2013 Strategic Priorities - Museumwise: The Museum Association of New York


New York is the only state in the country that incorporates its museums and heritage organizations through its State Education Department (SED). The state’s museum community takes its educational responsibility seriously, providing standards-based programs to 35 percent of all students in grades kindergarten though twelve. Ninety percent of these same museums develop classroom materials for teachers and students and 59 percent provide teacher-training workshops, all based on SED curricula.

Museums, schools, libraries and public broadcasting are recognized by the Board of Regents as the quartet of educational entities that comprise the University of the State of New York (USNY). Unlike their USNY counterparts, museums and heritage organizations have never received SED funding in acknowledgement of the SED standards-based educational programming they provide for 6.6 million school children each year. Such funding could be used to meet the Regents’ strict standards for chartered museums or for the development and improvement of their educational programming.

From a regulatory standpoint, the New York State Board of Regents must be concerned that so many of its chartered museums and heritage organizations are struggling without a financial safety net. The state’s museums and heritage organizations hold millions of items in the public trust for the benefit of the people of New York. Yet stewardship of these materials can be compromised without the people to care for them and make them available to citizens and without safe environments to protect them.

Our research indicates that 84 percent of the state’s museums responding to our polls indicate that they have been affected “somewhat” or “significantly” by the financial crisis. Their staffs have been reduced, their hours, programs and exhibitions have been cut back; they are cutting corners on collections care or spending their reserve funds (if they have any) to pay their bills to cover deficits. Adding to the distress is the fact that SED is unable to support the development of the museums it incorporates and regulates including some 20 to 30 provisional charters granted annually to new museums.

In FY 2008-2009, the Board of Regents advanced legislation amending the education law to provide formula funding to museums and historical societies that offer certifiable standards-based educational programming to school children and teachers in grades kindergarten though twelve and to foster innovation in museum education through a competitive grant program. This initiative, known as the Cultural and Museum Education Act, needs to be revisited in order to provide critical operational support to museums.


Unlike schools, libraries and public broadcasting which together last year received in excess of $100 million in state and capital aid from the State Education Department (SED), chartered museums and heritage organizations are incorporated and regulated by SED but receive no aid from it. Many of New York State’s nearly 2,000 museums and heritage organizations will experience another year of trying to survive in an extraordinarily difficult financial environment without any financial safety net. The New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) are the only two state agencies that provide any kind of state support directly to museums.

NYSCA: Local Competitive Grants
NYSCA provides general operating support to museums. Until last year, NYSCA’s grant making ability had been reduced by more than 40 percent in the five preceding years and 58 percent below its highest point just two decades ago. Last year, NYSCA experienced its first funding increase with a $4 million addition to the local assistance budget for Regional Economic Development Council funded grants. The 2013-14 Executive Budget folds last year’s funding increase into the base appropriation available for competitive local grants. (the private non-profit New York Council on the Humanities in 2012 also provided $485,000 in local grants to a wide range of cultural institutions including museums).

DEC-EPF: Zoos, Botanical Gardens & Aquariums
DEC’s Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) last year provided $9 million in capital funds for the Zoos, Botanical Gardens and Aquariums (ZBGA) program. The 2013-14 Executive Budget increases the funding level for these “living collections” by $250,000.

DED: Tourism Marketing
In addition to the $4.7 million included in the 2013-14 Executive Budget for tourism marketing, the Governor is also proposing $5 million for a competitive tourism advertising fund. These funds would support tourism marketing plans that best demonstrate collaboration among counties to promote regional attractions. Museums and heritage institutions should be highlighted and prioritized on the list of attractions.


New York’s nearly 2,000 museums and heritage organizations along with 112 zoos, botanical organizations and nature centers range from large and internationally known to all-volunteer institutions. Together, they build community identity, and jump-start the economic engines of cities, towns and villages across the state. Historic sites anchor neighborhoods and revitalize downtowns and big museums are tourist magnets.

Seventeen thousand people work in these museums in jobs that generate more than a billion dollars for the state’s economy annually. Every county has a least one museum, underpinning the state’s tourism industry, and resulting in a robust 68 million visitors to the state annually.

Heritage & Cultural Tourism
The New York State Department of Economic Development (DED)’s Tourism Office has suffered for many years from a chronic lack of resources to promote the culture and heritage of the state. It has no staff now dedicated exclusively to promoting the state’s cultural and historic resources and until 2012 suffered from a shrinking tourism promotion budget that was vastly outpaced by many neighboring and similarly sized states. Governor Cuomo’s Path Through History initiative begins to change the relationships museums have with their regional tourism promotion agencies and thus creates the link from cultural/heritage tourism to economic development.

REDC Grant Awards
During the first round of competitive funding through the Regional Economic Development Council’s (REDC’s) in 2011, there were no representatives from nonprofit museums among the dozens of community leaders who were tapped to serve on one of the ten REDC’s. The lack of representation resulted in approximately 1.2 percent of the $738 million going to arts, cultural or tourism related projects. Last spring, the Lt. Governor publicly announced that arts and cultural organizations would be included in last year’s competition. This decision led to approximately 4.5 percent of all grants to be awarded to these organizations and tourism projects (not including the $2 million North Country Tourism Transformation Fund). Creating a seat at the economic development table for museums and cultural institutions this past year recognizes that these institutions are clearly a driving economic force. Going forward, it is critical that cultural sector work groups are created by each regional council and cultural leaders appointed to these work groups.