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Thursday, November 21, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane’s MAC considering return to not-for-profit

After another “flat” budget proposal from the state, leaders at Spokane’s Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture say it’s time for the institution to cut most formal ties with Olympia.

The museum currently receives most of its annual $2.6 million operating budget from the state, and the 2015-17 budget proposal from Gov. Jay Inslee essentially maintains that level. If the museum’s vision of decommissioning itself as a state agency is acted on, the state would maintain the MAC’s buildings and facilities, and the museum would independently control its collections, fundraising and programming.

More importantly, said the museum’s executive director, Forrest Rodgers, the idea to return the institution to a not-for-profit corporation would allow the MAC to escape from the state’s burdensome regulations.

“We get 55 percent of our income from the state, but 100 percent of our regulation,” he said, pointing to state programs the museum is required to use, such as legal advice from the state attorney general’s office, accounting and information technology services. “We would decommission ourselves as a state agency … and have less administrative oversight from the state.”

Democratic state Rep. Marcus Riccelli of Spokane said it was “absolutely the right time” to let the MAC’s leaders try to create a “more flexible model and not be so dependent” on state funding.

“It’s been great that folks from the MAC wanted to step up and find a solution,” he said, noting that the state will “continue to give them funds” while they decide how and when to transition to a private model.

Rodgers said he and the museum’s board of directors were viewing the budget challenge as an opportunity to reinvigorate exhibits and increase community participation in the museum.

Since the 2009-11 biennial budget, the museum’s share of state funding has remained largely flat. Without local donations and exhibit fees, Rodgers said, the museum likely would be closed to the public.

“We’re at that point now where the level of state funding is only slightly above what the ongoing shutdown cost would be,” he said. Aside from a “bare bones” staff to manage the museum’s collection, the artifacts and artworks require temperature and humidity controls, requiring constant air conditioning.

Rodgers said the board has already formed a “transition committee” to look into “changing our relationship with the state.” He noted, however, that the board approved a business plan 18 months ago to prepare for dwindling state support by “focusing on increasing local funds … and increasing local donations.”

The governor’s proposed budget does include $200,000 in “pre-design funding” to look into renovating the main exhibit hall and Cheney Cowles Center to “accommodate events and large groups,” Rodgers said, adding that the renovations would help the museum generate more income. Plans generated by the funding need to be submitted to the state’s Office of Financial Management by October 2016.

Rodgers noted the budget is just a proposal at this point, and the MAC and its staff of 25 are a small part of it.

“This is not a done deal,” he said. “But this allows in a sense to control our own destiny and not to be always subject to the volatility and unpredictably of state funding. We’re a business that should be working on a three- to five-year budget horizon. … It’s hard to do that when you work on a 24-month budget.”

Riccelli agreed.

“The goal is to bring certainty back to the funding cycle for the MAC and to make sure that we protect and preserve this great asset,” he said. “It’s also a way for the community and the MAC to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars.”

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