Saratoga County is one of the most progressive and historically significant counties in the state. Its Chamber of Commerce web site touts its
The international firm Global Foundries is building a $4.6 billion chip fab plant in Malta, bringing thousands of jobs (and many newcomers) and also serving as “an engine for economic growth” especially along Route 9, where “buildings have sprouted up with space for offices, stores and apartments catering to the high-tech juggernaut,” according to
Saratoga emphasizes its history, is making more of it in a dramatic fashion, and presumably would like the thousands of people who are coming to live and work in the county to know something of the history of their new home and working place. But the county legislature, in a cost-cutting move last November, reduced the county’s support for the Saratoga County Historical Society in Ballston Spa from a very modest $13,000 to zero for 2012. At a
The Society’s president, in an
Ballston Spa National Bank came to a partial rescue by donating $10,000. In a news release, the bank’s Chief Executive Officer said: “From caring for and preserving the county’s historic artifacts and memories to providing educational programs for thousands of local school children each year, the Brookside Museum is a tremendous resource to the Village of Ballston Spa and greater Saratoga region.”
Nevertheless, the Society had to close its historic house, Brookside, for January to save money. The Society’s Executive Director told the
But the Saratoga County Historical Society’s determination to continue its mission – “inspire community memory by telling the story of Saratoga through engaging exhibits and interactive programs” – is undiminished. That is indicative of much of New York’s historical enterprise – pride, energy and dedication to the cause keeps things moving even in very challenging times.
Of course Saratoga is not alone. Many county historical societies – and those in towns, cities, and villages – are partially dependent on public funds, and governments at all levels are being pressured to save money. Many historical societies are feeling the strain of maintaining quality programs in hard economic times. And there is a great deal of variation among them, as a recent post by Peter Feinman reminded us.
But the whole issue of support for community history programs needs discussion and consideration of new approaches. Hard times are great times to plan for better times! This is one of the reasons we need strong leadership and a consultative/action forum such as a state history council.
Some things we, the state’s historical community, might consider doing:
Contact Governor Andrew Cuomo, thank him for the unprecedented references to state history in his State of the State address and for the historical exhibits he has opened in the Capitol and urge him to build on that interest to support a state history program.
Identify a new source of state funding for history, e.g., 1 % of the income from the casinos that Governor Cuomo is advocating. “One Per Cent For New York’s History!” might be the slogan.
Develop a publication on “The Case for Public Funding for Local Historical Programs.” The “case” may be obvious to us but it is not apparent to public authorities, particularly in hard times.
In addition to approaching funding one local government at a time, as we do for the most part now, try a new path – get their associations interested: the
Develop an advocacy case for approaching businesses to fund history programs. For instance, Global Foundries might be interested in sponsoring exhibits, underwriting a history of the county, supporting a business history of the region, encouraging employees to join the historical society, or working on a records management/documentation/archival program.
Move away from “scarcity thinking” toward “abundance thinking” as described by Anne Ackerson, Director of the Museum Association of New York, in her article “The History Museum in New York State: A Growing Sector Built on Scarcity Thinking” in the August 2011 issue of The Public Historian. Approaches noted there include revisiting and redefining missions, broadening the resource base, cooperation among programs, consolidating small/marginal programs, mergers with academic institutions, taking advantage of social media and other information technologies, and other strategic approaches. The Museum Association’s publication
additional helpful guidance and suggestions.
Develop a website or blog, or more than one, for historical societies (and other historical programs) to stay in touch with each other, discuss and highlight model practices, and share strategies for dealing with hard times such as budget reductions.
Revise and update the state requirements and procedures for
Revise state educational aid formulas to support cooperative initiatives with historical programs and visits to historical sites by students. But avoid calling them “field trips” which makes them a tempting target for budget cutters. Instead, recast them and call them something like “integrated social studies curriculum enhancement activities ” or something similar (hopefully, more felicitous!)
Photo: Brookside’s Executive Director, Joy Houle and President, Jeanne Obermayer with Ballston Spa National Bank’s President and CEO, Christopher R. Dowd.