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  For those interested, we will begin posting articles, commentaries, and other assorted material relating to museums on Long Island and other nearby regions.  For many of us in the field this will be a place to comment about what we see happening (both the good and the bad) at the museums that we visit, work at, or support.

RECENT ADDITIONS

Summer 2014 - Non-Profit Revitalization Act - KEY FEATURES

These new changes to the manner in which Not-for-Profits in New York State operate have wide ranging implications.  Please read the PDF posted HERE for the most up-to-date information on what the state plans to implement.

November 2010 - Grave Danger to NYSCA Funding - Please Read!

From our Colleague Alison Meyers, Executive Director, Cave Canem Foundation, Inc.:  I'm forwarding an urgent e-blast from a reliable source that concerns all New York State arts organizations & administrators. Please accept my apology if you’re already aware of the time-sensitive issues set forth in the attached document. If, however, the summary pasted below comes as news to you, as it did to me, I urge you to open the attachment, inform yourself, & make your voice heard. Please read on:

1.  The governing Council of the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) is considering a total reorganization of NYSCA. If implemented, sweeping changes will diminish the Agency’s intellectual capital, eviscerate the funding program structure and threaten the integrity of support to service organizations representing field-wide disciplines.

2.  Reorganization plans were formulated in secrecy and without NYSCA’s historic transparency, open meetings of the governing Council, opportunities for public comment by arts constituencies, or involvement by all but a few staff.

3.  "Areas of Support" will replace long established Programs. The juxtaposition of Areas of Support that have lost their program status suggests the strong possibility of deeply endangering a number of fields.

4.  Program Directors with extensive experience and expertise in their fields have been renamed “Senior Program Officers,” are being reassigned to “Areas of Support” and will be assigned portfolios of multiple areas of support. In some cases, former Program Directors have been shuffled out of their fields of expertise, and replaced by "Senior Program Officers" with little or no expertise in their fields.

5.  A new middle management structure has just been created even as the staff size at NYSCA has been substantially reduced through retirements and attrition. Now more people will be supervising fewer staff.

6.  Executive Director Heather Hitchens is stonewalling efforts to discuss these reorganization changes with arts fields. Representatives from a number of arts groups who have asked to meet with her have not been able to schedule an appointment.

7.  As these changes are becoming known, New York's arts community is mobilizing to protest the destruction of NYSCA’s program structure and reassignment of leaders in their disciplines into areas where they lack expertise. Maintaining the use of staff expertise is more critical than ever due to the state’s budget crisis.

8.  Contact State Assembly Members, Senators and NYSCA Council members: NYS Assembly Member by Zip Code: http://assembly.state.ny.us/mem/ ; NYS Senator by zip code: http://www.nysenate.gov/ ; NYSCA Council Members link, listed on http://nysca.org/ 

November 2010 - MANY survey available

The MANY benfirts survery is now available.  Get a copy of the 2010-2011 Benefits Survey today. This is the second and final part of the current salary survey. Since this survey is a benefit of your MANY membership, we ask that you share this information only within your institution. Additional copies of the Benefits Survey will be for sale at the MANY website: www.manyonline.org.

June 2010:  Fight the cut of State Funding to NYSCA

NYSCA: Keep up the Phone Calls.  Budget negotiations are winding down in Albany and funding for NYSCA's local assistance grants remains the target of a 40% reduction. If any of your institutions receive direct funding from NYSCA, or receive Decentralization funding, or got a Ready, Set or Go grant or a conservation treatment grant, then you've got a stake in NYSCA's funding future. If you haven't done so already.....and we hope you have many times so far this year....CALL your state legislators this week to tell them what 40% less NYSCA funding will look like at your museum. This isn't pretty. If you want to send your legislator the list of 2010 NYSCA grantees so he/she can see it, we can get to you. That may help him/her to see just how a 40% reduction could devastate some organizations, particularly in the area of General Operating Support.

