Are any efforts to fund small museums being made?
There have been efforts by IMLS to target specific museums for funding, but not by size. Along with a program geared towards Native American and Native Hawaiian museums, IMLS has a program for African-American museums. Samuel Black, president of the Association of African American Museums (AAAM) told me that his agency enjoys a good working relationship with IMLS and that in his experience, IMLS grant-reporting requirements (reports on how granted money was used) are relatively straightforward compared to those of other government organizations.
But others reported that IMLS requirements make it onerous to apply for a grant. Bill North, who runs the Salina Arts Center, a mid-sized institution in Salina, Kansas, told me that, even with a relatively robust staff of five full-time employees, his institution does not have the wherewithal to put together a big IMLS grant proposal. Indeed, though Bob Beatty, COO of the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) noted that there is “no reason to lower standards” with regard to who can apply, he added that “it’s harder for smaller institutions to devote the time to what is, essentially, a less than 50% shot for funding.”
Some within the sector defend IMLS, including Merritt, who told me that the agency “put a lot of emphasis on trying to get their funding to a diverse set of museums, including small museums.”
Manjarrez disagrees: “You’re not going to find a program at the federal level that uniquely identifies and targets those [small] institutions for support.” When asked about this allegation, IMLS highlighted two programs that, it says, “for more than a quarter of a century” have provided targeted “technical assistance” to small and mid-sized museums: the Museum Assessment Program (MAP) and the Conservation Assessment Program (CAP), both of which are administered by third parties.
Though nominally dedicated to smaller museums, neither program make institutional size a required criteria for funding. Without standardized IMLS definition for small or mid-size, it’s unclear if they even could. The last year IMLS budgeted money for CAP or MAP was fiscal year 2010, with the programs amounting to 2.4% and 1.4%, respectively, of the total IMLS budget. Actual yearly funding of the programs is likely even lower given that already limited funds budgeted in 2010 have been spread over the subsequent six years.