Archive for Tuesday, February 10, 2009

History museum confronts years of problems

February 10, 2009


History museum confronts years of problems

The future of Watkins Community Museum of History is uncertain without major changes in its operation and fundraising efforts. Enlarge video

Advisory board

Destination Management Inc. has appointed an advisory committee to work with the Douglas County Historical Society to improve management and fundraising at Watkins Community Museum of History. Here are the committee members: Ann Gardner, editorial page editor, Lawrence Journal-World; John Pierce, former executive director of the Oregon State Historical Society; David Dunfield, former Lawrence city commissioner, mayor and DMI board member; Craig Weinaug, Douglas County administrator and DMI board member; Dianne Stoddard, assistant Lawrence city manager; and Mike Wildgen, interim director of Watkins Museum.

The future of Watkins Community Museum of History is uncertain without major changes in its operation and fundraising efforts, a consultant’s study has found.

A newly formed advisory committee is ready to work with the Douglas County Historical Society in trying to fix problems that have plagued the museum for years.

The six-member committee was appointed by Destination Management Inc., the entity that promotes tourism in Lawrence and Douglas County.

“The museum’s struggled — I don’t think that’s a secret — and its struggles have become pretty acute financially,” Douglas County Commissioner Charles Jones said. “What needs to be done is stronger management and more fundraising.”

Last year, county commissioners allocated an $18,000 grant to DMI to use for museum management issues. That allowed the hiring of a consultant, Jean Svadlenak, of Kansas City, Mo., to study the museum’s operations, recommend changes and help implement them. She has worked with museums in the Kansas City area.

In her report, Svadlenak outlined the need for the museum to have a consistent fundraising program to support basic operational expenses. In the past, historical society board members have said they were uncomfortable with fundraising, Svadlenak found.

The report also noted that museum spending exceeded revenues by 20 percent in each of the last three years, resulting in an erosion of cash reserves to cover day-to-day operations with a skeletal staff and the use of endowment assets to cover building maintenance costs.

While some of the museum’s problems were known, their magnitude was a surprise, said Deanell Tacha, chairwoman of DMI’s board of directors. Last year, the County Commission designated DMI to oversee distribution and use of county funds allocated for historical society operations. DMI’s board was assigned the task of evaluating the overall needs and operations of Watkins museum. Because of Svadlenak’s findings, the DMI board decided direction and leadership of the society must change significantly, Tacha said.

“The purpose of the committee is to try to assist them in making that transition,” she said. “It’s difficult for organizations to change dramatically and that clearly has to happen in this case.”

The historical society board “doesn’t have a clue” how it is supposed to work with the advisory committee, said Phyllis Tiffany, the historical board’s chairwoman.

“We have no choice. They control the money. It’s that simple,” Tiffany said. “Everything we hear just reinforces the idea that we no longer have any control whatsoever.”

The advisory committee isn’t necessarily a bad idea, Tiffany said, but it is raising questions and paranoia among historical society board members. She said Monday that she didn’t even know who was on the committee.

The committee is going to meet with the board to talk with members about the findings of the report and what needs to be done, Jones said.

Tiffany said she saw nothing wrong with what was in the consultant’s report. The problems have been in existence for decades, she said.

“It actually gives a very good description of what is,” Tiffany said.

The museum, 1047 Mass., was built between 1885 and 1888. It was donated to the city in 1929 and served as city hall until 1970. It became a museum in 1975.

— Reporter George Diepenbrock contributed information to this story.


Kookamooka 9 years, 3 months ago

No doubt DMI will pick their ususal cronies to be on the committee. I haven't seen any of their work, yet so it's too soon to judge their effectiveness. The Watkins has a lot of potential.

