Tough Times for Local Historical Societies

From the Sunday Star Tribune:

Tight times have hit local historical societies as their member giving and some government funding have declined.

Most cuts are not as drastic as in Hastings, which this year eliminated funds for its part-time city historian. Other societies, including several in Anoka and Hennepin Counties, have seen member donations drop. The Washington County Historical Society lost half its funding when the county ended its subsidy four years ago….

The Anoka County Historical Society had nearly a 5 percent cut in its $242,000 budget this year, thanks to less county funds and reduced member and fundraiser revenue, said Executive Director Todd Mahon….

Hennepin History Museum
The Hennepin History Museum - Creative Commons (Ed Kohler)

The Hennepin County Historical Society, located in a 93-year-old south Minneapolis mansion, saw its giving drop and membership level out in 2011 after rising for five years, said Executive Director Jada Hansen. She said Hennepin County provides about 70 percent of the $250,000 budget this year, and almost all the rest comes from dues of the 800 members.

“We definitely have felt the impact of the slow economy,” Hansen said. She said some members sent notes saying they couldn’t give now, but would resume when their finances improved.

In Stillwater, the 750-member county historical society lost half its $80,000 budget when Washington County bowed out four years ago, said Executive Director Brent Peterson….

A few silver linings from the article: Minnesota is still regarded nationally “as one of the top states for preserving its history”; such organizations typically go through ebbs and flows — indeed, most of the state’s county and local historical societies were formed either during the Great Depression or the stagflation years of the 1970s; and the difficult financial circumstances are forcing historical societies to become more creative in their outreach and fundraising.

If you’d like to join one of the state’s societies, make a donation, and/or volunteer, you can find a complete list at the Minnesota Historical Society’s website.

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