- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 8, 2003

STAUNTON, Va. Hard times have fallen on the Frontier Culture Museum, and not just for the farmers on the replica 17th century German and English homesteads.
The outdoor museum in the Shenandoah Valley lost nearly a quarter of its $1.3 million annual state funding in two rounds of budget cuts, resulting in 12 layoffs. Now Executive Director G. John Avoli says the museum is hanging by a thread.
"I still have to pay the water bill and the electricity bill," he said. "Obviously, we've seen that museums are niceties, but not necessities."
State-funded museums, libraries and historical attractions were among the biggest losers in the sweeping cuts ordered by Gov. Mark R. Warner to close a nearly $2 billion state budget shortfall.
Most faced at least 15 percent cuts to their operating budgets, while the Virginia Commission for the Arts, which funds nonprofit arts groups, could lose as much as 45 percent. Some institutions, such as the Virginia Museum of Natural History and the Science Museum of Virginia, were ordered to merge operations. Others were forced to lay off personnel and close an extra day a week.
Now many museums and libraries are looking for creative ways to save money so they don't have to alter or curtail their services further.
And support, they say, has come from some unexpected places.
At the University of Virginia, where budget cuts affected nearly all academic departments, fraternity members have volunteered to move books in the short-staffed Science and Engineering Library so renovations could proceed. Meanwhile, retirees have helped with cataloguing and an acquisitions director has manned the science library's reference desk.
"There was a heroic effort in the fall semester to keep us operating," said university librarian Karin Wittenburg. "But we're hoping the recovery will be fairly fast, because at this rate we won't be able to keep up for long."
Miss Wittenburg said the university's library system has also experienced a large outpouring of financial support from the community and alumni since its budget was slashed. Still, the long-range goal is to secure more endowments the lifeblood of a library.
"That income fills in when the state support is not there." she said. "We need a much more robust base."
Grant writing is also getting more attention at state-funded museums.
Walter R.T. Witschey, director of the Science Museum of Virginia, said fund raising is ahead of last year because his staff has begun applying for more grants.
Mr. Witschey said the museum, which normally receives about half its funding from the state, also wants to collaborate more with other museums, including the National Museum of Natural History in Washington.
Grant-writers also have helped save the Virginia Air and Space Center in Hampton's new $6.9 million aviation gallery. Short on state grants, the writers secured money from federal, local and private sources to reach the targeted opening date of 2003, the centennial anniversary of the Wright Brothers' historic first flight.
When the Frontier Culture Museum lost its full-time grant writer because of budget cuts, administrators formed a grant-writing team.
Mr Avoli said admission fees could also be increased.
At the Science Museum, the price for adults was raised to $6.50 last May in anticipation of the budget crunch.
While most museums are coping, the Virginia Commission for the Arts is forecasting a dire 2003. The group could have its budget slashed from $4.9 million to $2.7 million if the General Assembly approves Mr. Warner's just-released budget proposals, said Roger Neathawk, executive director of the lobbying group Virginians for the Arts.
He said larger arts organizations funded by the group will probably survive, but smaller groups may close. Mr. Neathawk also said educational programs for schoolchildren will be the first to go.
"It's half of the budget, and it took a decade to get it back in the first place," Minette Cooper, a Virginians for the Arts board member, recently told the Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk.

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