Cultural commons held hostage by Minnesota budget feud

If you go to the home page of the Minnesota History Center you’ll see announcements for events in July and August –Tuesday night concerts, a history pub crawl, museum theater – as well as information about current and future exhibitions.  But look at the upper left-hand corner and you’ll see a diagonal banner:
And across the top of the page:
The Minnesota Historical Society, its museums, historic sites, library and programs are closed temporarily due to the State of Minnesota government shutdown.
Check back for reopening information. We apologize for the inconvenience
Navigating the website is a bit dicey too – there are notices on various pages that some of the usual services such as ticketing, scheduling, etc. will not be available due to the government shutdown. The museum reportedly receives over half of its operating revenue from the state.
On July 3 The St Paul Pioneer Express had a number of articles about the build-up to the shutdown, and related articles about the impact on various segments of the community.   The list of  articles begins “Horses and Drivers at Racetrack Might Decamp,” goes on to discuss some facilities that have negotiated exceptions – including the Minnesota Zoo and the logging industry – and ends with headlines about the effects on health and community services.
Is there something amiss when the list of articles begins with the racetrack?  I’m glad the Zoo has found a way to stay open. But where is some slight expression of dismay at the loss of all the exhibits, programs, and events over the long weekend (and possibly beyond) afforded by the Minnesota Historical Society, with its dozens of historic sites, museums, and parks across the length and breadth of the state?
I haven’t visited the other sites, but I’m a longtime fan of the museum located in Minnesota’s capital city. When I was Project Director of Invention at Play, and we were in the early development stages in 1998, one of the first places our exhibition team visited was the History Center Museum, both to view the exhibitions and to pick the brains of their exhibit developers. Among them was Dan Spock, now the Director of the Museum at the History Center.  Since that first visit I’ve been delighted and impressed repeatedly by the efforts of the Museum to create innovative history exhibitions that engage visitors with good scholarship and with carefully prototyped hands-on components and activities.  Some of my favorites: exhibits that make railroad cars and labor disputes participatory experiences;  Minnesota A to Z – an alphabetical display of the Center’s broad and deep collection;  Home Place Minnesota, one of a number of  “object theaters,” multimedia combinations of sound, film, artifacts, lighting, and moveable sets that provide an immersive experience for  abstract concepts.  I haven’t seen the Mill City Museum, created out of the ruins of what was once the world’s largest flour mills (Gold Medal) on the Mississippi River, but have heard glowing reports of its use of the site to communicate the interrelated history of flour milling, the river, and the economy of the region.  Minnesota 150, developed to commemorate the 150th anniversary of statehood in 2009, was one of the first efforts by a major museum to use crowdsourcing to make the initial selection of content for the exhibition. A few years ago, the Museum held its ground when there were protests from the community about its inclusion of images of same-sex couples in an exhibition about marriage in Minnesota.
Today, July 5, in the online version of the Minneapolis Star Tribune , you can a click on an article that tells you what’s open and what’s closed.  It’s understandable that many health and human service programs will continue to operate, including medical services, food stamps, and the like. But other decisions seem more arbitrary.   The Courts will be open, and you can still get a marriage license.  But electronic signs on highways are dark and most rest areas closed.  The Minnesota Historical Society, including the History Center and all of MHS’ other sites, libraries, and museums, remains closed. There’s a brief article announcing the cancellation of the first of the free Tuesday evening concerts at the History Center, a 15 year tradition.
Even if it weren’t a leader in the history museum field, the temporary closing of The Museum at the History Center should be a cause for concern in our community.  How many other similar closings are in the cards?  And why is there not more public comment when this happens?

Readers interested in more background on the state of funding for all museums can find an interesting post on IDEA-AAM reports most museum revenues falling.

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