Sunday, June 7, 2009

Lessons Of Oregon History May Be Lost To Budget Cuts

Here is a transcript of a segment on OPB on May 26, 2009.  It looks like the Legislature is suggesting that no monies go to OHS in the upcoming appropriations. We also learned that because the Society has so many volunteers the State is getting a bargain with labor costs at 20 cents on the dollar, much less than what it would cost if the State was to run this themselves. Good to know. 

Form OPB:

As the details of state cuts reverberate through Oregon’s communities, some organizations are taking a bigger hit than others.

The Oregon Historical Society for example, which has a museum and reference library in Portland, was zeroed-out of the co-chairs budget and the chances of getting back in don’t look good. 

Kristian Foden-Vencil reports, the society is considering everything from putting its collection with a university, to cutting yet more staff.

The Oregon Historical Society is located on a prime piece of real estate in downtown Portland. It’s a perfect spot for school visits, or for attracting passing tourists.

Eileen Pastorias is from Texas and is enjoying the sights and sounds of the pioneer exhibit.

Eileen Pastorias: “This is marvelous with all the original pieces that are here and the sound effects are wonderful as well. Everything from early guns and covered wagons, it’s easy to try to imagine how I might have made this journey myself if had I little children and dogs. How do you begin to account for the courage that brought these people here.” 

The films, costumes and old Native American canoe showcase Oregon’s history and educate its children. 

Indeed last session, lawmakers gave the society almost $1.5 million under the Cultural Heritage Program.

But, faced with a $4 billion hole this session, the co-chairs recommended the society be cut loose.

George Vogt: “This is not good and I think people need to stand up and say so.”

George Vogt is the society’s executive director.

George Vogt: “In a time like this, when we have a downturn in the economy, it’s absolutely the wrong time to throw culture and heritage under the bus. We cannot afford to eliminate the entity that is providing a major part of the history education for kids.”

He’s talking about the school tours that regularly bustle through here; the traveling exhibits that shuttle out to the four corners of the state; and the research library, which used to be open full -time, but is now open  three afternoons a week.

Vogt says with the society’s 100 volunteers, the state is getting a great deal.

George Vogt: “I figure that for about 20 cents on the dollar, we’ve been giving Oregon a first rate museum and a first rate research library. The state would have to pay far, far more than that as a state agency or as part of a university.”

Having the collection held by a university or state agency is only one money-saving option being considered.

Vogt says others include: cutting more staff -- even though it recently reduced its workforce by 28 percent; and there’s also talk of trying to get money from local governments -- like Portland City or Multnomah County. In exchange, they’d get free entrance for their residents.

Meanwhile, the co-chair of the Ways and Means Committee, Senator Margaret Carter, doesn’t seem optimistic that any state money will be forthcoming.

In fact, when you ask her about the Oregon Historical Society, she says it’s hard to talk about giving money to a museum when legislators are worried about cutting days off the school year and reducing services for disabled people.

The Portland Democrat says those are the kinds of things that got top funding priority in her budget plan.

Margaret Carter: “Balancing this budget is taking a lot, I mean micro looking into the budgets of this state, to look at where we can cut the most without harming the most vulnerable.”

Back in Portland, the society does have options. For one, says Vogt it owns the whole block on which it stands.

George Vogt: “But as many of the listeners will know. These are assets that are sometimes difficult to touch when you need them. And it’s actually a bad time to be looking at the development of the block.”

So for now, a new apartment complex looks unlikely.  And in the coming weeks, the Oregon Historical Society board will look at what needs to be done.

Meanwhile at the pioneer exhibit, visitors wander through the show peering into display cases and sitting down for short films. Texas tourist Eileen Pastorias thinks we could all benefit from a little more history.

Eileen Pastorias: “It seems amazing to me that everyone can tell you who was on American Idol, and very few people could trace Lewis and Clark’s adventures or could name some of the early pioneers who came here or historians who documented all this stuff. It’s romance, it’s excitement, it’s the stuff that’s true courage. I think it’s marvelous.”

The society has asked all its friends to inundate legislators with letters of support. But then many other organizations are doing the same.

The budget should be finalized early this summer.

In the interests of transparency, OPB lobbied for funds from Oregon’s Cultural Heritage Program, but was also cut from the co-chair’s budget.

OPB hasn’t received any operating funds from the state since 2003.  

No comments: