In this post, I wish to focus attention on recent developments involving the Museum Association of New York (MANY) and opportunities for advocacy on behalf of the history community.
MANY has undergone significant changes which are of importance to the history community, though it should be noted that the organization’s membership is not limited to historical museums, but also include art and science museums, zoos, botanical gardens and aquariums.
When I originally became active in the history community, there was an organization called Upstate History Alliance. It was founded in 1971 to provide support, advice, and training to historical societies, museums, archivists, and other heritage organizations. It seemed like an upstate counterpart to the Lower Hudson Conference (LHC) where I lived. These organizations were the remnant of an ancient division of New York into five history alliances that have withered away and/or mutated over time. For example, the LHC is now the Greater Hudson Heritage Network (GHHN). UHA then became Museumwise which according to its 2011 annual report had 281 members from 54 of the 62 counties in the state. The report at the 2014 conference also stated membership was in 54 counties, presumably the same ones. Museumwise subsequently merged with MANY in 2012 to become the new MANY and its headquarters moved to Troy.
MANY’s new Executive Director Devin Lander assumed that position on June 2, 2014. That was the Monday following the Friday of the New York State Commission History Roundtable which he attended in his then current capacity. As the announcement of his appointment states:
Devin joins MANY after six years with the New York State Assembly as Deputy Legislative Director for Assemblyman Steve Englebright. During his time in the Legislature, Devin worked as the Committee Clerk for both the Assembly Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development and the Committee on Governmental Affairs. Devin also acted as the Staff Director for the Historic Hudson-Hoosic Rivers Partnership, a public-benefit corporation created by the NYS Legislature to preserve, enhance, and develop the historic, agricultural, scenic, natural, and recreational resources and the waterways within the Northern Hudson River region. Through the tradition of municipal home rule, the Partnership fosters collaborative projects with non-profit and governmental entities with an emphasis on agricultural and open space protection, economic and tourism development, and the protection and interpretation of our natural and cultural heritage.
Before joining Assemblyman Englebright’s staff, Devin worked as an archivist at the State University of New York at Albany’s Department of Special Collections and Archives and a contract consultant for the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation’s Bureau of Historic Sites. A published historian specializing in post-World War II social and cultural movements, Devin holds a B.A. in American History from the State University of New York at Plattsburgh and a M.A. in Public History from the University at Albany and is a lifetime member of Phi Alpha Theta, the National History Honor Society.
Assemblyman Englebright is the author of the proposed New York State History Commission. One may observe in Lander’s background two significant traits: (1) education and work experience in history and (2) political involvement. These are critical for the success of history in New York.
One of the little-used services of MANY is advocacy. I have written about my own experiences in advocacy earlier this year and of the absence of the history community advocating in Albany. MANY does have a lobbyist. She is Sheila Healy of Public Strategies LLC.
When the legislators are in session, Healy conducts conference calls through MANY on what is going on. The participation rate is minimal. It’s through these calls that I learned of the New York History Roundtable meeting in May, which she happened to have noticed on the legislative calendar and mentioned in a call. She also advised us of the budget negotiations. Even though member items have disappeared, it appears that large-scale local grants still can slip in depending on the political pull of one’s representatives. For example, the 2013-2014 enacted budgets shows:
Beekmantown Gateway $196,000
Binghamton Gateway $196,000
Queens Tourism Council $ 70,000
Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance $ 75,000
Nassau County Heritage Tourism $100,000
Historic Saratoga-Washington $100,000
This last item is connected to the Historic Hudson-Hoosic Rivers Partnership in which Devin Lander served as state-appointed staff director, as noted above. (For 2014-2015 there is a possible Catksills appropriation for $100,000.) These amounts are far larger than the old member items and are more regional than site specific. Obviously, not all regions benefit from this funding.
Shortly after Devin Lander occupied his office, he reported that he had initiated a series of meetings with: Regent Roger Tilles; Mark Schaming, of the NYS Museum; Jeff Cannell, NYS Deputy Commissioner of Cultural Education; Thomas Ruller of the NYS Office of Cultural Education; Bob Weible, NYS Historian; Mark Castiglione, Staff Director, Path Through History [sic]; Jane McNamara, of the NY Council for the Humanities; and Carol Harsh of the Smithsonian Institution, among others.
