Every morning I receive an email from a clipping service at the Canadian Museums Association providing me with museum-related articles from various media sources. One of this week’s articles was about the Philip J. Curry Dinosaur Museum in Northern Alberta.
The Edmonton Journal reports that this $34 million museum, which opened to rather spectacular fanfare in September of 2015, is experiencing serious financial challenges and is looking for bailouts to allow it to continue to function. In its first year of operation, the museum earned nine museum and design awards and many press mentions. It attracted approximately 120,000 guests in that first year.
The museum is located five hours northwest of Edmonton near Pipestone Creek, an area rich in dinosaur bones but far from major metropolitan areas. The admission fees together with a municipal government grant of $300,000 will not fund the $1.8 million annual operating budget. This is a sad story.
A couple of years ago the Dalnavert Museum in Winnipeg had to close its doors for a period of time. We were given to understand that funding from a major source had been withdrawn, leaving the museum without the resources to operate. Happily a group of interested people stepped forward to reorganize the operation, and today Dalnavert is again functioning.
More recently we learned that the St. Malo Museum had to close its doors this summer, due in part to a diminishing volunteer base. Most volunteer-based organizations seem to be struggling to find enough volunteers to maintain operations.
Museums face a multitude of such challenges. Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) is not immune to any of them, but we are grateful for the stability that we have experienced over the years.
One of our advantages is that we are located near a major metropolitan area, placing our museum within a comfortable driving distance for Winnipeg’s residents and visitors. During the recent FIFA World Cup tournament held in Winnipeg, we met guests from various countries at our museum. We have purchased advertising for the 2017 Canada Summer Games to be held in Winnipeg, targeting athletes as well as guests. Again, our location will serve us well.
MHV has also diversified its operations over a period of years so that admission revenues are supplemented by food services, facility rentals and gift shop revenues. Our fundraising activities, donations and grants round out the revenue pool. So our “eggs” are in multiple “baskets.”
We are fortunate to have a board of directors and a finance committee who carefully look at the long-term costs and benefits of capital expenditures, ensuring that the incremental impact on our future operating budget will continue to be manageable.
Another significant benefit for MHV is our location in a community that values the presence of a world-class museum. This translates into funding and volunteer support, which are key lifelines for a museum.