We, the Board of the Washington County Historical Society, Inc., would like to express our full confidence in our director, Patricia Lutz and the curators. They are all educated, highly qualified museum professionals and undeserving of the comments made by the casual observation of a county supervisor as “reported” September 13.
The Board also disagrees with the statement the History Center is “an under-performing center that is lacking in any sense of vibrancy”.
To imply the History Center as operated by the Historical Society is “fiscally irresponsible” and an “under performing” group is an incorrect statement made by misinformation. One visit doesn’t begin to touch the surface of what is happening in the vibrant, cultural hub of Washington County.
The measure of a successful museum cannot be stated in one quantifiable measure, such as attendance. All aspects of a museum’s operation need to be assessed when considering the value it provides to the community.
Many people in this community do not see what goes on behind the scenes.
Donated items are evaluated, cataloged and archived; education programs are developed which meet state standards; photographs are cataloged; family and church histories are preserved; grants are written; educational programs go out to the schools in the form of Discovery Boxes and presentations; social events happen; and research is done for local and out of area people.
Most community members only see what is available to the public within the walls of the Old Courthouse and Jail. However, the effort of the History Center preserves all of Washington County’s history. How can you put a quantifiable value on that?
When the County supervisors decided to create the Courthouse and Jail museums, they knew they did not know how to operate a museum, let alone a non-profit, and needed professional advice. Even the small volunteer Historical Society did not have this expertise. A plan was developed with the help of a consulting firm hired by the County.
One task was to build the staff needed to perform all the duties required and in the beginning, some of the staff were actually County employees. Long term plans were for the Historical Society to run the operations with the help of the County which we have done efficiently and effectively.
The County has known from day one what the costs would be to support the Museum and historic buildings. Currently, the County has relied on the Society’s professional staff to set the museum goals and budget because they have no one on the County Board with the necessary experience.
Unfortunately, they continue to make large cuts to the operating budgets of the museums and we have endured many over the past several years. This has resulted in the Society reducing staff, cutting programs, and increasing fundraising efforts to meet inflation.
Every cut by the County results in the Society having to make the difference up through donations. Fundraising efforts have been extremely difficult the past several years. There are many reasons for this and multiple non-profit organizations are dealing with the same issue. Sources of donations for non-profit groups are becoming harder to find which makes the operating funds from the County critical to the museum existence.
Fiscally, the Historical Society Board strives to insure the use of both private and public funds give the donor and the public the “biggest bang for the buck.” The History Center meets public accounting guidelines and is audited annually. Money from the annual grant by the County Board allows the History Center to operate as the hub of the cultural center for the County and is only a small portion of what it takes to allow the History Center to act as the cultural hub. The rest is made up by the sweat and hard work of countless volunteers and generous donations from the community.
We fully support the work of the staff and the volunteers at the History Center and will continue with efforts to reach out to the community. The Historical Society Board maintains full oversight of the History Center operations by insuring the staff performs to the high standards set by the American Association of State and Local History and the American Association of Museums.
The Washington County Historical Society has been a part of Washington County for over 100 years. We feel the preservation of our history is vital to our growth as a society. An on-going relationship that works for all parties is the ultimate goal and we feel that can be achieved. Visionary thinking by past members of the Board, Historical Society, and community created a link to our past in a building that had been deemed as unpractical for modern uses.
Visionary thinking created a plan to turn an unpractical building into a centerpiece of the County. Visionary thinking made the unpractical building a beautiful connection to our past. Visionary thinking by the County and the Historical Society will develop a plan to keep this cultural gem for future generations.
We invite you to visit us and see what is happening in your museums.
Come make history with us!
The Washington County Historical Society Board