Cait McKnelly 9 years, 3 months ago

Hawk has a good idea. I am a history hobbyist and have done research at the Watkins. Archives are kept in the attic. it was confusing to get to and when I got there it was cramped, dusty and not exactly climate controlled. This is such a difference from Wyandotte County's place. Agreed, Kansas City, KS is much bigger and has resources Douglas County may not have but it scares me to think what is happening to document preservation. The Douglas County Historical Society is paranoid and wants to maintain control of Watkins but they obviously don't have the skills or the money to do it and, in my opinion, in the long run are threatening the exact thing they say they want to preserve; this county's history.

gvermooten 9 years, 3 months ago

They can also use some help with volunteers. I tried to work there--as a volunteer--and gave up when they consistently had nothing for me to do when I arrived (same time each week). Volunteers don't get paid, but we don't like to have our time wasted, either.

Tammy Copp-Barta 9 years, 3 months ago

In the past year, I made an appointment to go look at the archive material at the Museum. What a flippin' MESS!! There are documents sitting in the window rotting, nothing is organized, there is crap everywhere and you can't find anything. Some things are cataloged, but many are not. What a waste of our valuable historical data. It's disintegrating before our eyes. I would LOVE to help organize and catalog that room, but they act like it's an imposition for you to even come in there and use the data!

Chris Ogle 9 years, 3 months ago

At least another consultant got something out of the deal.

merritr 9 years, 3 months ago

Good comments, everyone. It is nice to see a civil discussion on here without the normal vitriol. I agree, the history of the county needs to be tied to the present, or else it doesn't mean anything to those who live here/are from here. And why are they so tied to an old bank building? The historical research and archival efforts should have some primacy over the old bank building. The preservation of history in Douglas County shouldn't be tied to the viability of a historic bank building - should be 2 separate issues.

blindrabbit 9 years, 3 months ago

The museum is a disgrace! Poor management over the many years; some arrogant and patronizing staff to throw in! Stacks are a mess, no collection or curatorial management; if you don't believe me, ask for a backroom tour. Over the years some VALUABLE collections (especially historic firearms) were allowed to "disappear" due to questionable motives (I encourage someone to investigate this further). But the biggest problem is the "ownership" of our history. Many arrogants associated with the museum and it's directorship have kept "the unknowing and unlearned" from addessing the problems areas. The City and County Commissioners are much to blame by continuing to fund with little on ineffective oversight.Enough ranting, the community does deserve a quality product. Rather than create such, the future appears to be an involvement with the Freedom Frontier effort. Too bad, because if we had had the vision years ago, we could have stood alone.If the mess is cleaned-up I will gladly volunteer to help; but a new wind needs to blow! Best of LUCK!!!

Ilikeike 9 years, 3 months ago

I'll try to find names, but im not sure where to find them , but ill look around, mabye google. Doubt it though.

Ilikeike 9 years, 3 months ago

Ok... i found out who owns it... he is called J.B., but as far as i can tell, there is no one else or information that i can find in my sources

Ilikeike 9 years, 3 months ago

He is J.B. Watkins, that is his name, that is all I can find.

Ilikeike 9 years, 3 months ago

She (sorry its a girl) was born in 1845 in Pennsylvania. She is known as J.B but her name is Jabez.

Ilikeike 9 years, 3 months ago

I don't see why having a commitee would help, why not just sell the building, since I don't think it's going to get any better from here, unless we had someone with a lot of good ideas and some influence. That's what we need. But unfortunatly we don't have that as far as they know.

George_Braziller 9 years, 3 months ago

Phyllis you are a board member of a not-for-profit. It is your fiscal and legal responsibility to attend to problems. If there are "problems" that have existed for decades then maybe you and the rest of the board should take a look in the mirror. How can you even say that with a straight face and not assume any responsibility? Don't have a clue. That sums it up pretty nicely:"The historical society board “doesn’t have a clue” how it is supposed to work with the advisory committee, said Phyllis Tiffany, the historical board’s chairwoman.""Tiffany said she saw nothing wrong with what was in the consultant’s report. The problems have been in existence for decades, she said."

igby 9 years, 3 months ago

What's the problem anyway?Must be a secret Douglas County thing.

rattler 9 years, 3 months ago

the board meets monthly supposedly, why not bring up concerns there?

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