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Save the History Community: Clone Erika Sanger

In recent posts, I have reported on the absence of any private state-wide organization advocating on behalf of the history community.

History Professors Protest for Local and State History

NYSHA Responds to Advocacy for Local and State History Post

The NYSHA Saga Continues: Gone but Not Forgotten

The former New York State History Association (NYSHA) located in Cooperstown has not fulfilled that role. Effectively it is a local farmers’ museum and national art museum. While these two functions are perfectly legitimate ones that focus raises significant critical issues regarding the leadership within the history community in this state…or, more accurately, the absence of any leadership.

Simultaneously with the NYSHA posts, I also introduced the actions of another private state-wide, organization, the Museum Association of New York (MANY) with its executive director Erika Sanger. What follows then is a report of events in the last two weeks contrasting the actions of NYSHA and MANY. The contrast provides insight into what a proposed New York State History Society (NYSHS) should do.


To begin with, MANY sent a query to its members for information about the Regional Economic Development Council (REDC) funding process as it relates to the New York State Council for the Arts (NYSCA). The request was in preparation for testimony Erika was to give before the Committee on Tourism at its budget hearing on December 5. That request led to a response by Rosa Fox, the municipal historian for the Town of Huron who also is responsible for three buildings. That response generated a new post, not directly about NYSHA but related.

Before turning to the results of the query, let’s examine the difference between NYSHA and MANY.

1. MANY is a membership organization with museums from around the state (including zoos, aquariums, art museums, and science museums, as well as history organizations; NYSHA is not.

2. MANY has a full-time person dedicated to state-wide issues; NYSHA does not.

3. MANY testifies to the legislature and Regents on statewide issues; NYSHA does not.

4. MANY solicits the opinion of the state-wide community; NYSHA does not.

So regardless of the particular details of the December 5 testimony, one can immediately differentiate the two organizations and decide what one would like the NYSHS to do if it existed.

The results of Erika’s survey have been circulated through the MANY distribution network so it is not necessary for me to repeat them here. I will just note a response of 89 organizations of various sizes, budgets and regions in the state. Many organizations were not familiar with the REDC process in general or found it daunting to apply. That process itself was the subject of a recent post about “Hunger Games” the apparently routine nick name in Albany for REDC funding.


The awards for 2017 were just announced last week. As has become my custom, the grants will be analyzed in a series of posts as they relate to the history community. As also expected the phrase “Path through History” does not appear anywhere in the report. In the responses to MANY, the 35% of the organizations that did seek REDC funding reported on all the categories they used and not just NYSCA. These funding sources included:

Art and Culture Initiative
Arts and Culture Facilities Capital Grant program
Historic Preservation and Recreational Trails.
Market New York (I LoveNY)

One should note that NYSOPRHP is a well-established source of funding for the history community and that the NYS Museum has zero funding in the current arrangement. I will be reporting on these grants in the new year with one exception.

MANY was the recipient of an award. It issued the following notice:

MANY is thrilled to announce that we received our first Regional Economic Development Council (REDC) grant for Administrative Workforce Expansion! We would like to thank Governor Cuomo and the members of the Capital Region Economic Development Council for their support of the Museum Association of New York and the New York State museum field.  

The grant will allow MANY to hire a Marketing and Social Media Coordinator to manage digital marketing and communications, enrich our service to the field, promote professional development programs, share funding opportunities, and improve economic stability in New York’s cultural sector.

Thanks to everyone who signed our letter of support and congratulations to all the organizations who received support. You can find the full list of grant awards here.

In this notice, one observes pluses and minuses of the program. First, MANY is to be congratulated. Second, one notices that even though it is a state-wide organization, it was obligated to apply through the Capital Region since it is located in Troy. The current setup means that even if NYSHA had sought any funding it would have had to have done so through the Mohawk Valley region. Remember there is a Mohawk Valley region in REDC funding but not in I LoveNY or the Path through History. This application process highlights the hunger games competition among the regions with no provision for state-wide organizations.


