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Virginia to fund Museum of the Confederacy
Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine says he will approve a $400,000 amendment that would fund the cash-strapped Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, ending its recent struggle to secure state assistance.
The cash infusion will help cover the museum’s 2007-08 general operating budget, which includes staffing. The annual price tag to run the museum is estimated at $2.1 million.
Museum officials hope that a combination of budget cuts and emergency fundraising efforts will help them stay in the black for the fiscal year that ends in June.
“We’re really happy that the state is helping us out,” said Megan Miller, the museum’s director of communications. “We’re glad they have decided to take some of the responsibility for our situation. … This money from the General Assembly, that will allow us to break even [next fiscal year]. But I don’t know what that is going to mean for the future.”
The state had been staying out of the museum’s finances, opting instead to focus on transportation and eminent domain.
“It just has been one of those things that has not been a top priority,” said Sen. Charles R. Hawkins, Campbell County Republican who pushed for the additional funding for the museum. “Richmond looked at the state for its response and the state looked at Richmond, and in the process, it fell through the cracks.”
Meanwhile, museum officials have struggled to raise enough money to maintain its financial health. Ms. Miller said the museum had a debt of about $475,000, as of June.
In August, officials were forced to cut their budget by closing the museum one day a week and trimming staff. Officials also began considering moving the largest collection of Confederate memorabilia to another locality, such as Lexington, Va., and possibly dropping the word “Confederacy” from the museum’s name.
“They want to stay in Richmond, and we want them to stay in Richmond,” said Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, a Democrat and the nation’s first black elected governor. “The problem is we don’t have money to give them. … The question is what will it take for them to stay in Richmond?”
The consideration to rename the museum came after a group of historians, preservationists and grant writers suggested the change because the word “Confederacy” carried “enormous, intransigent and negative intellectual baggage with many.”
Brag Bowling, former post commander with the Sons of Confederate Veterans heritage group, called the potential renaming an “abomination” and said the museum’s message would “be diluted by political correctness.” He blamed the museum’s executive director S. Waite Rawls III for a “lack of leadership.”
The group’s leadership was so upset with the possible name change that last month, Frank Earnest, state commander of 4,000-member Virginia division, said his group would offer to take over the museum and move to replace Mr. Rawls.
“We don’t have to take the thing over, but if there is a way the SCV could exert more influence and help them, we want to do it,” Mr. Bowling said yesterday. “I honestly feel they have kind of lost their way and kind of separated themselves from the good general Confederate community.”
Mr. Bowling said the group hopes to meet with museum officials as early as this week.
The problems at the museum and talks to relocate it began several years ago when officials said attendance started to decline.
By Tom Fitton
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