New governor’s adviser: Museum closure unlikely
Despite agency recommendations that would shut down four of Nevada’s seven museums, word is it’s highly unlikely Gov. Brian Sandoval will close any of them.
Dale Erquiaga, Sandoval’s senior adviser, confirmed Thursday the governor-elect was taking a serious look at whether closing the museums makes sense.
The Department of Cultural Affairs recommended deep cuts throughout its divisions to meet the spending targets set by Gov. Jim Gibbons. That included the elimination of all staff at the railroad museums in Carson City and Ely, the Nevada Historical Society in Reno and the Lost City Museum in Southern Nevada – a total of 26 full-time positions.
In the capital, that would mean eliminating 11 positions, including the skilled mechanics and fabricators who are among the only people in the nation capable of restoring historic steam engines.
While there will probably be additional cuts to those staffs, it still would be necessary to keep enough staff available to protect the valuable collections those museums hold – especially the Carson City museum.
“The collections of the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Carson City represent some of the most valuable (dollar, intrinsic and unique) items in the repository of our museums,” Cultural Affairs officials wrote in the original budget plan submitted to the budget office.
Since some of the collection is stored outside, museum officials said those items would be at risk of theft or vandalism if the building were shut down.
In addition, Erquiaga said closing the museum would violate restrictions in contracts with a number of donors, forcing the state to give those donations back.
Erquiaga’s statement echoed that contained in the Cultural Affairs narrative: “Funds donated by foundations for specific purposes would have to be returned with uncountable long-term consequences.”
They also pointed out that local tourism and economic development efforts based on tourism would suffer if the museum shut down, costing local businesses money.
Officials say the fact is that, since some funding would have to be retained to protect the valuable collections at the museums on the closure list, shuttering them really wouldn’t save very much money in the grand scheme of things.
“In some cases it ends up being more expensive,” said Erquiaga.
Furthermore, if some staff have to be maintained in the building, it makes no sense not to open the doors and accept paying customers – duties generally handled by unpaid volunteers.
Candy Duncan, head of the Carson City Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that is very good news for Carson City. She said she has been concerned that closing the railroad museum would deter potential visitors. She also said it didn’t make sense to her.
“I couldn’t imagine when I first heard that, that this would be the logical solution to the billion-dollar shortfall we’ve got.”
In the cased of the Historical Society located on the UNR campus in Reno, Cultural Affairs officials pointed out it is Nevada’s oldest museum, opened in 1905 with “a deep and rich collection of historical artifacts, archives and photographs of Nevada history that pre-dates statehood.”
Because of that collection, Cultural Affairs officials say the Historical Society is visited by thousands of researchers each year. If closed, the security of the collection would, like the railroad museum, be a concern, the document states.
Closing down the Ely Railroad Museum, the documents point out, would only save one staff position but would make it impossible to protect and preserve the items in that facility, creating ‘”a very real threat to state assets.” At Ely, the problem is compounded by the fact it is so far away from other Cultural Affairs facilities that other employees can’t easily get there to protect the collection. The documents there are also in demand to help resolve legal matters involving the history of eastern Nevada railroads and their lands.
Lost City in Moapa Valley near Las Vegas, they pointed out, is “itself an artifact,” a Conservation Corps-era replica of an adobe pueblo, which requires “ongoing, continuous maintenance.”
In addition, the recommendations point out, “Losing the museum will result in the loss of many thousands of visitors from domestic and international destinations.”