Rather than recontacting your legislators, we suggest you call the offices of the Assembly and Senate leaders: Shelly Silver in the Assembly at 518-455-3791 and John Sampson in the Senate 518-455-2788 ASAP to ask them to lessen the 40% cut.

Office of Cultural Education: S3640b/A6783b

We have been asked by the Office of Cultural Education (OCE) at the State Education Department to get the word out about pending legislation that, if passed, would stabilize the Cultural Education Account, which funds the OCE. Funds for this account come from a portion of the surcharges collected by county clerks on mortgage recordings. Because the legislature has failed to raise the surcharge in the past, the revenue has been declining precipitously since FY2004-05 and the Cultural Education Account is now running an $8M deficit. That means that State Museum, State Archives, State Library and Public Broadcasting services are being severely impacted. Archives and Library funding programs that some of you use will likely be curtailed.

The immediate need is to get the bill on the Assembly Ways and Means Committee ASAP. Here's a link to the committee and its membership: http://assembly.state.ny.us/comm/?sec=mem&id=41 If you have an Assembly Member is on this committee, give him or her a call. Thanks very much for all your help.

Anne W. Ackerson Director, THE MUSEUM ASSOCIATION OF NEW YORK

April 2010:  State and Local Governments Eye Ending Charity Tax Breaks

By Andy Markowitz

Facing declining revenues and growing budget gaps, state and local governments nationwide are considering revoking various tax exemptions for nonprofit organizations, The New York Times reports.

Hawaii lawmakers are mulling a bill to levy a 1 percent tax on charities, a measure before Kansas legislators would subject nonprofit groups to sales taxes, and counties in Kansas and Pennsylvania are considering an end to property-tax exemptions. In Indiana, local governments are weighing user fees for police.

March 2010:  Museums "Checked - Out" by Thieves

This is about the museum thefts that were happening in the Western New York area, that resulted in the arrest of Michael Ortiz (who may have been working with his brother Roy Ortiz, still to be proved.)

Investigator Peter McCormack contacted me. Phone records of the Ortiz brothers showed that they called the following list of sites. I don't know the details for all of the places, but they called my 3 sites numerous times in October and November 2009. Investigator McCormack told me he has had trouble reaching a person at some of these sites. I offered to post the list here.

If one of these places is yours and you have not talked to Investigator McCormack, please contact him (info is below.) If you know someone at one of these sites - please consider passing on this information. Please note Investigator McCormack wrote "These are locations that were called, we don't know if they went to the locations or if any larcenies occurred. I am just trying to get the information out so that the museums can check their inventory and to determine if they had any suspicious incidents."

He is also trying to build a case showing they had intent to commit larcenies at several sites. So even if you are not missing anything, he would like to know if you had any suspicious visits or phone calls. Here is the list, along with his contact information.

Amherst Museum Boston, NY Museum Concord, NY Museum Orchard Park Museum, Campbell-Whittlesey House Museum, Clarence Museum, Webster Museum, Fairport Museum, Victorian Doll Museum, Peacock Museum, Honeoye Falls Springville Library, Hamburg Historical Society, Martin Darwin House, Barker Museum, Cheektowaga Museum, Byron Museum, Heritage Square Museum Ontario, NY Hoyt-Potter House, The Landmark Society of Western NY, Newfane Historical Society, Van Horn Mansion ,Western NY Railroad Society, Hrvol Museum, Old Fort Niagara, Stone-Tolan House Museum, Wilson Historical Society, Livingston Historical Society, Tinker Museum, Valentown Museum, Greece Historical Society, Interlaken Museum, Iron Island Museum.

Cindy Boyer
Director of Museums and Education
The Landmark Society of Western New York

 

February 2010:  Museum Robberies in New York State - Civil War Artifacts

During the the past few weeks museum professionals across the state have been reeling due to several robberies.  A pair of young men have been stealing Civil War and other military artifacts from smaller institutions located in various communities of upstate New York.  Museum proeffsionals and their staffs should be very cautious - these robbers have not only stolen unsecured matieral, but have also broken into cases while docents/tour-guides have been present.

