KNAU and Arizona News
3:55 pm
Thu June 18, 2009

Arizona Historical Society anticipates cut

Flagstaff, AZ – Governor Jan Brewer would like to eliminate state funding to the Arizona Historical Society over the next five years. She says that gives them time to find private funders. But the society and its museums around the state believe cutting appropriations would lead to their demise. Arizona Public Radio's Laurel Morales has the story.

Les Roe who directs the Pioneer Museum in Flagstaff stands next to the bell salvaged from Flagstaff's original school house.

ROE: This is the old Emerson school bell people would have heard ringing back in the early part of the 20th century ring ring ring

He shows off the large artifacts in their collection, which include a 1940s train engine, a 1920s caboose and an old shepherd's cabin built in the 1880s. A stack of logs underneath a tarp waits to be reconstructed into another historic cabin.

ROE: Without us here structures like this would just be demolished they would go to the landfill. Nobody'd be here to tell the story and there'd be no place to put the cabin.

And that's what the museum does. It preserves the past and tells its stories. Roe feels passionate about that mission.

ROE: We really became a civilization because we started to preserve memory. When somebody made a discovery and the discovery died with that person we didn't progress. I really think the keeping of history is the most fundamental thing that makes us civilized.

Roe and other museum directors across the state are worried about the governor's proposal to phase out their funding over the next five years. About 20 percent of the funding would be cut annually. That's about 500-thousand dollars for the first year. The state would save a million dollars the second year and so on.

Currently about 75 percent of the Pioneer Museum's budget comes from the state.

SFX: creaking old door, footsteps

Inside the Pioneer Museum Roe unlocks a room full of old radios, dolls, guns and other items that remain to be put on display. He says people often stop by the museum on the way to the landfill with old family photographs and antiques.

ROE: We're sort of the last guardian between oblivion and salvation for many important local documents and objects.

The museum's curator has intercepted a few important documents on their way to the landfill including the letter from the federal official that made Grand Canyon a national park.

The governor's office was not available for comment. But her budget overview states her proposal would give the historical society "an opportunity to transition assets, staff and funding from state appropriations to private donations and revenue."

But Arizona Historical Society executive director Anne Woosley says five years does not give them enough time to convince private funders to pay not only for events and exhibits but also staff and utilities at the state-owned properties.

WOOSLEY: It's very difficult to raise the enthusiasm of donors if feel that my money is being used to pay for light bulbs for the museum. People like to donate to programs, exhibitions, events.

The Arizona collection includes Wyatt Earp's gun, wedding ring and other possessions. It contains Geronimo's medicine pouch and rifle - the one he was finally forced to surrender after evading US troops for decades.

Woosley says those items and the rest of the collection would be shipped to a warehouse and stored if the museum shuts down.

WOOSLEY: By closing its doors we would be closing the doors on Arizona's past. If we lose our past experiences we lose a sense of what we've been through, who we are and who we will become.

Every state has a historical society. They're all funded in different ways. Arizona's would not be the first to be privately funded.

Pioneer Museum director Les Roe believes, if it came down to it, local donors would step up to save the museum in Flagstaff.

For Arizona Public Radio I'm Laurel Morales.