These meetings were part of the advocacy push, in part on behalf of the Museum Education Act, which would have the NYS Education Department fund museums it charters, just as it does schools and libraries.
Devin Lander stated:
Along those lines, we are reaching out to our membership for input regarding MANY’s advocacy efforts going forward. It is our wish to craft a focused and powerful advocacy plan for the organization that will lead to successfully educating government officials at every level about the vital role museums and cultural institutions play as educational centers and economic engines. We look forward to hearing back from as many of our members as possible to help us forge this plan.
Part of this effort includes the annual conference at Sagamore which this year had a focus on advocacy. In fact, a call for advocacy has been sent out to the members of MANY:
The Museum Association of New York (MANY) needs your help. We are in the process of creating our first ever advocacy plan for state and local governments and we need input from our members and those in the field. We will be travelling to the 10 Regional Economic Council Regions of the State this October and we would like to hear from you.
Besides asking for the specific concerns of the members, MANY’s new executive director also called for people willing to act on behalf of the needs of the history community:
Would you be interested in joining a potential MANY Advocacy Committee made up of volunteer staff members of member organizations interested in helping to draft the Advocacy Plan and to formulate advocacy goals on a year-to-year basis?
Would you be willing to join with others in the museum and cultural institution field to travel to Albany to take part in a Museum, Cultural Institution and Living Museum Advocacy Day in which you would represent your institution and your field in meeting with members of the Legislature, Regents, and possibly the Governor to discuss legislation, funding, and other issues of importance to the field?
Are you willing/able to meet regularly with your local government leaders, your Assembly member, State Senator, and Congressional Representative to keep them abreast with issues concerning your institution and the field at large?
The goal would appear to be to create a museum and cultural institution counterpart (not solely history-focused) to the advocacy lobbying days similar to the day I attended in the spring on behalf of tourism and the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation.
I welcome these actions, but do have some observations:
1. The Regional Economic Development Councils (REDC) are still foreign terrain to most historic sites. In my own I region I have recommended to the regional REDC chair that special training sessions be held with the history community to familiarize it with the REDCs. She agreed to conduct two such sessions, one on each side of the Hudson, although in my experience the results may be disappointing since few members of the history community attend REDC meetings.
2. The REDC regions are huge. For example, the proposed Hudson Valley meeting is at Olana State Historic Site, a 200-mile round trip from my home in Westchester. I suspect there are huge distances involved in other regions as well. This is one reason why I continue to promote county meetings. It is unrealistic to expect MANY’s Devin Lander, who is full-time, or Dana Krueger, who is part-time, to cover the all 62 counties, including the boroughs of New York.
3. The membership of historical societies and museums in MANY is not extensive. Since the MANY newsletter only goes to members, much of the history community are not aware of MANY, or these regional meetings. The New York History Blog provides an opportunity for MANY to reach out to a larger audience than it can on its own. There is also the question of the benefits for an historical society in joining MANY, particularly if it can’t afford to attend the statewide meetings and if the regional meetings are too distant.
Some of these concerns are similar to those of the municipal historians, which I addressed in the previous post here at The New York History Blog. The Association of Public Historians of New York State (APHNYS), for example, has designated coordinators to hold regional meetings of municipal historians (a few include the wider history community). Here is an area where it would be beneficial for APHNYS and MANY to work together. APHNYS also needs to develop an advocacy agenda for Albany.
Obviously there is a lot which needs to be done. Creating a voice in Albany to speak on behalf of the history community will be a major step forward, but it will not be easy to achieve. I’m confident MANY’s new executive director understands that and is dedicated to continuing the work begun by Catherine Gilbert, his predecessor, who brought Museumwise and MANY together to create this enlarged state organization. If there is going to be advocacy on behalf of the history community and the establish of a New York History Commission, it’s likely that Devin Lander will play a key role in making it happen.