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Washington maintains Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture funding

After years of budget turmoil and a recent leadership shakeup, the state Legislature has given the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture a break.

The two-year budget recently approved by state leaders maintains level funding for Spokane’s signature museum.

While not necessarily a cause to celebrate after drastic cuts during the economic downturn, it’s a relief to museum leaders who were warned repeatedly that the state might cut the museum’s finances further.

“It’s a level that allows the MAC to function at a positive level that contributes to our community,” said state Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, whose district includes the museum.

It’s been almost a year since the museum’s executive director, Forrest Rodgers, went back to work for the MAC. He was fired without public explanation by the museum board’s executive committee in April 2012, a decision that sparked a stiff backlash from the museum’s foundation board and many museum members.

The board slowly reversed itself, then in July 2012 offered to give Rodgers his job back. Supporters of his firing left the board shortly after.

Rodgers said donors who were scared off by the controversy have largely returned, and the museum’s leadership is united behind a common vision for the future.

He said he’s focused on increasing attendance and shows at the MAC that will be more interactive and engaging. He hopes to bring in more lectures, performances, workshops and children’s activities in conjunction with exhibits.

The first major test of this focus will be a show celebrating the centennial of the Eastern Washington State Historical Society, which is the original name of the institution now known as the MAC.

The two-year show will fill all the museum’s exhibit halls and tell 100 stories of the Inland Northwest, Rodgers said. It will open early next year, he said.

“I believe that a museum is essentially a way that a community envisions itself, and we should be telling that story of this place and what it can become in the future,” Rodgers said.

Billig said although every part of the budget was scrutinized, the museum was not on the chopping block as it has been in other recent legislative sessions.