Marietta councilman questions if museum investment is paying off
by Nikki Wiley
April 02, 2014 04:00 AM | 6205 views | 13 13 comments | 32 32 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jan Galt, director of operations at the Marietta Museum of History, and Kee Carlisle, chairman of the board of directors, say tourism grants from the city are vital to keeping the doors open. <br> Staff/Jeff Stanton
Jan Galt, director of operations at the Marietta Museum of History, and Kee Carlisle, chairman of the board of directors, say tourism grants from the city are vital to keeping the doors open.
Staff/Jeff Stanton
A Marietta councilman thinks the city may not be getting the return on investment it needs from the tourism tax money it pours into the city’s museums and cultural organizations.

Councilman Stuart Fleming said he isn’t taking a stab at the city’s museums, but questions if their subsidies are paying off.

City Council uses a portion of the revenue collected from its 8 percent hotel/motel tax for tourism grants, given each year to selected nonprofits in Marietta.

The Marietta Museum of History and Marietta-Cobb Museum of Art got the most funding last year of the nine programs that received grants.

A $128,579 tourism grant makes up 44 percent of the history museum’s $289,504 budget. Its director’s salary is paid for by the city’s general fund budget, along with the director of the city’s Gone with the Wind Museum.

About $50,927 was given to the art museum through a tourism grant, representing 17.6 percent of its $289,302 budget.

For every paying customer who enters the history museum, the tourism grant pays $19.11. That jumps to $24.38 for the art museum.

Museum membership costs range from $30 to $500 depending on the level of membership.

Both get the rest of their cash through admissions, memberships, sponsors, event space rentals and other fees and donations.

The Gone with the Wind Museum, Earl Smith Strand Theatre, Friends of Brown Park, Old Zion Baptist Church Heritage Museum, Georgia Ballet, Friends of Brumby Hall and Cobb Landmarks also received tourism grants last year.

The hotel/motel tax money given to the nine programs is regulated by state law and must be spent on promoting tourism in Marietta.

Telling history to the tune of $2 million

Fleming said he isn’t against tourism funding and he has not proposed any cuts or reductions in grants. For now, it’s just a discussion.

“My concern is not with any one particular museum,” Fleming said.

Still, he said a larger return on investment may be elsewhere.

Marietta has spent $2 million on the history museum alone over the last 10 years.

“I do think, in hindsight, few people would consider that the wisest investment,” Fleming said.

He pointed to other types of businesses, such as Pedicabs or trolleys, which may attract new visitors to the city.

Tourism grants can be given to nonprofit organizations but may not be used to subsidize for-profit companies, said city attorney Doug Haynie.

Fleming isn’t prepared to say whether or not the tourism grant recipients actually bring in new tourists, but said he wants to have a discussion about new ways to look at the city. It’s “about incubating new things,” he said, and re-evaluating if the city is getting bang for its buck.

“I’m not railing on these guys. If you told me right now, ‘Stuart, for the next 10 years you have $2 million,’ I think most taxpayers would say … ‘We don’t want to spend $2 million on the Museum of History. There are better ways to try to make our community relevant,’” Fleming said.

History museum grows despite cuts

Tourism grants to city nonprofits have been dwindling, said Jan Galt, director of operations for the history museum.

When she arrived at the museum in 2001, it was fully funded by hotel/motel tax money.

Now, tourism grants make up 44 percent of its budget.

Despite the cuts, she said the museum has seen significant growth. At one time, it took up the second floor of the Kennesaw House on the Marietta Square. It has since expanded to all three floors of the historic building.

“Like everybody else, we’ve had our struggles,” Galt said. “I won’t deny that.”

The museum, which contains collections worth $4.5 million, attracts visitors from outside Cobb and outside Georgia, Galt said.

School tours come from outside the metro area, including a group of eighth graders from LaGrange who comes every year.

That helps to boost sales for merchants and restaurateurs on the Marietta Square, Galt said. The museum doesn’t just promote itself, she said, it works to promote the city as a whole.

“We all feel very much that we are the face of the museum and we are the face of Marietta,” Galt said.

The city’s tourism grant helps the museum not only operate but expand and attract new demographics, such as the parents of young children or senior citizens, Galt said.

If that funding were cut in a significant way, she maintains it would be hard to provide the same services.

“I hate to use the word ‘devastating,’ but it would severely impact our ability to operate and continue to expand and grow,” Galt said.

Art director says museum brings tourists

Sally Macaulay, executive director of the art museum, agrees it would be difficult to carry on without the tourism grant.

“We can’t bring people into the museum on a daily basis like the Strand Theatre, which has movies and theater and things every day that they can charge to bring groups in,” Macaulay said.

The Strand received $33,500 from a tourism grant last year, which is 4.3 percent of its budget.

But she argues the art museum is carrying its weight.

Chalk artists traveled from California, Ohio, Texas and New York, among other states, for last year’s inaugural Marietta Chalkfest, Macaulay said. Artists from Arizona and Key West, Fla., visited the city for the opening of the “Realism at its Best” exhibit featuring paintings of Alexei Butirskiy and Edward Gordon.

Between April 2012 and April 2013, about 50 percent of the visitors to the art museum were from outside Georgia, she said.

Another 12 percent came from outside Cobb. Ten percent were from out of the country. Locals made up 24 percent of the museum’s visitation.

Many of those out-of-town guests stayed at the Marietta Hilton Conference Center, Macaulay said, and dined at local restaurants.

“We’re constantly thinking of ways to bring dollars and bring money and bring tourism into Marietta,” Macaulay said.

Some officials hesitant

Other City Council members aren’t as quick as Fleming to second guess the status quo in the city’s tourism grants.

Mayor Steve Tumlin said it’s always good to take another look at how the city spends its money.

