LEESBURG, Va. (AP) — They have until December. Just four months to try to save the little-known Virginia museum that has housed and promoted the history of confederates and Native Americans, politicians and unsung Virginians. A little more than 120 days for supporters of the Loudoun Museum to try to preserve the exhibits that for nearly 50 years have been used to tell the history of its residents.
This year, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, which until the recession provided most of the museum’s operating budget, allocated $36,000. That was far less than the $63,000 that the board had given the museum the previous year.
It isn’t nearly enough to keep the museum going, but it may be just the amount needed to dissolve the museum’s collection.
Board Chairman Scott K. York (R) said the panel has limited funds to cover the approximately 45 nonprofit organizations it supports. Given the funding restraints, he said, the museum needs to find more ways to bring in its own money.
“They just need to restructure and do a better effort in allowing the expansion of the programming and (other things),” he said.
The museum gets some funding from book sales and outside donors, but nothing close to what the county has supplied.
The county began cutting its contribution in 2009, said Alana Blumenthal, the only full-time paid staff member at the museum.
Blumenthal said the museum is in a difficult spot: New programs would bring in more money, but without proper funding, she can’t start them. Still, she is determined, saying the county deserves to have a place to properly honor its history.
The museum’s main building, in Leesburg, is two houses combined, Blumenthal said. One is a meeting place for the Odd Fellows fraternal society, which has been gathering there since the early 1900s. There’s still a slot on the door through which members had to give a password to enter. The other building at one point housed an African American doctor who provided medical care for black Virginians when there were few places they could go for treatment.
Next door is one of the county’s original houses — a small log cabin where Blumenthal hosts programs such as art demonstrations. The museum’s collection includes a ballot for Jefferson Davis in his unopposed 1861 bid for president of the Confederate States of America, an accounting of the area’s transportation history — from horses to airplanes — and a wreath woven with hair from several generations of the Edwards family, the original owners of the land that would become Sterling, Va.
Blumenthal, 28, has worked at the museum for four years, serving as curator and administrator.
Before that, she worked at the National Mining Hall of Fame in Leadville, Colo., and she was an intern at the Jewish Museum in Manhattan. She said what she loves about history is learning about cause-and-effect relationships.
Blumenthal, who wants to apply to graduate school, said she and her husband have considered the possibility of relocating, but all of that is on hold while the museum’s fate remains unclear.
“I want to give this place everything I can while I’m here,” she said. “This is a time where it really is so make-or-break for the museum.”
Before the cuts started, Blumenthal said, the museum was looking into expanding, adding classrooms and educational programs. Loudoun Museum used to have staff members who would travel to schools and conduct interactive lessons, she said.
The museum charges $3 for adults and $1 for students, teachers and seniors. Last year, it brought in $21,508 from attendance, Blumenthal said, in addition to $1,400 in retail book sales and $15,500 in donations.
The Board of Supervisors did throw the museum a life-preserver in July. It gave the museum an additional $55,000 with the assignment of developing a long-term plan for financial stability by December.
A committee of about 20 Loudoun County employees and community members is weighing the museum’s options, led by Assistant County Administrator Julie Grandfield. Corporate sponsorship and other revenue-generating ideas are on the table.
Grandfield said the committee is also exploring having the county buy and own the museum, as it does the Loudoun Heritage Farm Museum. But even that possibility holds challenges. The county would have to negotiate with owners who have loaned items to the museum and have them renegotiate deals with the county.
Grandfield said she doesn’t think a long-term solution will be established by December, but she said she’s confident the group will generate enough ideas to have the board give them a bit more time.
She wants to “set some milestones so after a year, two years, the museum will be in a much stronger place.”
“We’re trying to develop options for them,” she added.
Blumenthal said it would be a shame for the collection to dissolve, but she, along with the committee, has had to think about where all the artifacts would go should the museum have to close. Options include public buildings such as libraries and the courthouse or dispersing the collection among other museums. Ultimately, Blumenthal wants all the pieces to stay in the county.
“If it was somehow consolidated into a larger museum, I think you would lose a lot of the specific information that the Loudoun Museum is able to offer,” said Gabrielle Patterson, who was an intern at the museum this summer and just returned to the University of Virginia for her junior year. “I hope everything goes well for the museum. .?.?. I would be happy to take my kids there some day.”
Information from: The Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com
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