HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Many of Pennsylvania's 1,200 museums and historical sites have taken a financial drubbing at the hands of state lawmakers over the past six years.
Funding through various grant programs and direct appropriations, which totaled $29.3 million in fiscal year 2005-06, had declined to $2.7 million by 2011-12. As a result, many museums have laid off staff, cut operating hours and raised admission prices.
"We are optimistic about that," Rusty Baker, executive director of the Pennsylvania Federation of Museums and Historical Organizations, said recently. "I think there are definite champions for our cause now. I think legislators believe in museums."
While there are no guarantees that increased arts and culture funding will be part of Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed 2013-14 budget, several recent developments are driving hopes in a museum community that stretches from the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the east to Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum in the west.
Chief among them is a bipartisan study of museum funding completed in November by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee.
The five-month study, which cost about $72,800, does not make specific recommendations about funding but does acknowledge that the state's museums make significant contributions to tourism, economic development and education.
Among the findings: Pennsylvania's 25,000 arts and culture organizations contribute more than $2.5 billion annually to economic activity and generate more than $1.8 billion in household income for their 127,000 employees.
"Museums provide value to their communities, regions and the state not only in terms of economic development (but) also by preserving the past and maintaining collections that adults and children can access for their pleasure and education," the report stated.
Also driving optimism is the creation of a bipartisan, bicameral Arts and Culture Caucus in the General Assembly.
"We are looking to have a conversation about how to properly fund the arts across the commonwealth, particularly at a time when we are faced with limited resources," said Sen. Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, one of the leaders in the formation of the caucus. "We are also looking to provide members (of the General Assembly) with information about how valuable our arts and cultural institutions are."
Another reason for optimism is the one-time dispersal in November of more than $1 million in general operating support grants to about 56 arts and culture organizations through the Pennsylvania Museum and Historical Commission. That's one of three state agencies, including the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and the Department of Community and Economic Development, that traditionally have served as funnels for state museum funds.
Among the recipients of the recent PMHC grants was the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, which received a little less than $30,000. The money went to organizations with budgets of at least $500,000 a year.
"It was great for us because it was general operating support," said Wayne Motts, the museum's CEO. "The hardest money for us to get is general operation support."
The museum has seen about $50,000 in annual state support disappear over the past few years, Motts said. That has meant leaner budgets and one increase in admission price.
"There are certain expenses that can't be cut," Motts said. "We hope that folks will consider museums worthy of a place in the budget."
Other, smaller museums such as the Pennsylvania National Fire Museum in Harrisburg, never have received state support.
"Our funding is through memberships, admissions, donations and our sales in the gift shop," longtime board member John Wagner said. "We would be interested (in state funds), but they have never put that carrot in front of us."
Wagner said the museum, which opened in 1995 and contains a display of fire trucks and other equipment, is run by volunteers. That enables the annual budget to be kept around $25,000, he said, although some money for expansion would be helpful.