CHICAGO — The Illinois State Museum was founded 138 years ago, in 1877. It displays everything from important collections of Native American artifacts to works by contemporary Illinois artists. And in the near future, the Illinois State Museum may be closed for good thanks to proposed budget cuts by recently elected Governor Bruce Rauner.
The ultra-wealthy Rauner was elected in 2014 and immediately set to work tackling Illinois’s massive budget problems by targeting public sector employees and blaming them for the state’s crippling pension obligations. He has refused to consider raising additional revenue, concentrating instead on huge cuts to social programs that benefit the most needy members of the community, and this has led to a stalemate with the state legislature, which is overwhelmingly Democratic. Rauner’s budget axe would also lop $180,000 from arts education, $137,500 from humanities funding, cut funding for higher education by more than 30 percent, and lead to the closure of all five buildings in the Illinois State Museum system.
The main ISM building is housed in the State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois, and includes a research center. There are four other public museum branches around the state, including one in Chicago, one in a historic 1850 factory building in Lockport, and one in Dickson Mounds, near one of the most important Native American sites in the Midwest. The Department of Natural Resources, which supervises the museums, has estimated a required budget of $6.29 million for the coming year, and Rauner wants to cut that by $4.8 million. If that amount of money is gouged out of the museums’ budget, the state museums could be shuttered by mid-August. In preparation for that possibility, works by Illinois artists and artisans that were on loan or consignment to the museum outlets are in the process of being returned. There is also the prospect of works of art in the permanent collection being returned to or reclaimed by their donors.
Ra Joy, executive director of Arts Alliance Illinois, another organization that could be affected by the budget battles, told Hyperallergic: “Cuts to the arts make no sense whatsoever. At a time when Illinois desperately needs economic growth, the cuts are crippling the creative sector, a crucial economic driver for our state. Each year, the nonprofit arts sector alone supports more than 78,000 full-time-equivalent jobs in Illinois, generates $2.3 billion in household income for Illinois residents, and delivers $324 million in state and local government revenue.”
Indeed, it is estimated that the Illinois State Museum in Springfield attracted nearly 200,000 visitors in 2014 and generated millions of dollars in revenue for the local economy. News media across Illinois, from the Springfield-based Star-Ledger to the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune, lament the short-sightedness of a plan that would not only damage the cultural heritage of Illinois but cause further economic pain, all for cost savings that amount to a fraction of the state’s spending.
Hyperallergic contacted the governor’s office to ask the following question: Would the governor consider using a small part of his personal fortune to fund the ISM system for the coming fiscal year? At the time of writing this article, we have received nothing but an automatically generated response thanking us for our request.