A Critical Time for our Nation’s Museums
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Fielding Freed, HC director of house museums
“I love museums!” The comment was enthusiastic and genuine. It came from one of South Carolina’s Congressmen last month during Museum Advocacy Day organized by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM). A record attendance of more than 350 people from all 50 states who spent the day canvassing Capitol Hill underscored the concern over proposed cuts in federal funding for museums. Many of us do, as a matter of fact, love museums:
- Museums are popular. There are approximately 850 million visits each year to American museums, more than number of people who visit theme parks AND attend major league sporting events. Just one local example, in 2016 the South Carolina State Museum had over 160,000 visitors and a school visitation of 68,000.
- Museums impact our economy. Nationally, museums sustain more than 400,000 jobs and directly contribute $21 billion to the economy each year. Here in South Carolina, where tourism is our number one industry, museums play a vital role in both entertaining our visitors (where do summertime tourists go on a rainy day?) but also educating them about the role our state has played in American history.
- Museums serve the public. Just one example includes the twenty-five museums in our state that participate in the NEA’s Blue Star Museums initiative giving free summer admission to all active-duty and reserve personnel and their families (serving over 923,000 people nationwide).
The South Carolina delegation visiting Capitol Hill included students from USC’s Honors College and museum folks from Richland, Horry, Charleston, and Oconee counties. We spent the day meeting with our representatives to request that they maintain funding for the Office of Museum Services (OMS). The OMS, which is part of the larger Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), awards grants that help to educate students, digitize collections, and engage communities.
Here are some interesting numbers that help to explain why we felt strongly enough to travel to D.C. to represent our state’s museums in person:
- From 2014 to 2016, 3 South Carolina museums received IMLS grants totaling $139,000.
- During those same years, 3 NEH and NEA grants totaling $553,000 went to five museums.
- The Humanities Council of South Carolina received $2.1 million and the South Carolina Arts Commission $2.3 million. Those funds, in turn, flowed outward and supported a wide variety of museum programs and projects.
The proposed federal budget recently submitted by the White House will directly and negatively affect the historic and cultural organizations of South Carolina. Of particular concern is the proposal to eliminate entirely the NEA and NEH. Now is the time, if you love museums, to act. We have helped start the conversation, but now it’s up to those who value what South Carolina’s museums contribute to our quality of life to voice their support before it’s too late.
Caption: Fielding Freed with other SC delegates visiting Senator Lindsey Graham on Capitol Hill last month.
Originally published in The Columbia Star