If you have Civil War or other military related displays, you should either secure them properly or possibly remove them from display for the time being.  Staff and volunteers should be in any room while visitors are present, and should watch out for two young, white men, who are believed to be involved in the robberies.

 

Fall 2009:  NEW: Concerns Raised About Ethics of Vendor Sales Tactics

The Museum Association of New York understands that there are many ways to dispose of deaccessioned collections. The current economic environment has heightened competition among auction houses, independent dealers, and, yes, even eBay sellers to handle disposal of your institution's deaccessioned material.

We believe you should be wary of any vendor who attempts to secure your business by encouraging your institution to deaccession. We strongly urge all museums and heritage organizations to thoroughly vet all potential antique and collectible sellers to ensure their integrity and reputation, whether it is an auction house, an independent dealer, or an eBay seller. We would err on the side of well-established sellers and the iron-clad referrals from other institutions.

We believe that museums and heritage organizations in New York State recognize that deaccessioning is only undertaken in accord with an institution's mission and legal purposes, and that there are well-accepted criteria for deaccessioning, and that the proceeds from deaccessioning are restricted as to their use.

Anne W. Ackerson, Director, Museum Association of New York, 265 River Street Troy, New York 12180

 

Winter 2009:  This commentary is a response to the New York Times article "Vanderbilt Museum Is Fighting for Its Life" which was published on January 2, 2009.

In some ways, I wonder how we arrived at this place. I suppose I should not be surprised by the endless failings at the Vanderbilt Museum - it has been a declining institution for many, may years. When I look back at it through the eyes of my childhood I remember the awe and excitement the place provided for a kid growing up in the suburbs. The bus pulling in being met by those mighty black eagles - the planetarium and all its wonder - the garage filled with beautiful touring cars - the sunken pool - the displays - the gilded and carved ceilings - and the mummy.

It was all those memories that had me bring college friends from Virginia to the place a year and half ago - I promised a truly magnificent experience - so it was a great surprise to me that I lied.

I spent the day apologizing for the state of the place. Where to start - while the eagles till sat where they had years before they were surrounded by the trash left by visitors form the day before - the planetarium was closed and locked, the doors with a taped piece of paper reading "we are not responsible for opening times listed in outside publications" - the garage has been long closed (I wonder what happened to the touring cars?) - the sunken pool is in such a decrepit state and so overgrown it can barely be seen - displays are closed or in poor shape - the ceilings are falling down in places within the mansion - and I could not find the mummy.

All of this is part of a long and sordid history of mismanagement on the part of the Trustees of the museum and the trustees of the money left by William K. Vanderbilt Jr. for the benefit of the museum. As we have all been reading there is great "astonishment" on the part of many county legislators and others in local government - none of whom have taken the time to understand the exceptionally poor manner in which the county has allowed this treasure to be treated.

Now those same people say that the museum is threatened by losses to its endowment that they all blame on the failing economy. Nothing could be further form the truth. All one has to do is read the report commissioned by the county on the health of museum - entitled Vanderbilt Museum Trust Fund Annual Report - it serves better than any indictment from a court would in explaining, in detail, the inaction of the county to stop this problem years ago. That's right Suffolk county residents - the county could have stopped this train-wreck years ago with just a little basic financial management and prudence - ah, but alas this is the county we are talking about.

Those of us who work in the museum field understand better than anyone that we never truly own our collections - rather we hold them in TRUST for the public - for their benefit, their education, their enjoyment. This goes for the money our institutions hold, the major job of our trustees is to protect the value of those assets and to ensure their protection and growth over time. This idea is stated simply on the Smithsonian Institution's website: "Fiduciary Responsibility - Regardless of how a museum is organized, the governing body (museum board, trustees) serves as fiduciaries of a public trust. They are obligated to hold the institution's assets, especially collections, in trust for the general public." It seems the county as trustees for the museum's endowment and the Vanderbilt trustees missed this part of the class.

