There is always an anniversary somewhere. For the state, three come to mind now: the Women’s Suffrage Centennial, World War I Centennial, and the Erie Canal Bicentennial. State funding for anniversaries has been problematic over the years to be polite about it. Each time has been an exercise in reinventing the wheel, seeking out legislative support, lobbying for a pittance, and constantly laboring to scrounge up funds for a threadbare program.
The REDC funding process does not address this problem. There is no history bucket for applicants. No anniversary bucket. The logical source for such funding would be through the State Historian’s Office, a position which has been degraded in recent years and is now making a bit of comeback. A serious problem is that the state historian along with the museum, archives, and library, are all under the jurisdiction of the Board of Regents and therefore not directly under the control of the Governor. The REDC funding buckets are. Could the Governor extend the REDC funding to include them? Could the Regents establish their own funding mechanism to compensate for this shortcoming? Even if they could, who is going to ask them?
In the meantime, the New York Canal System operates independently and does provide funding through the REDC applications. In this post, I examine how it distributes its funds and comment on the lessons to be learned through this anomalous source of history anniversary funding by the State.
Canalway Matching Grant Program (Canals) – up to $1,000,000
The Canalway Grants Program is a competitive matching grant program available to eligible municipalities and 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations along the New York State Canal System. Funding is for capital projects that enhance economic and community development along the canal corridor and are consistent with the goals of the Regional Economic Development Council Plans.
Notice that the description specifically identifies capital projects as being within its purview. As will be seen, awards also can be for marketing and/or developing history-related programs. Below are all of the awards granted by the New York State Canal System in county order.
City of Cohoes Cohoes Visitor Center
This project will create an engaging Canal exhibit for the Cohoes Visitor’s Center in time for the Erie Canal bicentennial celebration and will feature a model lock and other model machines. The project is part of a larger revitalization effort to support tourism in Cohoes.
This award easily could be part of Marketing NY. One would think all visitor center funding for history exhibits could be done through I LoveNY or through the State Historian.
Erie Canalway Heritage Fund Inc.
Matton Shipyard Structural Preservation Initiative
This project will stabilize three original buildings at the Matton Shipyard in Cohoes at the junction of the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers.
Amount: $148,000 in addition to $182,936 from Marketing New York for an Erie Canal Waterway Trail
In this instance, the applicant was able to leverage funding from two sources, one a capital improvement and the other a tourist award. But as Cohoes shows, the waterway trail could have been funded through New York State Canal System. Here is an example of where knowing how the system works pays off.
Canal Society of New York State
Erie Canal Bicentennial Exhibition Collaboration
This grant will fund a joint collaboration with the NYS Canal Society and the Erie Canal Museum to do state-wide outreach for the Erie Canal bicentennial through the design and fabrication format that will be utilized throughout the eight years of the bicentennial.
Clearly this award is an anniversary one. One may anticipate eight years of such awards to the applicant. The issue is not the legitimacy of the award but the structure through which history anniversary awards are awarded. Undoubtedly, Women’s Suffrage Centennial which will extend through 2020 would love to have such a secure source of funding.
Lockport Locks Heritage District Corporation
Lock Tender Tribute
This grant will fund updates and improvements to the Erie Canal Museum, located at the base of the Flight of Five locks.
Here we see a new wrinkle in the funding process: capital improvement awards based on the historical sector. Imagine a scenario where American Revolution sites applied for funding to one source while immigration museums and municipal historical societies applied to two additional funders. Again, the issues not the merit of any individual application but the dysfunctional structure without a clear source for history organizations.
Rome Area Chamber of Commerce
Rome Canal Bicentennial Program
This grant will fund a series of art and culture events to promote the Erie Canal bicentennial in the City of Rome.
The awards of the New York State Council on the Arts but one may observe the overlapping jurisdictions.
Madison County Signage Plan for the Old Erie Canal State Historic Park
This project will develop and install wayfinding signage within the Old Erie Canal State Historic Park, which spans three counties (Onondaga, Madison, and Oneida) and contains the longest and one of the only remaining portions of the original Erie Canal system.
City of Schenectady
Mohawk Harbor Visitor Center and Large Vessel Dockage
This project will include the construction of a walking trail, visitor’s center with public restrooms and approximately 75 feet of large vessel dockage space.
National Womens Hall of Fame
Center for Great Women
This project is phase three of a project that will transform the empty Seneca Knitting Mill into the Center for Great Women – the headquarters of the National Woman’s Hall of Fame. Work will include demolition, construction, interior build-out and site work of the first floor of the Mill, creating 4,200 square feet of habitable space for exhibits.
Amount: $125,000 in addition to the $250,000 from Marketing New York
Obviously this award is a bit of a surprise. Who would expect a grant to renovate a knitting mill into a woman’s hall of fame in the canals category? And this ignores the additional two grants for another $800,000 from two other funding sources. The four awards refer to “rehabilitation,” “demolition,” “transform” and 4200 square feet of exhibit space. Again the merit of the award is not the issue. Since none of the four awards even mention suffrage, I will address the suffrage awards regardless of funding source in another post.
Corning Museum of Glass
New York Waterways GlassBarge
This grant will fund the Corning Museum of Glass’ project to install a mobile glass blowing studio on a Canal barge to provide demonstrations to the general public at waterfront locations along New York’s
Amount: $144,000 in addition to $57,830 from Marketing New York
Canal Trail Lock 26 Pedestrian Bridge redecking
This grant will provide funding for materials and installation of a former railroad bridge in Wayne County in order to remove the biggest off-road obstacle to extending the Erie Canalway Trail to connect with Seneca and Cayuga Counties.
As one surveys the awards in this category, one observes the lack of clarification in the scope of each funding agent. It would be very easy to move awards from one category into another one. In a sense that is what happens as applicants from around the state and in different regions seek to identify the most likely source for approval of their request. Once again, the merits of individual applications are not the issue. Imagine if all the history-related awards were grouped together and under a single source. Now imagine a request for that exact sum of money which has been awarded through scattered funding sources was now under the label of history funding. The outcry would be ferocious. Instead we make do a procrustean bed funding process.
I picked the etching because I preferred its historical look to a photograph of the canal today. The drawing comes from ClipArt ETC. The source is Benson John Lossing, ed. Harper’s Encyclopedia of United States History (vol. 3) (New York, NY: Harper and Brothers, 1912). It looks like it is a drawing of the locks at Lockport. For a photograph, see Low Bridge Productions.