Sunday, June 26, 2011

Arizona Centennial Museum fantasy?

The Arizona Centennial Commission and the Arizona Centennial 2012 Foundation have now posted “The Centennial Plan” as of June 1, 2011 on http://

The new 58 page document does two things:

1.      First, it upgrades the centennial museum to the centerpiece of Arizona’s centennial celebration, per the following quote  from page 6 (bold italics added):

In collaboration with the State of Arizona and the Arizona Historical Society, the centerpiece of the Centennial is the Arizona Experience Museum. Designed with the idea that Arizona’s past will lead us to our future as a state, the new museum will raise the bar for museum experiences in Arizona and is destined to become an attraction for residents and visitors alike. (June 2011 – September 2012)

2.      Second, it redefines the period of the centennial celebration. Previously, centennial planning followed the logical and customary schedule of a series of preliminary events culminating in a centennial celebration on the states100th birthday in February 2012.  Now, the celebration is redefined as a series of events extending through 2012.  This is an obvious ploy to disguise the fact that the centennial museum, the “centerpiece” of the celebration, can never be open by the centennial.

Exactly what supports the assumption that the centennial museum (AKA Arizona Experience Museum) will open in 2012, or that it will ever open?  Two years of fund raising produced less than 10% of the required $15.75 million.

If the centennial museum is going to be built, where is the money coming from? Are state funds now being diverted to the centennial museum?

In her February 2010 presentations and press release, the Governor promised that “no public funds” would be used for Arizona’s “birthday gift”.

Is she breaking that promise?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Arizona Centennial Museum controversy continues

An article in the July issue of Phoenix Magazine summarizes the continuing controversy over the Arizona Centennial Museum. By itself, the centennial museum (AKA the Arizona Experience) could be just another government boondoggle.  However, it is displacing the historic, top rated, and self supporting Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum and its highly respected K-12 science education programs.  Therefore, there is unending controversy.

The article covers the distress of K-12 teachers and students, the dissension among historians, and the insult to the late state Representative Polly Rosenbaum, a Democrat from Gila County. It describes the failed centennial museum fund drive, the public protests, and the ugly Saturday night massacre and lockout that closed the mineral museum. It also summarizes actions planned by mineral museum supporters in an ongoing fight with no end in sight.

The fuzzy and ever changing theme of the centennial museum is also explained by quote:

“The Arizona Experience Museum is truly going to encapsulate what is uniquely Arizona – its pioneering spirit and its cultural and natural landscapes – what it has been and what it can be,” says Anne Woosley, executive director of the Arizona Historical Society, charged with creating the project.

A further quote makes an outrageous assertion:
Bill Ponder, the historical society’s chief administrative officer, says the now defunct museum served a great purpose. “But I think it could be much, much better even if we are displaying less of the collection,” he says. “People in the museum business will tell you that. For too long it was the same; it was very static. It never changed.”

First, the claim is completely untrue. The mineral museum featured many new displays, and they were developed with community support and private funds, a concept that appears to elude the heavily tax dollar subsidized AHS.

Second, the AHS Marley Center Museum in Papago Park appears to be about as static as a museum can be. The high dollar and apparently unchanging interactive displays from over a decade ago lie is a state of disrepair.

Third, how much will the centennial museum change once built?  How often will the AHS be able to change the custom designed and interactive $10,000,000 museum displays? Will they even be able to maintain them as is?

Delores Tropiano
Arizona Experience Museum
Phoenix Magazine
July, 2011, Page 42

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The plan to scrap a beautiful Arizona museum

Guest post by Ted Rushton
Ted Rushton, now retired, is a former reporter, photographer, columnist and editor for newspapers and magazines in Canada, New Mexico and Arizona.

It's hard to keep a bad idea secret, as everyone from dumb politicians to even dumber television stars know. Word of a bad idea spreads like wildfire and burns everyone involved.

The proposal to create a $15.5 million 'Arizona Experience Museum' near the state capitol is an egregiously bad idea.  The proposal has been talked about for the past year, with only $1.75 million pledged as yet.  Why?  Simply because this bad idea requires closing the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum, one of the finest such institutions in the United States.  Few people, businesses or foundations want their reputation linked to destruction of one of America's foremost institutions.