In reading the county's own report it is clear that they did nothing to stem the tide of losses on the endowment investments. To start we need to understand when Vanderbilt died in 1944 her left the estate, its contents, plus $2 million for its care. His daughter Muriel supplemented this nearly thirty years later (1973) with an additional $6.2 million. The county has said again and again that they need to protect this "corpus" of the account but this is incorrect - the corpus is not just this amount, but the $2 million plus all the income the account received from 1944 until the gift by Vanderbilt's daughter. That is the real "corpus" - and we have long ago gone through that money.

By the late 1990's the account had grown substantially (almost $17 million) but the county continued to allow the museum to draw very large amounts because they "needed it." Here is where the rest of us would be on the street if it were our own money and we drew as much money as the Vanderbilt did. No question the accounts were making good returns, but here is the clincher - no matter whether you are making money or losing money - a museum should never draw more than 4-6% (an average of 5%) per year from their investments. This is for two important reasons - (1) less of a draw means stronger growth of the account over time - and (2) this growth means that the museum will be able to enlarge its draw over time because the account will compound in value and will thereby provide more income. It seems no one at the museum or the county understood this, or they ignored it.

The county's own report bears this out. Essentially, its says that as long as we don't reach the assigned "corpus" value of the account, the museum can draw whatever it needs. Whoah - here it is - so the county is saying we don't need to worry, it is not our money, let them do what they want. Lets' really look at this: In 2007 the museum was drawing $1.2 million dollars a year on an account worth about $12 million. The numbers simply do not add up. To draw $1.2 million dollars a year you would need the investments to have a total value in excess of $24 million if you were drawing the 5% a year which is recommended by every individual who has any understanding of the management of museum endowments.

This is bad financial management and may even be criminal if you are acting as a trustee for an institutional account. How so you ask? Trustees can be sued for mismanagement of trust accounts and museum collections in general. Trustees are personally responsible for losses - and can be forced to personally pay them back if they sat by and took no real action to avoid them. As it is stated in New York State's Right From the Start: Responsibilities of Directors and Officers of Not-for-Profit Corporations:

"Whatever their mission or size, all organizations should have policies and procedures established so that (1) boards and officers understand their fiduciary responsibilities, (2) assets are managed properly and (3) the charitable purposes of the organization are carried out. A failure to meet these obligations is a breach of fiduciary duty and can result in financial and other liability for the board of directors and the officers."

So, we have a county not doing its part - what about the trustees of the museum proper? Well, until the 1980's the museum had a politically appointed board that did little, if anything, to protect the museum. Since that time a real board has been in place - but is unclear if it has done anything to actually make the institution more solvent. The purchase of Normandy Manor - a former part of the estate - is a case in point. The trustees wanted it but do not have appear to have had a concrete idea of what to do with it (they said it would make money as a wedding/event destination). At a cost of $3 million dollars it has never been open to the public, does not appear to have hosted any events, and houses only offices at present.

So, what does this all really mean? It means you, I, and every other taxpayer is going to be on the hook for the problems at the Vanderbilt. The $800,000 voted on this year will have to become an annual allotment of money - and that is what no one in county government or the museum wants to admit. There simply is no way to make up the kind of deficit with which we are now presented with the Vanderbilt trust accounts so low.

So, should Suffolk County be sued for its part in this debacle? Should the officers and trustees of the museum be sued for their bad decisions? I leave that up to the many lawyers who reside in our county. What is true is that today the museum's physical plant will continue to suffer; the collection will continue to deteriorate; the many employees at the Vanderbilt Museum will be left to wonder if they will have a place to work; and the people of Suffolk County will be left to wonder if this museum will be available to future generations of residents.

Geoffrey K. Fleming, LIMA President

Copyright © 2009 LIMA. All rights reserved.