Funding cuts for city’s museums would be a big mistake
April 06, 2014 12:29 AM | 4823 views | 4 4 comments | 43 43 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., has often been called “the nation’s attic,” where all sorts of items pertaining to our past are stored, shared and preserved. It’s a role played locally by the Marietta Museum of History and its counterparts.

The Smithsonian is funded almost entirely with taxpayer dollars, although it also enjoys occasional high-profile donations from philanthropists. But can you imagine a president or congressman ever saying about the Smithsonian that “There are better ways to make this city relevant?” Can you imagine them ever suggesting that few would consider the Smithsonian museums to have been wise investments? Can you imagine them suggesting that the tax dollars now going to them might be better spent on developing a trolley line or pedicabs?

We can’t either. But that scenario, writ small, was essentially proposed for Marietta’s museums and arts institutions last week by a newly elected Marietta councilman.

Noting that the city of Marietta has spent roughly $2 million underwriting the operations of The Marietta Museum of History, Councilman Stuart Fleming told an MDJ reporter that, “I think, in hindsight, few people would consider that the wisest investment.”

Fleming has not gone so far as to propose funding cuts to any of the museums or arts groups supported by the city, but might have tipped his hand with the words, “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.’”

He went on to suggest that other types of businesses — citing pedicabs or trolleys — might draw new visitors to the city.

Well, for starters, Marietta already has a trolley company — and it’s an outstanding one. And it already has pedicabs.

It also is fortunate to have not just one, or two, or even three, but six museums — a remarkable number for a city our size, and each with its own distinct mission. In addition to the Museum of History, downtown is also home to Marietta/Cobb Museum of Art, the Root House Museum, the Gone With the Wind Museum and the Old Zion Baptist Church Heritage Museum. All enjoy funding from the City’s hotel-motel tax, which by law must be used to promote tourism. That tax also is used to help underwrite the Earl Smith Strand Theatre, the Friends of Brown Park, the Georgia Ballet and the Cobb Landmarks & Historical Society. (Downtown also is home to the Marietta Fire Museum, an oft-overlooked gem housed in the main city firehouse. It is funded via the Fire Department budget, rather than by grant like the others.)

Even with help from the city, which passes along the tax proceeds from the out-of-towners who pay the hotel-motel tax, all those entities listed above typically live a hand-to-mouth existence, operating on shoestring budgets while producing high-quality offerings that punch way above their weight when it comes to enriching the fabric of this community.

And grants from the city do not guarantee their financial health. Far from it. Just ask supporters of the much-lamented Theatre on the Square, which went out of business two years ago after a stellar 30-year run.

Those museums and arts groups in some cases have already suffered deep funding cuts from the city, and incredibly, the Museum of History found itself having to rebuff efforts by some then-city council members (not Fleming) to sell off part of its collection to help its bottom line — even though acquiescing with the council probably would have signaled its death knell. And most of the current council members contacted by the MDJ for its story last week, and presented with a golden opportunity to go to bat for the city’s arts and cultural institutions, came across as disappointingly gun-shy instead.

However, Fleming’s comments last week might have backfired, as they seem to have served as a “wake-up” call to those who support the museums and arts groups.

There clearly can be improvements and better coordination in the way those groups are funded. But expecting them to survive strictly on admissions and donations would not be just a mistake but a sure-fire guarantee that many of them would soon be out of business. Marietta deserves better.

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Dave Z
April 08, 2014
I agree that Marietta does a HORRIBLE job of marketing itself. Roswell, with its one or two blocks of entertainment, has a much better reputation than Marietta, with its central park, grand theater, railroad history, restuarants, etc.

Less "OM" and more progressive flair.
Be Careful
April 07, 2014
To compare the Smithsonion in Washington to anything we have here is pure folly. The Smithsonion is the greatest museum on this planet. You could spend days and days there and still not see everything. It is the history of the world and our nation. Everytime I'm in Washington I visit some part of the museum I haven't seen before.

Now, to counter that, we have the Marietta museum and the Gone With The Wind museum.

Jokes, both of them. You can see EVERYTHING they have to offer in about 15 minutes. You might be able to stretch a visit to 30 minutes if you read EVERY description card.

I've been to each once. Once you've been there, you've seen it all and there is no reason to return.Marietta is a small town. To use a portion of it's finite budget to prop up small museums is a waste of money.

Kennesaw has the same problem. A museum and gardens that, while nice, once you've seen the never changing displays, there's no need for a repeat visit. They dump hundreds of thousands of dollars into them and it's a complete waste.

When you visit the Smithsonian in Washington, there is NO entry fee. But the museums in Marietta and Kennesaw all charge to get in.

They should be like any other business. If they are charging admission and not enough people show up to pay the bills, they close.

The amount the change to see that pitiful GWTW museum is disgraceful consider what you get for your money. It's no wonder nobody goes. To dump tax money into them is a complete waste.
Just a thought.....
April 07, 2014
I personally think the museums are a great thing to have, and while I don't think council should cut funding to them altogether, I do think most voters would not mind there either being some consolidation or means testing involved to the groups that do get tax dollars. There does come a time, as much as we may wish it were not so, that sometimes the money could be better spent...not on trolleys or pedicabs....but on marketing and development.

Marietta, unlike Roswell, does a horrible job of promoting itself, instead hanging on to the vestiges of Gone With The Wind. Realistically, in the metro area, when people think of Roswell they think "cool downtown" and "lots of restaurants and galleries"...and while we have the same things going for us, no one knows it. If we are spending our limited dollars on propping up things that have no community support, are we really doing justice to the groups and organizations that do facilitate community involvement and participation.
soul of the town
April 06, 2014
A lot of really devoted individuals have put untold hours into creating these museums, and keeping them going. I can still remember how hard Dan Cox worked, for instance, with no help at all from a certain mayor. These museums, to put it simply, represent Us, the folks who make up this town. They are enjoyable now and will be enjoyable for years to come. They do need to be marketed by someone who is experienced. People who come to visit Atlanta, for instance, need to know they could take a short ride and come face to face with a lot of history!
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