The Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas' new home at the Springs Preserve that thanks to budget cuts may not open.
Well, the dust has finally settled from this year's legislative session, and the result has been devastating for the state's Division of Museums and History. Beginning July 1, 2009, the Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas, together with all museums in the state system, will be open only 4 days a week--Wednesday through Saturday--and closed Sunday through Tuesday.
Early in the legislative session, Governor Jim Gibbons and his staff wanted to completely eliminate the Department of Cultural Affairs, "zero out" the budget, close all the museums in the state system and lay off their staffs. The state library and archive would have been closed, and the Arts Council shut down. What Gibbons and his staff did not understand, particularly in the case of the state's museums is that each deed of gift a donor signs is a legal contract the state has to honor. If the museums were closed and their staffs eliminated, what would become of their collections? The IRS has very tight rules for non-profits that would have made it almost impossible for Nevada's museums to divest themselves of their collections.
Forced to avoid shutting down the state's museums, the governor's budget imposed layoffs and deep salary cuts instead. Unlike other state employees who are losing 4.6% of their salary by being furloughed from their jobs one day a month, employees in the Division of Museums and History are taking 20% salary cuts by being reduced to part-time workers. These drastic salary cuts and partial closings follow two years during which museum budgets were cut 11%, a hiring freeze was instituted, and staff positions eliminated. There is no sunset clause on this. These budget cuts could remain in effect for the next few years.
The impact of these cuts on public service has been severe. The Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas, for instance, lost its Curator of Education in July 2008 when she retired, and administrators at the Department of Cultural Affairs will not allow her replacement. It's the Curator of Education who plans and coordinates the museum's programs and public outreach. Those duties have fallen to remaining curators and staff, who must still meet the demands of their original jobs.
The museum's reduced hours and unfilled positions mean less time and fewer staff to accommodate school tours, researchers, and museum visitors. It means that fewer groups and organizations will have access to the museum's meeting room. Internally, it means that remaining staff, having to juggle two or three jobs, have less time to acquire materials for the archive and collections, less time to process collections for public use, less time to take advantage of educational opportunities necessary to keep the museum up-to-date and user friendly. It means fewer and smaller exhibits, and fewer and less ambitious programs.
Ironically, the governor's budget also included funds to build the permanent exhibits in the Las Vegas museum's new building at the Las Vegas Springs Preserve. This construction, which should start in July, will take about a year to complete, after which the museum is scheduled to open to the public. However, because so many museum workers have been lost or downgraded with reduced hours, the museum at the Springs Preserve may not have the staff it needs to open.
Let us know what you think about this. The State Museum is one of our partners in the historical programming that we try to do throughout the year so this affects not only us but all of you as well.