Wait, there’s more from MANY. The organization has been active with the Museum Education Act. During this busy past week, it sent out the following notice:

Dear Friends, Colleagues, and MANY Members,

On Tuesday, the New York State Board of Regents unanimously endorsed the $1.6 billion state aid proposal along with their 2018 budget and legislative priorities. We are thrilled to report that for the first time ever the Regents designated the Museum Education Act as a budget priority and proposed $5 million to fund it.

Under their state budget priorities, the Regents describe this new program as:

Expanding Access to Education Programs through Cultural Institutions – Support the Museum Education Act and establish competitive grants to support cultural institutions that seek to establish or improve museum education programs designed to improve and support student learning opportunities, including supporting the development of local curricular aids.

And if this action was not sufficiently awesome on its own, the State Education Department released a video on today of Commissioner MaryEllen Elia’s statement about how increasing equity has been the driving force behind everything SED does. In talking about equity, the Commissioner specifically mentions passing the Museum Education Act and linking museum education programs with pre k -12 schools to enable students to learn from the museums’ “incredible collections”.

We are grateful to Chancellor Betty Rosa, Regent Roger Tilles, Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, Executive Deputy Commissioner Elizabeth Berlin and Deputy Commissioner of Cultural Education Mark Schaming for their support of museums in New York. 

But, we’re not quite home yet. To get these bills passed in the upcoming legislative session will require your help.  We will soon be sending out new tools to help you call and meet with your legislators. We will also be selecting dates for you to join us in Albany to advocate for passage of the Museum Education Act.


Again let’s look at what Erika has been up to as executive director for MANY.

1. Testifying before both the Regents and the Legislature.

2. Getting $5 million approved as a budget it (that’s real money!)

3. Calling on members to advocate with their own legislators apparently both locally and at the state capital.

It should be noted also that MANY has retained a lobbyist and has re-instituted the practice of conference calls for its members with the lobbyist for updates on the world of politics in Albany.

In short, Erika and MANY are doing on behalf of the museum community what nobody is doing on behalf of the history community. Is there more that needs to be done even within the museum community? Definitely, but at least someone is trying. Should there be a NYSHS based in the capital region acting on behalf of the history community as MANY is for the museum community. Definitely. Will there be? What does it take to make it happen?

REDC: Funding “Hunger Games” Where History Is the Loser

Goshen Legoland (photo by Legoland)

Over the years, I have reported on the funding available to the history community through the REDC process. Recently, I have had cause to review that pitiful process. The impetus for this review was an eblast from Erika Sanger, Executive Director, Museum Association of New York (MANY) on November 29. I posted that notice on November 30 at the conclusion of the response from Paul D’Ambrosio, President and CEO of the Fenimore Art Museum and Farmers’ Museum to an earlier post on NYSHA.  Erika  testified on December 5 at the New York State Assembly’s Standing Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts, and Sports Development’s Annual Budget Oversight Hearing of the 2017-2018 State Budget. The purpose of this hearing is to review the impact and effectiveness of the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) grants awarded throughout the State and arts projects funded by NYSCA. She asks for comments about the funding.

Rosa Fox, the municipal historian for Huron sent Erika an email response with a copy to me and gave me permission to incorporate it into a post. I first met Rosa at the new municipal historians session of the annual conference of the Association of Public Historians of New York State (APHNYS), my favorite session at the conference. Putting aside all the details of how she became the historian, once she was appointed she learned that she also had three buildings/museums to maintain. Here is her reply to the MANY request for comment:

 Good Morning Erika,

This morning I replied to the survey you are using to help build your testimony for next week’s Budget Oversight Committee. So glad to know you are doing this and that you have reached out to us – in the field – to inquire as to our experiences/thoughts. Thank you!