Instead of learning about the geology and mines of Arizona, thousands of schoolchildren who now visit the Mining and Mineral Museum will learn, "This is where one of America's finest museums used to be located.  "It was scrapped to make a glitzy showcase to show tourists some famous facts about Arizona.  How many of you students are tourists? How many want to see a picture of a famous Arizona cow?" 
 It's not that showcasing Arizona cows, cotton, citrus, climate and copper is a bad idea.  Done properly, tourists will be delighted to see pictures of famous Arizona cows.  Likewise, little “bales" of cotton, the size of a small matchbox, are always a popular tourist draw.  And what could be finer than a picture of a glass of orange juice  --  sorry, no glasses of real juice unless a snack bar is included. How does one make a memorable display of cotton?  One idea is to use cotton candy flavored with cactus juice.  Climate?  Well, perhaps one room can be kept at 22 degrees, marking the coldest it’s ever been in Phoenix.  Another will be at 122 degrees, the hottest ever recorded.  A big picture will show big airplanes waiting in big lines at Sky Harbor, because flight manuals only went to 120 degrees.  Cactus?  None planned. Apparently, it's not "Arizona" enough.

Think of "naming rights," similar to Chase Bank and "Chase Field" of the Arizona Diamondbacks.  Perhaps donors can be recruited to sponsor one each of the "Five C's" in the Arizona Centennial Museum(ACM). For example, Titan Corp. may sponsor the 'C' as in "C Our Cotton Grow ‘display. MegaCorp Industries might be proud to "sponsor" a picture of Arizona’s most famous cow  --  "an animal that produced 4,444 quarter-pounders for Mickey D!"  -- in the ACM (Awesome Cow Museum).

Think of an "Arizona Centennial Song" to celebrate the new museum, which is not expected to open until the Centennial year ends.  In1943, the musical 'Oklahoma'  --  the film version used Arizona locations  --  had a memorable song, “Every thing’s Up to Date in Kansas City ...."  Maybe this could be adapted to Arizona, "Every thing's behind the times in Arizona, They're just about as slow as they can be ..." 

Think of a historic plaque outside the new museum, telling tourists, “This is the site of what used to be one of America's finest museums. It was scrapped to make way for this museum of cows, cotton, citrus, climate and copper."

Note: The plans for the 5C Arizona Centennial Museum (AKA Arizona Experience) have been recently supplemented to make it more interesting. Current plans add stories, smells, and vibrations. There will also be displays that ‘imagine the future”.  The awesome cow will have serious competition.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

No help for Arizona schoolchildren

Jun. 13, 2011, The Arizona Republic, Letters to the Editor

It is nice that a half-dozen companies have stepped forward to help former Gov. Rose Mofford save and relocate her collection of memorabilia ("Mofford: Thanks to many, memorabilia to go to Globe, Miami," My Turn, May 30).

Too bad none are offering to help Arizona students.

Mofford's collection occupied but a small corner of the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum. The rest of the building was filled with earth-science education programs that supplemented the mineral collection displays.

During the school year, several school buses arrived almost daily bringing third- and fourth-graders participating in a lifelong learning experience. Arizonans in their 50s still fondly remember their class field trip to the fascinating mineral museum.

How many early school days make such an impression? Apparently, Arizona children will be forever deprived of that experience. - Dick Zimmermann, Tempe

Read more:

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Mineral museum rent subsidized Arizona Historical Society

When the centennial museum was announced in early 2010, the justification offered was that it would be able to support the rent for the building and the mineral museum could not. The first post on this blog showed the story was a hoax because the rent budget was simply transferred from the mineral museum to the AHS. Now, further investigation of the bizarre rent policies for State owned buildings has revealed the ultimate outrage. A portion of the excessive rent charged for the state owned mineral museum building was actually subsidizing the Arizona Historical Society.

State agencies occupying state owned or state leased buildings pay rent to the Department of Administration. The money is deposited into the Capital Outlay Stabilization Fund (COSF), which pays for utilities, maintenance, grounds services, operating supplies, and janitorial services.

However, there is a dirty little secret. Most agencies have been exempted from rent payments by statute.  Their buildings are still serviced and maintained by the COSF. Of the 4 million gross square feet (GSF) of floor space owned and leased by the state, rent is collected on only 1.3 million GSF. That explains the ridiculous $524,700 rent for the mineral museum. It should have been only $170, 500.