“It’s raised a good point,” Tumlin said.

Yet he doesn’t think a “radical change” will be made in the way tourism grants are doled out.

Numbers can be misleading, Tumlin said, and there’s no “magic formula” to determining tourism success.

“I don’t know if the turnstile is the only way to measure if you’re attracting tourists,” Tumlin said. “If it was purely tourist attraction, we’d give it to Taste of Marietta. We’d give it to the concerts. We have some pretty good restaurants that draw people.”

If the Marietta Square had none of its cultural attractions, Tumlin said it would devolve into a shopping center.

“If we cut the Museum of History in half, we’d lose it. I think that’s reality,” Tumlin said.

Councilman Grif Chalfant says there is merit to the idea that a trolley or another alternative form of transportation could be funded with hotel/motel tax dollars, but he doesn’t support completely eliminating museum funding.

The talks may be early, said Councilwoman Michelle Cooper Kelly, because the city will enter preparations for its next fiscal year budget soon and more discussions with grant recipients are likely to take place.

“I think that will probably enlighten us,” Kelly said.

Councilmen Johnny Walker, Andy Morris and Philip Goldstein were also hesitant and said they need to do more research before making any decisions.


Marietta Museum

of History:

Grant $128,579

Total budget $289,504 budget

44 percent of budget from grant

$19.11 in grant money for every paying customer


Museum of Art:

Grant $50,927

Total budget $289,302

17.6 percent of budget from grant

$24.38 in grant money for every paying customer

Gone with the

Wind Museum:

Grant $40,222

Total budget $135,940

29.6 percent of budget from grant

$4.87 in grant money for every paying customer

Earl Smith Strand Theatre:

Grant $33,500

Total budget $773,265

4.3 percent of budget

$0.93 in grant money for every paying customer

Friends of Brown Park

Grant $8,029

Total budget $11,850

67.8 percent of budget

No paying customers

Old Zion Baptist Church Heritage MUSEUM

Grant $4,500

Total budget $21,700

20.7 percent of budget

$15 in grant money for

every paying customer

Georgia Ballet

Grant $3,000

Total budget $752,439

0.4 percent of budget

$0.41 in grant money for every paying customer

Friends of

Brumby Hall

Grant $2,547

Total budget $8,089

31.5 percent of budget

No paying customers

Cobb Landmarks

Grant $1,529

Total budget $155,800

1 percent of budget

$0.91 in grant money for every paying customer

Comments-icon Post a Comment
April 03, 2014
why didn't they mention that the art museum in marietta did a huge yarn project last year? that's what pulled all of the out of towners into that museum last year. nobody knew it was there otherwise.
This Is Ridiculous!
April 03, 2014
2 MILLION DOLLARS in 10 years…. $128,579 annually in tax grants, a $289,504 budget ….. WHERE IS THE MONEY GOING? Why isn't the Mayor and the other City Council members concerned about this?

Someone needs to be accountable at the Marietta Museum of History – obviously it isn’t Dan Cox and Jan Galt!!!!!

Be Careful
April 02, 2014
A museum, or gardens, are a business like any other. Either they generate enough revenue from visitors, or they don't.

And if they don't, they need to close like any other business that doesn't make money.

The Museum and gardens in Kennesaw are a JOKE!!!!!

Nobody goes, look up the visitor count. The city spends hundreds of thousands of citizen tax money to keep these empty attractions open. Of course it doesn't help that the Mayor and a councilman sit on both the museum and garden boards.

Can we say "CONFLICT OF INTEREST"????????

The respective boards of directors put on lavish parties every year and everyone dresses up in tuxes and pats themselves on the back while the places would go broke if they had to survive on their own.
Mike In Smyrna
April 02, 2014
Is there really a trickle sideways effect? What is the actual headcount for the number of people who paid to enter the history museum and the art museum?

Why not give each resident of Marietta a free pass to each attraction?
April 02, 2014
A similar issue here in Kennesaw with the museum and gardens. This was brought up in the recent Council elections. We are still waiting to get this issue addressed locally.
ME, "PC"? NOT!
April 02, 2014
From the very beginning, Scarlett On The Square has been a drain on Marietta's finances. Our city actually has to "rent" the display items opposed to the items at the History Museum which our city owns...which are worth millions. On the other hand, the Scarlett "museum" is filled with insipid, eBay quality inventory which, as proven by their attendance records, fails top draw even Marietta locals. Has anyone actually seen their GWTW 75th Anniversary "celebrity" lineup for this year? Yet again, it's full of overpriced has-beens and wanna-be's....and who pays for it? We do!
In the know
April 02, 2014
You must be thinking of the "James" Tumblin flee market crap – the City of Marietta evicted him and his vagabond collection over a decade ago.
ME, "PC"? NOT!
April 03, 2014
Obviously, I've lived here (5 generations) far longer than you. I recall that he grew tired of the cities machinations and pulled stakes for far Greener a cursive Yahoo or Google search would easily prove!
History lesson
April 03, 2014
5 generations would make you 125 years old…..time to check the accuracy of your “recollections”
ME, "PC"? NOT!
April 04, 2014
@"History lesson"; Sorry to burst your Fantasy Bubble but my descendants have, indeed, been here for 5 generations. And yours?
History lesson
April 04, 2014
@ME,"PC"? NOT!

"Obviously, I've lived here (5 generations) far longer than you"

Don't let your quotes come back to haunt you, or be so self-righteous to think you're superior to anyone.

I can only hope your "lineage" was more intelligent and better spoken than you are

April 02, 2014
One thing that needs to be taken into consideration if this is the first step in "defunding" and effectively killing the museums : hundreds of Marietta residents have donated items to them. So what exactly is supposed to happen to these things? And by the way, why isn't someone with some experience doing some effective marketing? That would be a huge help.
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