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Illinois museums want $70 million in taxpayer funds, no match requirements

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(The Center Square) – Illinois’ museums want $70 million from Illinois taxpayers in the coming fiscal year.

In addition to the $70 million, museums want to do away with matching requirements. Jeanne Schultz Angel, Illinois Museum Association president, said matching requirements are a challenge to meet because of the lack of institutional funding for private donations.

“Museums are public institutions and they are absolutely vital places for education and they’re collecting institutions,” Schultz Angel said. “Museums as collecting institutions need places to keep collections not for 10 years, 20 years, but for 200 years and that takes buildings and investment.”

State Rep. Kam Buckner, D-Chicago, supported both the appropriation of $70 million and the removal of matching requirements.

“Today, we are calling for that $70 million funding but also to remove current matching requirements to empower museums to embark on capital projects that are essential for their growth and revitalization for a post-pandemic cultural economy,” Buckner said. “Our museums are much more than buildings; they’re educational powerhouses.”

The American Alliance of Museums data says that in 2023, 28% of U.S. adults reported having been to a museum in the past year.

Matching requirements are based on museum attendance. For example, for public museums with attendance of 300,000 or fewer people during the preceding calendar year, no match is required. But public museums with attendance of over 600,000 during the preceding calendar year, the match must be at a ratio of $2 from local and private funds for every $1 in state funds.

Perri Irmer, president and CEO of the DuSable Museum of African American History, said there’s a direct correlation between the damage done during COVID and attendance.

“Every public facing position at the DuSable Museum was laid off and that obviously affected our earned income as well,” said Irmer.

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson is going all in for a multibillion dollar Chicago Bears stadium, defending the massive project as a good thing for public recreational space and tourism.

Chicago Adler Planetarium’s Andrew Johnston was asked about possible revenue enhancements coming to the museum if the Bears’ plan was hypothetically approved. Johnston said the plan, if approved, could improve visitor accessibility.

“From our standpoint, we look forward to looking at how things develop in the future and if there are parts that could include infrastructure improvements, especially accessibility improvements, because we are right next to this amazing downtown Chicago but it’s hard to get to us because you have to cross Lake Shore Drive. If there’s some component of that [the Bears’ plan] that enhances accessibility, we’d be interested in seeing how that develops,” said Johnston.

Buckner said no matter what happens with the Bears’ proposal, the institutions that have been there have to be included in conversations surrounding developments.

When asked if the museums in Chicago could just ride the economic coattails of the Bears’ stadium proposal instead of appropriating the entire $70 million right now, Buckner said “no.”

“It’s a proposal. It did not come down from Mount Sinai on stone tablets. They’re going to have to change some of what they’re doing. These places [museums] are institutions of truth and they’ve been threatened a lot. Antisemitism, anti-Black sentiment, anti-Latino sentiment, because they stand for that truth,” he said. “While we should pontificate about the football team, that should have nothing to do with the investing in the cultural infrastructure in this state.”

The Bears’ stadium proposal is not just the stadium itself. It will include the surrounding park area, and the infrastructure around the Museum Campus. The surrounding infrastructure is expected to cost $1.5 billion. The total cost of the Bears plan is $4.7 billion. Part of that could come by way of taxpayers through existing hotel/motel taxes and a state agency bonding authority.

According to the annual survey conducted by the American Alliance of Museums, for about one in five museum-goers, violence and crime is a concern. The survey found urban museums (such as in Chicago or New Orleans) seem to be more challenged by crime issues than other museums, especially rural ones.

“Street crime and violence in Chicago makes us less likely to go there,” said a survey respondent. “Inflation problems, violence and bad weather make visiting museums out of the city of residence more difficult. Costs are greater and safety is not ensured.”