News & Features » Street Talk (Old)

Richmond Museums Cope With Cuts

Ipson's not the only Richmond museum director adjusting to tough economic times. Local museums were hit with a triple whammy this year: faltering tourism, dwindled state funding and a plummeting stock market that diminished endowments.

The Virginia Historical Society's June 30 financial report shows a loss of 7 to 8 percent of its investment portfolio, and a $17 million donation received in the spring had depreciated to $15.7 million. "Of course it's more than that since then," says President and CEO Charles F. Bryan Jr. At the same time, annual state funding for the society dropped from $375,000 to $28,000.

Losses at other institutions, all of which invest conservatively, are comparable.

"Certainly our endowment has been affected," says William J. Martin, director of the Valentine History Center. But he doesn't know exactly how badly: "I've not been looking," he says. "I just try not to think about it."

Now, museum directors are crossing their fingers as they prepare to mail their annual September fund-raising letters, wondering if donors will come through.

Instead of aggressive tactics, though, most museums plan to avoid putting more pressure on their givers. "We try to be very, very sensitive with regard to our donors," says Doug Knapp, financial development director for the Museum and White House of the Confederacy. The museums aren't the only ones losing money, after all.

Instead, museums are making do, says Margo Carlock, executive director of the Virginia Association of Museums. "We were surprised" after a recent survey, she says, to find that most museums are focusing on how to fulfill their educational missions with fewer resources, instead of redoubling fund-raising. "They're hunkering down," she says.

There is reason for optimism, Martin adds — Richmond museums benefit from having "so many good corporate citizens" locally. "The tradition of philanthropy in this community is remarkable."

Museums are taking the long view. After all, Martin points out, "It's only one year."

— M.S.S.

Add a comment