I am a very very small town municipal historian. You may not even have heard of Huron, NY.  The town is located in Wayne County (Upstate – about half way between Rochester and Syracuse).  Huron has no village – just lots of rolling apple orchards. We are well known for Chimney Bluffs State Park. Huron also has Lake Ontario as its northern border and is blessed with three embayments that provide plentiful recreation during all seasons – as long as the water levels are sensible. That is another story. 

I started the historian gig in 2015 – about six months after I retired from 35 years of teaching – middle school band. In addition to the role of historian, I found myself in charge of three historic buildings. One of the buildings functions as archives and museum. The other two are historic buildings that are open several times a year for public visitation – an 1871 schoolhouse and a grange building. 

In the first couple years of my role as town historian, I attended the REDC-CFA meetings in Rochester with great hopes of applying for a grant to assist with the restoration of our historic grange building that was beginning to fall into disrepair. The entire REDC-CFA process was so discouraging and unattainable, I decided to forget about REDC-CFA. The grange building projects are being broken down into small – bite-sized pieces the town can handle. With the help of smaller, local, less cumbersome grant assistance and local donors, we will probably have the restoration completed by about 2030 or so. 

In my written reply on your survey, I commented that the REDC-CFA process appears to be geared for more populated communities. I know of very few communities in Wayne County that have benefited from REDC-CFA monies. I have spoken with a number of local historians and others – and they are all very discouraged by the process. I have also heard this same sentiment at out APHNYS conferences. Peter Feinman has also written a number of very eloquent articles that I have found express my sentiment about the whole REDC charade. I’m sure you are familiar with Peter’s writings [Erika is.]. If you are not, please let me know and I would be happy to send you some links. 

I am of the opinion that if anything positive can be done for small town museums, parks, arts organizations, historians, etc – it would be to get back to the decentralized grant process that was in place twenty years ago. I had written several successful grants for our community at that time, and also served on the grant review panel for the Wayne County Arts Council.

That process brought people – with common goals together. It was grass roots. It provided funds to small communities for activities and projects they could not otherwise afford. Because the funds were of smaller amounts – generally everyone who applied got something. We always had a grants reception for the grantees. That was a great way for people to network and learn about each other’s communities and projects, and get ideas for their community for future years. The arts thrived during the decentralized granting period. 

Erica, please feel free to quote, share, do whatever you like with this letter. You may or may not agree with my thoughts about REDC. You may be able to show this small town historian who has three historic buildings to oversee that the REDC-CFA process is more attainable that she thinks. If you can – hallelujah. 

In closing, thank you again for reaching out to us for our thoughts and experiences. Good luck next week. Look forward to reading about your testimony and experience before the panel.


Rosa Fox
Town of Huron Historian

In my opinion, Rosa speaks not just for the Wayne County history community but for the overwhelming majority of municipal historians and historical societies who are shut out from the REDC process and no longer have Member Items to help them on a small scale.

Development Money, in Cuomo Era, Is Disbursed With Dazzle

This issue was the subject on an article on December 11, 2015 in the New York Times by Jesse McKinley with the titleDevelopment Money, in Cuomo Era, Is Disbursed With Dazzle.” In the article, the competition among the regions for funding by the regions was compared to the competition to live among the regions in the movie “The Hunger Games.”

In January, Mr. Cuomo added a wrinkle to the format, dangling over the seven upstate regions an additional $1.5 billion in funding, to be disbursed over five years. The catch: Only three regions would win, each getting $500 million. (Three regions, including New York City, were not eligible.)

The plan drew quick and snarky comparisons to “The Hunger Games,” the dystopian thriller in which different regions submit their best and brightest progeny to the Capitol, culminating with the victors’ being celebrated by a television host.

The comparison was apt enough to inspire numerous Twitter posts with the hashtag #nyhungergames, as well as doctored images of Mr. Cuomo as a stand-in for President Snow, the villain of “The Hunger Games.” Such critiques were circulated by groups like Reclaim New York, which criticized the plan on Thursday as a “game-show approach to economic development” and “a disturbing and offensive example of government propaganda.”

