Thursday, February 24, 2011
Cocktails or Education?
In February 2010, Governor Brewer announced her “Birthday Gift to Arizona”. It was to be a centennial museum built and maintained with “no public money.” The Governor’s wondrous promise of a free gift is documented in her February 12, 2010 press release entitled “Governor Announces Centennial Birthday Present.” The “free” museum was to be administered by the Arizona Historical Society, a state agency with prior museum management expertise that could purportedly make the new museum self supporting.
A year later, the “gift” is beginning to stink. Private funds to build the museum have not been raised, and the Governor is trying to sneak public money into the project. An example is Senate Bill 1262, which transfers some license plate fees to the centennial museum. The AHS has obvious museum management experience, but no expertise. Their current Marley Center Museum in Tempe is poorly attended and their continued existence depends on multi-million dollar subsidies from taxpayers. The museum portion of the building is not maintained, the classrooms are full of junk, and the library is closed. The layout of Marley Center strongly suggests it was designed for cocktail parties rather than education.
Due to AHS incompetence in the cost estimation process, the centennial museum is already 50% over budget even though work has not started. Because the Governor’s “private sector funds” did not really exist and funding is still not available, the museum cannot possibly be completed until long after the centennial is over. Yet, the Governor says it will be built.
Why the continued push to complete a centennial project that can never be complete for the centennial? Does the centennial museum really have anything to do with either education or a museum? Or, is to be a place for politicians and lobbyists to host cocktail parties? Unused floor space in the preliminary design sketches, the reference to an “event space” in the RFQ, prior comments by the AHS and Governors staff, and the obvious precedent of Marley Center strongly suggest the latter.
Unfortunately, if built, the centennial museum will displace important education programs. The building is currently occupied by the top rated Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum. The museum currently conducts K-12 earth science education programs. Teachers receive instruction and class room materials, students receive structured earth science field trips, and outreach programs are provided on site at schools. The museum mineral collection is also used as a reference collection by geologists and mining engineers. All this will end if the centennial museum, featuring the trivial 5Cs theme, is built. Like the Marley Center, it will not support education.
In summary, the Governor appears to have given cocktails priority over education. The agency she chose to administer the centennial museum obviously did exactly that when they planned Marley Center. For Arizona’s children and Arizona’s future, the 5C Arizona Centennial Museum project must be stopped before it destroys the existing top rated Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum. There is little time. The AHS (with the Governor’s assistance) has already executed a hostile takeover of the mineral museum and has announced a June 1, 2011 closure. Student field trip requests for the next school year are being refused.