Moving Forward

When a decision is made to close a historic site or museum, even temporarily, it’s a terrible thing for all concerned. Years of work and care that have gone into maintaining the structures and programs seem suddenly to have been for nothing. Colleagues start talking about, and experiencing, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance). Community members react in a variety of ways to the news; some want to know who to blame and some want to know what they can do to intervene.

In the fall of 2009, the PHMC was faced with a budget cut of roughly 40%. An initial round of furloughs and site closures in August was followed by a second round in November after the budget was finally enacted. Last spring, PHMC began preparing for some of the closures, following the release of an internal report that recommended changes to the historic sites and museums program in light of dwindling financial support. The budget cuts greatly accelerated and broadened the scope of the proposed changes and provided less time for everyone—staff, volunteers, communities—to make sense of what was happening. No site was unaffected; eleven sites lost most or all of their state staff.
PHMC/Old Economy Village

After the initial shock, it was time to just deal with it. Buildings, artifacts, and documents had to be assessed and secured, especially where most or all PHMC staff presence was withdrawn. In some cases, collections were removed from sites and placed in more secure storage elsewhere (for obvious reasons, we don’t say much publicly about the details). Operating and program schedules (often somewhat curtailed over the winter anyway) were reviewed and adjusted in light of reduced staffing levels. The response was different at each site, because the circumstances were different at each site.

There were, however, some basic facts that did not change. For starters, the historic (and non-historic) buildings, artifacts, landscapes, and documents that were under PHMC’s stewardship before the cuts continue to be our responsibility after the cuts. Furthermore, caring for structures and objects, keeping sites open on a regular schedule, and staging public programs all require people to do the work. Site friends groups have stepped up to help fill the gaps wherever possible, continuing their strong support for programming. Moving into 2010, some sites remained closed to the public, but most were open in some capacity, due to the efforts of our friends groups to make sure that their site remained on the public’s radar screen.

PHMC/Brandywine Battlefield

Living in “the new normal” will mean seeking expanded means of sharing PHMC’s responsibilities with our friends groups and other organizations. Now that spring has arrived, we’re continuing to assess our situation, even as we await the fiscal year 2010-2011 budget. Negotiations are ongoing (or recently completed) to put long-term management agreements in place at sites where our administrative presence has been reduced. Through these partnerships, we will work to keep the sites open on a sustainable basis and continue to safeguard the historic structures and collections for the people of Pennsylvania.

If you want to learn more about how you can help, the Pennsylvania Heritage Society has posted useful information and links.


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