Monday, September 24, 2012

After the Shutdown: Minnesota Historical Society


While for most of us the state government shutdown meant minor pauses on camping vacations, construction and other services that could be delayed, some organizations were affected far more severely. Until the shutdown ended this week, thousands of state employees were not only out of a job, but were actively required not to come to work. For organizations such as theMinnesota Historical Society(MHS), this meant closing several locations, losing revenue and the stalling of progress on exhibitions, collections, development and more.
Minnesota has the largest historical society in the nation, with more than 25 historical sites and museums in addition to the central museum, library and special exhibit location in St. Paul. While they do receive national grants, generate revenue at their sites and find other means of funding, more than half of the MHS annual budget comes from the state government. With so many spaces to maintain, including general grounds operations at all locations and feeding animals at the Oliver Kelley Farm, MHS was allowed by the court to retain “a small pool of ‘critical’ employees,” according to Lory Sutton, MHS’ chief marketing officer and one of the few employees allowed to continue working during the shutdown.
The list of tasks employees could perform was very specific. For example, they could receive and collect email, phone messages and snail mail, but they could not respond to many of the requests they received because the staff necessary to complete them could not report to work. Events held at any of the MHS sites were allowed to continue because they were not directly managed through MHS. This was particularly important for the History Center and Mill City Museum, which are highly popular sites for weddings and other special events in the summer months.
The shutdown’s effect on MHS is widespread and will take months to straighten out. Sutton said the society will have to process backlogs of information requests, missed deadlines, stalled ongoing projects and revive their website, which they had to partially close off to the public. They also missed a high amount of visitation at their site locations over the 18-day shutdown during their busiest visitation months, estimating that about 40,000 visitors (and the revenue they bring in) were unable to attend events and sites.
“In the current fiscal year, we’ll have 11 months left to do 12 months of work,” Sutton said. For information on events and exhibits at the newly re-opened MHS, visit their website.