Far be it from me to compare Albany to Hollywood. Wait a minute, considering the sex scandals may be the comparison isn’t so far-fetched.

The topic was the subject of a more recent article on June 7th of this year apparently by Gannett but appearing in a number of publications:

Transparency, accountability at issue in handling billions of taxpayer dollars

New York’s 10 regional councils have designated more than $4.4 billion to 5,300 projects since they were launched in 2011. But the money is largely void of benchmarks and job-creation goals, limiting the public’s ability to objectively determine whether the dollars have been well spent, a review of data and documents by the USA Today Network in New York found.

Are the taxpayers of New York getting their bang for their buck? As one investigates the process, one observes how irrelevant the history community is to it.

Critics say the process lacks openness and is ripe for conflicts because top leaders in the region often sit on the boards where grants can go to their own entities. That criticism has grown in the state Legislature, where lawmakers this year are proposing to tighten oversight of the boards and create new standards under which they operate. “We are talking about transparency. We are talking about accountability. And at the moment, we have neither,” Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti, D-Mount Pleasant, Westchester County, said.

The awards are commonly referred to as the “Hunger Games” because they pit each region of New York against one another for a pot of roughly $750 million a year.

Sometimes people are under the misperception that the REDC funding represents new funding be provided through the leadership of our Cuomo. That is only partially true.

Each year, the councils award about $750 million in aid to the 10 councils. The majority — $530 million — is not new money, but the same state aid previously doled out by governors, state agencies and lawmakers. The other $220 million is the “new money” each year allocated through Empire State Development, the state’s economic-development arm.

What’s changed is not the allocation of funds by NYSCA and NYSOPRHP to the history community but the format through which one applies for the funds. As previously reported the New York State Museum has no funding pool and I LoveNY which does, doesn’t fund projects in the history community.

The problems identified in the 2017 article mirror those in 2015:

But there is no audit or independent evaluation of their effectiveness. And the state does not have a current accounting of jobs created or retained, nor of the money spent…. As part of this year’s state budget, Empire State Development was tasked with creating an annual, comprehensive economic-development report on the state’s 30-plus job-creation programs.

Better late than never.

USA Today Network decided to take matters into its own hands. It created its own database with help from the Buffalo-based Investigative Post, ProPublica and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. The results should not be surprising to anyone with even a vague awareness of politics. Big rewards went to companies or colleges whose leaders sat on the very councils making decisions on the applications to be approved including Corning Enterprises, Binghamton University, the University of Rochester, Marist College and Stony Brook University. Corning, a recent host of both the APHNYS and MANY state conferences, with $40,000,000 was the recipient of the largest single award.

Some efforts are underway so revise the process. The Finger Lakes council revamped how it prioritizes projects. An evaluation team that reads and scores each application has been broadened to include greater geographic diversity. Ethics and conflict of interest guidelines now are being reviewed at the start of every meeting. And, beginning in May, those meetings are being video recorded and posted online. If the goal is to bring together the leaders of the community as Howard Zemsky, who heads Empire State Development, claims, will the inclusion also include the cultural heritage community and the place of non-recreational tourism?

The article concludes with a reference to tourism in my own region, the Mid-Hudson Valley. The article began with tourism in the Mid-Hudson Valley. Tourism does not mean river cruises although practically every major river in the world has river cruises and tourism began here with these cruises in the 1820s. Tourism does not mean the American Revolution although Washington spent more time in New York especially the Hudson Valley than in any other state during the war. Tourism does not mean the Dutch although there now are direct flights from Europe to Newburgh in the Hudson Valley. Tourism also does not mean immigrants, slavery or any of the other themes in the Path through History. Instead tourism means Legoland, the Rockland County reject now moving ahead in Orange County. And even assuming Legoland succeeds in drawing people from outside the region to Goshen, what else will the people do who have driven there? As even the representative Legoland said at the Tourism Advisory Council, now is the time to start planning. Is there are funding to do so?