The complete story, however, is even worse than that. Some agencies have extra special treatment and have specific state expenses paid right off the top out of the COSF. They include:

 All utility costs for the Arizona Supreme court 

 Virtually all costs for the House and Senate buildings

The annual lease purchase payment for the ARIZONA HISTORICAL SOCIETY’S Marley Center  Museum in Papago Park (Tempe).

The AHS political connections and lobbyist provide it with so much preferential treatment that the true cost to taxpayers is virtually impossible to determine.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Has the Arizona Historical Society abandoned its mission?

Arizona Revised Statute 41-823 defines the purpose of the AHS as follows:

A.  The society shall procure, by gift, exchange or purchase:
1.  Books, maps, papers and materials pertaining to the history of Arizona and the west.
2.  Narratives of historical events of the exploration and early settlement of Arizona, and of overland travel in the state and the west.
3.  Data relating to Indian tribes, and portraying the antiquities, the past and present conditions and progress of the state.
4.  Historical and scientific reports of the western states, and materials and facilities for investigation of historical, scientific, social, educational and literary subjects.
B.  The collections and materials shall be housed suitably for protection, preservation and availability, properly catalogued and kept accessible to the public during reasonable hours on business days and the society may charge a fee for these services. --- (italics added)

The photo shows the professionally lettered closed sign on the library door at the Marley Center Museum (AKA History Museum at Papago Park).  The Marley is not being operated in accordance with the italicized portion of the statute.  Rather, it solicits special events such as weddings to supplement its budget. Indeed, the Marley appears to have been specifically designed for that purpose. The architectural plan actually showcases the cocktail bar and party areas rather than the museum.

If the AHS was self-supporting, that might be appropriate. However, it is not. It is renting out publicly owned buildings to merely supplement its budget and that practice results in a large net loss for taxpayers. In FY 2011, the AHS got a $6,285,000 appropriation from the State of Arizona (84% of its total budget).

Why was such a misguided and inefficient state agency now permitted to begin yet another museum project on the Capitol Mall in the midst of a financial crisis? Why was the new museum authorized when the plans clearly show it is in no way related to the mission of the AHS as defined by Arizona statutes?

Note: The photo was taken on Feb 6, 2011. On Apr 18th the same apparently permanent sign was still on the locked door.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Arizona Historical Society has $2,400 per member subsidy

The AHS has seven types of memberships with dues ranging from $25 to $1.000.  They currently have 8 student members, 976 individual members, 438 household members, 218 sustaining members, 49 patron members, 18 sponsor members, and 11 directors circle members. Therefore, they have just 1718 paid memberships representing something over a couple of thousand individuals. Dues paid for these memberships are $131,500, just 2.5 % of the AHS budget.

Although the AHS has little community support, it does have political connections and a lobbyist. Therefore, it has a $5 million dollar budget. Eighty percent of it comes from the state general fund (taxpayer’s pockets).  Most of the rest of the AHS budget comes from renting out state owned building for events such as weddings.

The direct FY 2012 taxpayer subsidy of $4,151,100 represents a subsidy of $2,416 per membership.  Even though the AHS lacks community support and attracts few visitors to its museums, it was assigned yet another museum in the midst of the financial crisis.  The top rated Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum was transferred to the AHS. The AHS has closed the mineral museum and terminated its K-12 education programs. They plan to use the building for a centennial museum (AKA Arizona Experience) even though they have thus far failed to raise the funds to build the new displays.

The AHS demonstrated similar failures at Marley Center Museum in Tempe and Rio Nuevo in Tucson. Success and community support is not necessary to maintain a government agency’s budget.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Is the Arizona Historical Society misappropriating funds?

The 2012 Arizona Appropriations Report  includes this very specific statement in the section for the Arizona Historical Society:

The budget includes $589,700 and 1 FTE Position from the General Fund in FY 2012 for the Centennial Museum. These amounts are unchanged from FY 2011. This line item funds the operation and maintenance of the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum as part of the Centennial Museum.

That statement is consistent with ARS 41-827 (see May 10th post) which states that the centennial museum shall house the mining and mineral museum. However, the AHS is completely dismantling the mineral museum and disposing of its assets. According to their latest floor plan for the centennial museum (AKA Arizona Experience), nothing but a small 500 square foot mineral display will remain.