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A Report From The Federal Grants Workshop

On November 12, 2014, at the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, a federal grants workshop for arts and culture organizations was held through the auspices of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

The half-day workshop was held to familiarize organizations with the funding opportunities available through the federal government.

Presentations were made by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Institute of Museum and Library services, and the New York Council for the Humanities which co-sponsored the event.

These organizations are the major players at the national and state level. Budget information for national historical organizations is provided below in millions of dollars. The 2016 figures are proposed budget amounts.

National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)
2014 146
2015 146
2016 148

Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)
2014   229 – Library Programs 181, Museum Programs 30
2015   228 – Library Programs 181, Museum Programs 30
2016   237 – Library Programs 186, Museum Programs 35

National Park Service
2014 Historic Preservation 56 National Recreation 61 Heritage Partnership 18
2015 Historic Preservation 56 National Recreation 63 Heritage Partnership 54
2016 Historic Preservation 90 National Recreation 54 Heritage Partnership 10

Historic preservation seems to be the big winner. There is an important NPS study on the job it is doing in history which will be the subject of future posts.

I attended this meeting in Yonkers. As readers might expect, my interests in the workshop were slightly different than those of the other attendees. In general, people asked about specific items such as dates of submission, procedures, and contacts in regard to exhibitions – all perfectly legitimate, but for my purposes, they ignored the elephant in the room. As a result, I followed up with an email to Brook Gesser in the Office of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Sara Ogger of the New York Council for the Humanities. The email is reproduced below.

Brook and Sara,

Thank you for the workshop yesterday and thank you Sara for the shout out [she mentioned me and New York History in her opening remarks]. If I may, there are two questions I wish to raise which weren’t covered at the conference.

1. Capital Expenses – My concern here is not operating expenses or exhibitions but capital expenditures especially for historic sites which may be in buildings that are centuries old. This was a concern raised May 29 at the New York History roundtable convened in Albany by Assemblyman Englebright in relation to the proposed New York State History commission. The REDCs are not of much use because heritage tourism is not a high priority and fixing a leaky roof doesn’t generate sustainable jobs. Historical societies often are more of a community asset that help maintain a sense of place and belonging among the residents of a community than they are global destination sites. Where are the sources of funding for these expenditures?

2. Collaboration – Although collaboration and cooperation are standard buzz words, there is no funding specifically designed for such efforts. Funding tends to be for a specific site or exhibition and not for a collaborative effort which might involve multiple historic sites. The Path through History project is an excellent example of the absence of staff and funding to actually create paths through history involving multiple sites that tourists or teachers could use. A regional group such as Greater Hudson Heritage Network theoretically could provide the external leadership needed but it is not funded or staffed to do so even if it considered such efforts part of its mission. Generally people’s first obligation are to their own organization which is understandable. The result is minimal effort to get historic sites to work together. For example, tomorrow, people are meeting to promote the American Revolution in Westchester. There will be upwards of 40 people present including municipal historians, historical societies, NYS sites, teachers, and elected officials to discuss this subject. But we are not a legal entity nor can one organization apply for funding on behalf of all the participants. So what do we do?

Thank you again for organizing the workshop and for your time.

The following month the Regional Economic Development Council awards for 2014 were announced. That led to the recently completed nine-part series analyzing where the money actually goes at the state level.

Clearly, for capital expenditures, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (State Parks) is the best place to go for historic sites seeking such funding. Some collaborative efforts were noted in the awards such as for wine trails and recreation (skiing). History collaborations did not fare as well and it is almost as if the Path through History doesn’t exist when it comes to money to actually create such paths.

This ongoing problem of the absence of people to develop paths that can be packaged and marketed to tour operators became even more apparent at The New York Times Travel Show in January. An analysis of what was said then by the presenters from ILoveNY and the displays from the tourist departments at that travel show demonstrates that for all practical purposes, the Path through History project doesn’t exist except for signs and an unworkable website.

2 thoughts on “A Report From The Federal Grants Workshop

  1. Peter,

    Have you heard from either Brook Gesser or Sara Ogger concerning your questions on capital expenditures or collaboration across organizational or political boundaries? These are both very important questions and they plague all of us just about everyday. No one seems to be listening, it would appear, since no one has opened any type of forum or discussion around these or similar points of interest within the history, historical, cultural heritage or museum communities.

    I agree, we need to keep the questions visible everyday.

    1. Hi Peter,

      Both responded. Brook felt it really was an issue which the Senator could address as a federal topic. Sara agreed with the thrust of my email as an area of discussion worth pursuing however we were unable to connect. I will be addressing this issue again as I did in my analysis of the REDC grants. I hope to see you at the APHNYS conference where perhaps we can raise it as an issue.


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