The state’s Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) is planning to “cut its operating budget by eliminating the jobs of six of the seven managers who oversee historic sites across New Mexico.” In addition, admission fees are slated to rise, and “the number of days some of its sites are open” will be reduced.
The department’s budget for the impending fiscal year has been clipped by $2 million, and not surprisingly, the downsizing has elicited plenty of apocalyptic reactions. (The Fort Stanton site manager called it “a terrible, inequitable solution.”) But DCA’s smart bureaucrats will see less funding as a way to get their house in order, and address longstanding problems.
According to the Legislative Finance Committee, the department faces “key, ongoing challenges for its Museums and Historic Sites Program, which makes up 59 percent of the agency’s budget. The first is maintaining facilities, many of which have significant deferred maintenance issues, creating safety hazards and exposing art and historical structures of significant cultural value to risk of damage or destruction.” In addition, many exhibits “are left in place for years without updates, reducing interest in repeat visits. For example, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture … has two key exhibits that have received essentially no updates in the nearly 20 years since their installation. Similarly, Fort Sumner was built with plans to have an exhibition wing, but it took years to build a permanent exhibit space, and that space remains empty.”
Worst of all, perhaps, is legislative auditors finding that DCA “owns 191 buildings across the state … and has no facility master plan or structured method to prioritize funding.”
So the department’s got issues, bigtime. A thorough right-sizing — one that includes unloading low-priority properties — would appear to be in order. One promising approach is a greatly expanded role for the Museum of New Mexico Foundation, which “provided $3.2 million in financial assistance in FY14 and $3 million in FY15.”