Is there a place for the history community in the REDC funding process? So far the answer is “no.” And what about for non-tourism related projects like education, community and civics, or replacing a roof? Will anything change in the next funding cycle?


NYSHA Responds to Advocacy for Local and State History Post

New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown

In a previous post, I reported on a petition initiated by the New York Academy of History in support of local and state history.  Much of the details of the letter were against recent actions of the New York State Historical Association (NYSHA). That organization has undergone some changes in 2017 as reported in New York History Blog by editor John Warren and columnist/advocate Bruce Dearstyne.

My post also led to a response by Paul S. D’Ambrosio, President & CEO, Fenimore Art Museum & The Farmers’ Museum aka NYSHA. He sent me an email asking if I would publish it. I agreed to do so and he then sent a second draft which is published below.

This is in response to the recent blog post by Peter Feinman entitled “History Professors Protest for State and Local History.” The post was unfortunately misinformed and inaccurate, and it is regrettable that no one from Fenimore Art Museum (the “Museum”), formerly known as the New York State Historical Association, was approached for comment prior to its publication. Accordingly, I write to you now to correct the record and provide an accurate description the Museum’s current and future activities. 

Most crucially, the notions that NYSHA is “defunct” or “ceases to exist,” or that any of its programs are “at risk,” could not be more incorrect. The organization formerly known as NYSHA has simply changed its name (formally adopting the name that it has legally used as a “d/b/a” for many years), while continuing to carry on a wide range of activities promoting an appreciation of art, history, and culture. The Museum thus has been, and remains, a private, non-profit organization chartered under the New York State Education Law and recognized by the IRS as exempt from taxation under Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(3). Indeed, the Museum’s status as such was re-affirmed by the IRS on October 17, 2017 in response to a submission including the Museum’s amended charter.  

The charter amendments were driven by the Museum’s desire to reflect the broad range of its long-standing activities, to avoid the misconception that it was a state agency, and to correct the ongoing confusion with the New-York Historical Society in Manhattan. The Museum also desired to address the fact that its collections have never been limited to New York State and, in fact, our important art collections, including our American Folk Art and American Indian Art, have been national in scope for decades. The charter amendments thus allow the Museum to present an institutional identity to the public that fully reflects its collections and the experience it offers.

Most important to the concerns in Mr. Feinman’s blog post is what the charter amendments did not change – the scope or quality of our educational programming. We still host more than 7,000 school children each year in organized tours on a range of historical and artistic topics.  We continue to operate our Research Library, a vital resource for the region with more than 100,000 volumes and a large collection of unique original manuscripts. The Library continues to be staffed by professional librarians as it has been for many years. We continue to serve New York as the statewide coordinator of National History Day, a competitive program that reaches more than 10,000 students throughout the state. We maintain a close partnership with The Farmers’ Museum, a living history museum dedicated to promoting an understanding of the rural and agricultural history of New York. We share most of our professional staff with this prominent history museum. Please know as well that we are committed to ensuring the continued publication of the journal New York History, and that its future is not in jeopardy. Finally, of course, we bring world-class art exhibitions to New York State every year, including artists such as Andrew Wyeth, Ansel Adams, and (upcoming in 2018) Thomas Cole.

In short, our museum campus continues to thrive as Fenimore Art Museum, and we maintain the same reverence for our state’s rich past as we always have. We are firmly committed to providing cultural enrichment and a better quality of life for New Yorkers, and critical educational opportunities for the youth of the state.

I would be happy to answer any questions anyone may have about Fenimore Art Museum and its range of activities. Please feel free to contact me directly at or call me at 607-547-1413 if would like to discuss this matter further. Thank you for your attention and interest.


