Editor’s Note: In honor and memory of Sharon Litwin, The Queen here at NolaVie, we will be publishing a piece from her every day for the next month. Sharon was an advocate and spokeswoman for arts, culture, people, and policies here in New Orleans. Her voice and sharp wit will be greatly missed.
These are hard times for many, if not all, non-profit institutions in Louisiana. Community-funded cultural organizations are particularly wary. Those owned by the State are no less anxious.
Those of us in New Orleans have looked to the Cabildo and the Presbytere, two of five State Museum holdings in the city, as places that not only provide peeks into our soon-to-be 300-year old history, but that also are tourist attractions for our millions of annual visitors.
For Mark A. Tullos, Director of the Louisiana State Museum system, keeping a sprawling statewide system alive is a daily struggle. But it’s not one he is giving up on. In fact, as the New Orleans Tricentennial looms in just a couple of years, he is planning on adding a couple of major artistic statements.
But first he has to figure out the hard dollars and cents issues–no small challenge in light of this year’s 30 percent cut in annual funding; the latest and most severe of the last five consecutive years of budget cuts.
“You know we’re hanging on by a thread. But fortunately I have a really good team of partners in the other assistant secretaries,” Mark says of his Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism colleagues who are in charge of the state parks, libraries and tourism and equally financially challenged.
Together they attempt to work issues out in a common way, no matter how piecemeal that is. “But we have to fix this,” he says of the general financial uncertainties. “Really the only way to do this is to let the legislature know what our priorities are in this state.
Mark has no difficulty in deciding what his museums’ priorities are: maintaining and growing collections, reopening several closed properties, and working towards a sustainable financial future. Already he has completed one major project–a total cleaning and restoration of the 1850s House located in the center of the Lower Pontalba complex in Jackson Square.
“This is something that hadn’t been done in 35 years,” Mark explained. “I tell everyone, if you haven’t been to the 1850s House, or even if you have, you’re going to be pleasantly surprised at what you see. It is furnished with a lot of our decorative arts collection and visual arts collection. So you really get a feel of what life was like in New Orleans in the mid 19th century.”
Now Mark and his staff are totally focused on the upcoming Tricentennial and the re-opening of the Jazz Museum inside The Mint. That was a project that was to be completed after Hurricane Katrina but had to be put on hold for lack of funding.
But that, like all future projects, is possible only with a sustainable financial model. So what his Mark’s plan?
“What I’d really love is for us to build a plan of public-private partnerships,” he says. “I’d love to be able to say in 10 years from now that the Louisiana State Museum is state assisted and not state supported, and that we’ve got enough private support to help operate and build exhibitions, and we’re not relying on the up and down budget situation. That is not a way to conduct business. That’s my goal.”