By Carey Restino
Plans to substantially expand the Pratt Museum got a boost last week when $900,000 in state funding for the $9.5 million capital project was approved.
The money means the museum, which houses an extensive art and artifact collection in a long-outgrown space, can move forward with the next planning stage of the project.
“We’re very excited — this means we can stay on schedule with our project,” said Diane Converse, director and CEO of the museum.
Converse said the museum will now move forward with a more extensive design of the expansion, which will include floor plan details and construction documents. The goal, she said, is to begin construction in 2016 and open in 2017.
Converse said the expansion, which will add dedicated space for education programs and community gatherings, as well as expanded gallery space and expanded collections storage with modern temperature and humidity controls, is essential for the museum to serve its mission.
“The urgency of the project really comes from that core responsibility to protect the collection,” said Converse, adding that the collection includes some 24,000 objects and historic photographs.
Converse said the state funding was the result of extensive footwork by the peninsula’s elected officials, from city council members to state representatives Rep. Paul Seaton and Sen. Peter Micciche. In addition, the museum’s capital campaign committee includes a heavyweight in Alaska’s political sphere, nine-term former legislator Clem Tillion, whose advocacy for the project allowed its importance to reach the governor’s staff and legislators.
“We are fortunate to have a lot of community members working on this project,” she said.
Though the project remains on its timeline thanks to the recent state funding as well as a mix of private and corporate donations, significant fundraising remains. Converse said one third of the funding has been raised to date, another third is “solidly in the works” and the remaining third is yet to be raised.
While the capital campaign moves forward, the museum continues to face funding hurtles stemming from the fact that it is a nonprofit entity with city support rather than a city-funded or public-private partnership entity.
“In most communities this size, the museum is city-funded or funded through a public-private partnership,” she said. “So we have to ask for that funding each year and the city has to balance that request with all the other needs it has.”
Unlike other nonprofits in the community, which compete for city funds through a grant process set up at the Homer Foundation, the museum receives its funding from the city in a separate allocation. Still, last fall’s city budget initially included a dramatic reduction in funds. That money was restored, but funding, Converse said, remains a challenge.
“We balance what we provide with the resources we have,” she said.
The new facility doesn’t require any new staff, she said, but should it draw a larger crowd of visitors, admissions would help offset any added expenses.
She said the project continues to move forward thanks to the support of the community.
“We really appreciate the work the legislators and the capital campaign committee did as well as the community support,” she said. “We are looking forward to being able to serve the community and our visitors more and do a better job.”
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