Paul S. D’Ambrosio
President & CEO
Fenimore Art Museum & The Farmers’ Museum

His response reflects the dual nature of the Cooperstown organization. On the one hand, there is a museum, actually two museums. I have been to both museums as part of Teacherhostels/Historyhostels and attending conferences. Those conferences have been both a local one for social studies teachers (which I believe have been discontinued or at least I stopped getting notices about them) and state ones such as for the New York State History Conference which NYSHA helped run.  The museum part of the operation of the organization is not defunct. It continues to function as a museum and my post was not directed towards this aspect of its identity.

The second part refers to its statewide identity and function. In previous posts I have written about the need for the history community to organiza and advocate. I confess when I wrote these various posts, the name that came to me as the perfect vehicle to express what I wanted was the New York State Historical Association. Here is where I have a problem with NYSHA. It is partially addressed in the letter from Ken Jackson that initiated this sequence and not really addressed in the respose by Paul D’Ambrosio. The true issue is not the functioning of the museum but the absence of any leadership position as a statewide advocacy group for history.

At the end of my post, I suggested the following actions be taken:

Let’s pick three days to advocate on behalf of state and local history during the 2018 legislative session:

1. a day when the legislature is not in session and advocacy can be done locally (such as a Friday)
2. a day when the legislature is in session (such as a Tuesday or Wednesday)
3. a day when the Regents is in session (monthly meetings).

We need to become a squeaky wheel.

Notice what Paul D’Ambrosio’s response in his post was to my suggestions  – there is none whatsoever. In my email to him, I even asked what he thought of my suggestions. In other words, I gave him the opportunity to revise his own response to include an endorsement or recommendations of his own on behalf of state advocacy for history. His email response to me is private but clearly his published response does not address the deeper concerns I raised. One should note that he once was a member of the Regents  Advisory Council on Museums reported on in post dated November 9, 2017 so he has been involved at the state level. What lessons can he share from that experience as part of an advisory council that nobody outside a small circle even knows exists?

Over the past few years, I have participated in advocacy days for tourism and state parks. Both of these days are organized by private organizations with full-time staff  who have the mission of having a statewide perspective. They are not trapped in the day-to-day necessities of running a museum, park, or hotel. Their job is to monitor the events in the state capital as they relate to their respective sectors and to be on top of developments. Obviously teachers and libraries also pack a wallop along with numerous other sectors like preservation.

History and museums have no such state voice. Yes, MANY exists and with a lobbyist but it is a small staff and I am not sure it has the resources to create a Musem Advocacy Day (MAD) in New York. MANY is not a purely history organization either since its mandate includes art museums, science museums, zoos, and acquariums. And the 600-pound history gorillas in New York City tend to do their own thing without consideration for a state leadership role. There are more fulltime people at the New-York Historical Society building than in just about any individual county in the state. It operates in a separate world from the history museums and societies in the towns and villages throughout the state …. or even their equivalent organizations in the neighborhoods of the city.

NYSHA should be the history organization that galvanizes the history community. It isn’t and it is not going to be. So what do we do instead? Perhaps being squeaky as I suggested in the earlier post isn’t enough. We need to get MAD!

Peter Finch in Network

And just as was about to post this blog to the IHARE website, look what I received.

November 29, 2017

Dear Friends, Members, and Supporters,

I’m pleased to share the news that I have been invited to testify on Tuesday, December 5, 2017 at the New York State Assembly’s Standing Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts, and Sports Development’s Annual Budget Oversight Hearing of the 2017-2018 State Budget. The purpose of this hearing will be to review the impact and effectiveness of the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) grants awarded throughout the State and arts projects funded by NYSCA.

I would like to include information from as many members of New York State’s museum field as possible in my remarks. This is a link to a survey that will take less than 5 minutes of your time to complete. Please click the link above and submit your answers before Friday, December 1 at 5 PM when the survey will close.

The information gathered will be shared with the Committee next Tuesday and with you later next week. Please feel free to forward this email to colleagues.

Unless you choose otherwise, I will aggregate and reported responses anonymously.

Thank you for sharing your information and helping me to prepare my testimony.

Erika Sanger
Executive Director
Museum Association of New York