that proposal didn’t really save much money because the two operations are so different.
The MAC gets about 40 percent of its money from local donors, but that could drop if it was folded into a statewide operation, he said: “Those donors look at it as something other than Spokane.”