The latest blow to the museum field comes from the rejection of the We’re Making Connecticut History Interdistrict Grant program with the Connecticut Historical Society. Funding provided by the State Department of Education, this program pairs Hartford 4th and 5th grade urban students with suburban 4th and 5th grade classrooms from all over Connecticut. This study of Connecticut history partnered with students from diverse backgrounds helps to reduce racial and economic isolation and helps to build important relationships between urban/suburban children. The gist of the program includes pairing urban/suburban students one to one. These “partnerships” attend 7 different field trips together to learn about Native Americans, colonial life, the Underground Railroad, the Amistad incident, immigration, and government. In addition, these students make visits to each others school.
With the elimination of Hartford’s Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator back in 2006 and now the elimination of funding for this grant, students in Hartford will be spending less time learning about the state and city they live in and the history behind it. The elimination of the grant also means that three CHS staff members will be out of work starting July 1st. Museums included in the grant like the Old State House, Noah Webster House, Pequot Museum, New Britain Museum of American Art, and others will have a significant drop in income from education programs causing more problems keeping staff on payroll.
Hartford County is blessed with being the home to dozens of important and appealing museums. But it should come as no surprise that the economic troubles of late are having a drastic and immediate effect on arts organizations and museums. Some museums have been forced to close their doors for several months just to pay electric and heating bills (Bristol Carousel Museum). Others have decided to forgo filling vacant crucial positions and instead doubling the workload of existing employees (Windsor Historical Society and the Butler McCook House).
Last summer, the Old State House in downtown Hartford was forced to close its doors and lay off eight staff members because the State of Connecticut refused to provide the appropriate funding to the Connecticut Historical Society who had been managing the building since 2004, at the State’s request. Since then, the Legislative Office Building has been running the building but new hours mean that the building is closed on the weekends. Now the Governor’s current budget proposal calls for the elimination of funds to keep the Old State House open in addition to cutting funding to other arts organizations, including the new Connecticut Science Center that opened last week.
Museums provide meaningful hands-on experience that cannot be imitated in the classroom. A 90 minute field trip on the American Revolution in Connecticut covers not only history but science, math, and reading through engaging activities using actual objects that build upon lessons learned in the classroom. Museums are finding it increasingly difficult to compete with stricter testing guidelines in the public schools or children who would rather stare at video games for hours a day.
Think about it: Why is it that consumers will spend $10.50 to go see a two hour movie at the theater with artificial experiences, but won’t spend $6 to go to a museum and experience the past right at your fingertips?
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/keithlam/