Here are two over-generalizations that I’m sick to death of hearing.
1) People who become professional historians don’t live in the real world. They don’t have to deal with things like budgets, making payroll, paying suppliers, shuffling invoices, and all the other aspects of keeping an operation running that the rest of us learn to manage by our quick wits and the sweat of our brow.
2) Our choice as citizens is between historic sites and jobs. It’s, like, 2010, not 1860, and what we need are jobs, jobs, jobs. We need to stop worrying about maintaining historic sites and start worrying about getting people in our communities employed.
For a corrective to these notions, read A. Wilson Greene’s recent piece in Civil War News. Greene runs Pamplin Historical Park near Petersburg, VA. Here’s an excerpt:
The Foundation’s chairman notified me in the late autumn that it would be necessary to cut the Foundation’s contribution to our Park by some 62 percent in the fiscal year beginning Jan. 1, 2009. This meant an end to business as usual and severe steps would have to be taken to balance the budget during the coming year.
I feel confident that although the percentages might vary, there are few employees, board members or supporters of private historic sites to whom this scenario seems foreign. During the last several years, virtually all of my colleagues working in public history have shared similar horror stories.
As comforting as it was to know that we were not alone in this financial dilemma, there was little time for self-pity or mutual commiseration. We had to take immediate steps to ensure that adequate funds were available to meet our financial obligations and then develop a new fiscal model that would lead to mid- and long-term sustainability.
The majority of most park and museum budgets pay for personnel. There is only so much that can be saved in utility and maintenance costs and the purchase of goods and services. We had no choice but to lay off more than half of our talented work force — an awful experience for everyone involved.
Funny thing about historic sites: People actually work there, they generally prefer getting a regular paycheck, they pay state and local taxes out of those checks just like everybody else, and when the site takes a hit they might lose their jobs. Which means, you know, less of that “employment” thing that development apologists like so much.
You can support Pamplin Historical Park during this difficult time with donations, by volunteering, or through their affiliation with the ShopforMuseums.com program.