Cultural Heritage and Politics: Dealing with the Closure of the Illinois State Museum
On October 1st the Illinois State Museum (ISM), and its affiliates, closed its doors to the public. The staff is still going to work, but no one is able to visit the 138 year-old museum system. I have spent the past three summers working as a graduate assistant on the Morton Village Archaeological Project, an ongoing collaborative research project between MSU and the Dickson Mounds Museum (DMM), an affiliate of the Illinois State Museum. Since 2008, Dr. Jodie O’Gorman, Chair of the Anthropology Department and Associate Professor at MSU, and Dr. Michael Conner, Associate Curator of Anthropology at DMM, have trained undergraduates and volunteers in excavation and laboratory techniques at the Morton Village site, located within 2 miles of the DMM.
The museum closed because the Republican Governor of Illinois, Bruce Rauner, and the Democrat-led Illinois legislature cannot agree on a state budget (Evanston Now, 2015). Rauner vetoed the legislature’s proposed budget and instead suggested a cut of $400 million from various state organizations, including the ISM (Cosier, 2015). This closure will only save the state approximately $4.8 million, only 1/10 of the state’s projected deficit (Cosier, 2015). According to the ‘Save the Illinois State Museum’ Facebook page, the ISM only costs an Illinoisan 64-cents per year in taxes. Over 386K people visited the ISM last year, and tourists spend $33 million in local communities each year. In addition, the ISM brought in $2 million in grants and contracts from agencies such as the NSF and the Army Corps of Engineers.
I found out about the impending closure while conducting pre-dissertation research at Dickson Mounds this summer. It was devastating to see friends and colleagues that I have formed relationships with over the last 3 summers fear for their jobs and begin cleaning out their offices, while preparing the collections for an uncertain future. Since this summer a few things have changed, the unionized curatorial staff remains employed, but non-union employees will be laid off, and at least 10 science staff has announced their retirements. All the human resources and fiscal department employees were laid off 2 weeks ago (Cosier, 2015).
The public outcry against this closure has been incredible, marches and candlelight vigils have been held and a Facebook page set up to make the public aware of events or changes to the current situation. However, this public outcry does not seem to be swaying the Governor to allow these institutions to remain open to the public.
How does this relate to the CHI fellowship?
For my CHI project, I will collaborate with CHI fellow Autumn Beyer. We have both worked closely with the incredible staff at the ISM and DMM, Autumn during her Master’s program at Illinois State University and I during the summer working on the Morton project. Our CHI project will focus on making a portion of the Morton Village archaeological project available to the public, but we would also like to show our support for the Illinois State Museum and Dickson Mounds Museum. We are working on the details, but we hope that with our project we can continue to promote awareness of the incredible work that the ISM and DMM have done to protect the cultural heritage of Illinois.
What can you do to help?
Cosier, Susan: “Amid budget fight, Illinois State Museum prepares to close”, Science Magazine, 30 September 2015, <http://news.sciencemag.org/scientific-community/2015/09/amid-budget-fight-illinois-state-museum-prepares-close>
Evanston Now, “Biss decries museum closures” Evanston Now, 30 September 2015, <http://evanstonnow.com/story/government/evanston-now/2015-09-30/72491/biss-decries-museum-closures>
Lott, Laura L., “Statement by Laura L. Lott, President and CEO of the American Alliance of Museums, on the closure of the Illinois State Museum System ‘Illinois’ Treasures Trapped Behind Shuttered Doors.’” American Alliance of Museums, 1 October 2015, <http://t.congressweb.com/w/?DEZAPQCUTI>