03 February 2009 by Published in: General musings 3 comments

Here’s an article that gives you a sense of the ridiculous budgetary constraints that the Ohio Historical Society is forced to endure. Whenever the Ohio General Assembly needs to save money, the OHS budget is inevitably the first place they look. And this is the result:

Recession Forces Historians to Make Do
By James Hannah, Associated Press

Associated Press

COLUMBUS — The Civil War flag that was brandished by the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry is wrapped tightly around its pole. It’s a delicate task to unfurl the almost 150-year-old banner without it crumbling.

Yet, the humidity-raising chamber used to loosen the material consists of a homemade aluminum frame covered with a plastic-like film. It was built with parts from Lowe’s that cost less than $500. The work is being done in a warehouse and in a homemade chamber instead of with state-of-the-art equipment costing as much as $20,000.

With the recession tightening its grip, budgets being cut and donors drying up, preservationists are scaling back on restorations.

In Missouri, efforts to buy well-known works by home-state artists have been cut back. A fundraising campaign to help preserve Native American art in Montana is grinding to a standstill.

Money still is being given for conservation but not at the levels that are necessary, said Eryl Wentworth, executive director of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works.

“It’s so distressing to me because it’s shortsighted,” she said. “We lose our history. We lose a portion of our culture, our memory.”

Authorities estimate 4.8 billion artifacts are in U.S. archives, libraries, museums and historical societies, but one in four institutions have no controls to protect against temperature, humidity and light.

According to a 2005 survey by Heritage Preservation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, 13.5 million historic objects, 153 million photographs and 4.7 million works of art needed immediate care.

Lawrence Reger, president of Heritage Preservation, said publicity about the survey generated increased support for the care of collections so they are available for future generations.

“Unfortunately, the current recession has all but brought this to a standstill,” Reger said.

The Ohio Historical Society is trying to preserve much of the Ohio Adjutant General’s battle flag collection — 552 flags carried in five wars. Most earlier preservation was carried out in the 1960s and to date, only 18 flags have been preserved using updated, more costly techniques paid for largely by private funds.

Soldiers who hoisted Civil War flags in battle were fat targets for the enemy.

“Men knew it was very likely they were going to die when they were carrying them,” said James Strider, the society’s director of historic preservation.

Historical societies and museums around the country are being squeezed.

A state budget deficit of $4 billion in Illinois cost the Historic Preservation Agency a conservator and curator who were instrumental in prioritizing artifacts that need to be conserved. They include a three-wheeled wood and leather baby buggy that belonged to David Davis, who was appointed by Abraham Lincoln to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“There are literally hundreds of items in our collections at any particular moment that need repair or conservation, and without staffing the list will continue to grow,” said spokesman David Blanchette.

The State Historical Society of Missouri has backed away from an aggressive plan to buy paintings of famous Missouri artists Thomas Hart Benton and George Caleb Bingham. It risks losing the artwork to other buyers.

“It’s extremely challenging to try to raise money when virtually everybody is impacted in some way by the recession,” said Gary Kremer, the society’s executive director.

The Yellowstone Art Museum, home to historic American paintings as well as modernist and abstract expressionist art, has been trying to raise money for more than two years to build a preservation facility. About $1.8 million of a required $2.8 million has been collected.

Robyn G. Peterson, executive director of the Billings, Mont., museum, said the museum has no funds in its annual $1 million budget for preservation. Many artworks, such as Plains Indian beadwork, are being stored in a vault that is “full to bursting.”

Pete Sepp, spokesman for the National Taxpayers Union, said historic preservation has to be subject to budget priorities.

“Preserving the past is important, but if governments don’t start spending and borrowing less, there won’t be much of a future left for our kids to enjoy,” Sepp said.

The Ohio Historical Society has seen its budget shrink by 13 percent in the past eight years. The society has laid off its preservation staff.

With all of its storage space filled and no money to expand, the society is going through its collections to decide what not to keep. It virtually has stopped accepting donations of artifacts.

Many of the society’s artifacts are stored in warehouses without adequate climate and pest control. The warehouses sit about a mile from the historical center where artifacts are displayed. Moving collections back and forth risks damaging them.

Mark Hudson, executive director of the Historical Society of Frederick County (Md.), said when public and private funding shrinks, museums and historical societies often focus on exhibits that draw paying patrons.

“When you’re faced with having to pay electric bills or laying off staff, things like conservation treatments can take the back seat very quickly,” Hudson said.

I realize that we’re dealing with difficult economic times, and I realize that governmental funds are scarce. However, just once, I would like to see the budget trimmed somewhere else…..

Scridb filter


  1. Michael Lynch
    Tue 03rd Feb 2009 at 3:22 pm

    Thanks for bringing this item to attention. One of the reasons I finally fled from museums to teach was my frsutration with short-sighted bureaucrats looking to cut corners.


  2. Tue 03rd Feb 2009 at 8:12 pm

    Related link: http://www.pacivilwar150.com/

  3. Kent Dorr
    Tue 03rd Feb 2009 at 11:37 pm

    I had the privilige as a member of the SUVCW in 2007 to tour the OHS warehouses and see the Ohio battleflag collection. It is heartbreaking to view these priceless relics literally rotting away on their staffs awaiting some caring donors who may restore these symbols of Ohio’s CW history. I fear for some, the help will come too late…or even worse never. What a legacy we in Ohio will leave to future generations.

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