Montag, 6. Juli 2015

Saving money and cutting Culture - Governor Rauner and the Illinois State Museum

The US state of Illinois has been struggling for years with financial problems. At his inauguration in January 2015, the new Republican Governor Bruce Rauner announced comprehensive economic reforms and a restructuring of the state budget. In addition, top priority will be the improvement of the education system. One of his first official acts was to complain about all the "unnecessary" expenditures of authorities and to suspend them until further notice, to examine which state property could be sold.

For him, unnecessary spending also applies in regard of the Illinois State Museum in Springfield ISM, which, in addition to art collections, also hosts collections of natural history and history of the country. This includes palaeontological and archaeological finds and ethnographic collections that document, among other things, the history of Indian tribes. There are special agreements with several tribes on how to deal with their cultural heritage, which also guarantees them access at any time.

The ISM includes not only the exhibition building in Springfield, but also a research and collection center. It’s collections that are not on display are stored exemplary and are accessible for research projects that are supervised from here, such as the Landscape History Program or the North American Pollen Database. The museum also partners with the New Philadelphia Archaeological Project, which explores a city founded in 1836, and that goes back to the initiative of an African American. The museum archives the archaeological finds of the state and is closely linked with the Illinois State Archaeological Survey.

Throughout the state of Illinois, ISM runs several branch offices, including the Dickson Mounds Museum in Lewistown which documents a significant Amerindian landscape with numerous 'mounds'.

A 'temple mound' close to the Dickson Mounds
(Photo: R. Schreg, 2010)

The museum has a budget of just over 6 million $, but a multiple of the money was raised via external funding. With 200,000 visitors annually, the museum in Springfield is well established and highly regarded. The museum has received several donations from private collections and is therefore an important factor in maintaining not only the Archaeological Heritage but also in working with the public. Outside of Chicago, the ISM represents one of the few cultural institutions within the state of Illinois.

The Governor has now ordered its closure. At first, this seemed to be only a political pressure to enforce the financial budget in a majority Democratic House of Representatives, but in the meantime, first concrete steps to closing it down have now been initiated in the late summer - regardless of the unresolved future of collections. In addition, this still has to go through an administrative procedure (comp. graphics to state facility closing timeline), which intends a public hearing until 22 July:

With the closure, Governor Rauner undermines his own political priority of improving education. It is highly sarcastic that Rauner a few days ago  even posed in front of the museum for a photo op with children - as he had already set in motion the closing-down procedure (see photo on Facebook with comments by the children). Although the museum is didactically well prepared, the educational value of such a device remains apparently unclear to the politicians. Also, the politic seems to be unaware of the responsibility imposed on a State for its Culture  or they deliberately sacrificed it to the 'lean government' that Rauner strives for. As no effort has been made ??to develop alternatives to avoid the closure and to solve the resulting legal problems, the economy measure and this lean state proves just as irresponsible. Responsibility towards the culture, towards the commitment of the people, but also in relation to the tax revenues invested in the past 130 years, that are now wasted just by the “stroke of a pen”. To this short-sighted, inefficient action of budgetary consolidation, a 130 year-old institution and its collections are sacrificed - a damage that will devour much larger sums - if the damage can be amended at all.

Meanwhile, a variety of resistance against the closure is visible. Many citizen oppose against the closure and defend their cultural heritage. Scientists refer to the important role of the museum and their collections.


        • Media reports

        In April 2010, I had the opportunity as a German archaeologist to be a guest at the ISM, to gain insights into the collections and finds from New Philadelphia. My lecture on "Legends and Myths of the Middle Ages - Perspectives of Medieval Archaeology" (summary at in the Brownbag lectures of the museum provided the occasion for a discussion on the role of historical archaeology. I perceived the museum and the colleagues as a well-functioning institution that makes important and multi-faceted public relations, which is closely linked to a research that is fundamental to the understanding of history and landscape in the Midwest. 

        It does not make any sense to close the ISM...

        Original German blogpost at Kultur als Streichpotential - Governor Rauner und das Illinois State Museum. Archaeologik (26 June 2015)

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