The city of Homer is facing a budget shortfall for 2009 and is considering reducing its investment in the Pratt Museum by 25 percent. Some people might argue that the Pratt Museum, recipient of the National Award for Museum Service, our country’s highest honor for museums, is a “luxury” and as such, the city should only support the Museum when there’s adequate money to do so. But we need the Pratt Museum, in the same way that we need schools, libraries and sports opportunities for our kids.
Across the state and the nation, community museums represent the ways cities and communities express their cultural and civic identity. Just as libraries represent our community’s value of literacy, community museums express our human need to record, share and understand our history and culture.
Across the country, cities recognize the vibrant role museums play in enhancing civic and cultural life, and throughout Alaska and the rest of the nation, city spending reflects these priorities: indeed, most community museums—like libraries—are supported wholly or in large part by municipal governments. This applies to the Ketchikan Museums (75 percent of budget provided by City of Ketchikan), the Valdez Museum and Historical Archives (63 percent of budget provided by City of Valdez), and others across Alaska. In contrast, the city of Homer provides only 12 percent of the Pratt’s annual revenue.
We need a thriving Pratt Museum because it is a vital economic engine in our community. The Museum puts about $800,000 back into the local economy each year and employs seven full-time Homer residents as well as many more part-time personnel. Distinguished across the state and nation, the Pratt Museum is a cornerstone attraction that helps foster a vibrant tourist economy as well as an arts and culture economy that generates $2.6 million in local revenues. Each year, more than 35,000 visitors walk through the Pratt’s doors; these are people who pay for gas, restaurant meals, groceries, charters, and hotel rooms in Homer. Investing in the Pratt is a wise choice for the city, especially in the midst of a highly volatile economy, because the financial benefits ripple through our economy.
The Pratt is also a critical part of our community’s educational and cultural infrastructure. Strong civic and cultural anchors like the Pratt attract business investment in Homer as well as first and second home buyers. As school budgets have ratcheted down, the Museum fills increasingly critical educational gaps by offering free education programs during the after-school hours, on weekends, and during the summer. The Pratt’s hands-on programs help more than 4,000 young people each year explore the arts, sciences, and humanities. And the Museum provides professional opportunities that draw Homer’s young people back: recently, four Homer High School graduates were working concurrently at the Museum, three of whom returned to Homer after receiving college degrees elsewhere.
The Pratt Museum, like other non-profits in our community, provides essential services at rock bottom prices. Smart management, cost-cutting, and operations streamlining have enabled the Pratt to cut administrative expenses below national averages for museums. By controlling expenses, the Pratt serves critical functions for our community at prices far lower than the City could provide. The Pratt is our community’s archives, taking care, forever, of our artifacts, memorabilia, photographs, and stories. And the Pratt is our community space, providing opportunities for dialogue about the most pressing questions we face.
In 1967, the city of Homer and the people of our community committed to maintaining a community museum in perpetuity. Since then, the Pratt Museum has evolved into a cultural center deeply rooted in its community and has earned national distinction. In decades past, the City of Homer provided higher levels of support to the Pratt. In the intervening years, the Museum has endured cut-backs and funding freezes, even as costs continued to rise. The City should honor its commitment by continuing to invest in the Pratt Museum at or above current levels. By putting back nine dollars into the local economy for every dollar invested by the City of Homer, the Pratt Museum provides an exceptional return on investment and helps make Homer a place where people want to live, work, and play.
Michael Craig is the President of the Pratt Museum, a volunteer position and a member of the Pratt since 1995. He has lived in Homer since 2003 and has been an active volunteer with several community based non-profit organizations since that time.
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