Talent museum's long-term funding future is uncertain

TALENT — Reserves to operate its museum for at least another year at current levels are on hand, the Talent Historical Society president said. But operations beyond that time will either require grant support or rely on volunteers.

"We are probably in better shape than most (local historical societies)," said President Bob Casebeer.

A half-time director position will be retained for another year, he said. Expenses to maintain the museum building and fund the position will probably make a substantial cut in the current $19,000 reserve.

"While we have been successful in grants, and we just opened the new museum last May, we are trying to create exhibits, which are not cheap," said Casebeer.

Plans to create a Rogue Valley Heritage District to levy taxes that would help fund historical societies throughout the county suffered a setback when supporters failed to gain enough signatures to put it on the November ballot. They will continue to gather signatures until Sept. 19 this year to put the measure on the 2010 May primary ballot.

"Eventually we will have to go to just volunteers," said Jan Wright, director since 2003. "It's not going to be a surprise. We have to have enough in reserve to pay the rent."

Attendance at the museum has tripled since it moved into the former Talent Library a year ago, said Wright. Membership has increased 30 percent to more than 100 people.

"Now that we have room we can get more people in and start involving the schools," said Wright.

A grant application has been submitted to fund Wright's position for another year, Casebeer stated. Another grant request seeks operating funds, but most grants are targeted to mount exhibitions and other services for visitors. A successful grant allowed the museum to launch a Web site last year

The city charges the historical society $100 per month to rent the building. Utility and other building costs run around $500 per month, said Casebeer.

"The city has been extremely helpful," the president said. Funds in the next city budget are earmarked to cure heating and ventilation problems and provide for ceiling fans. A couple of City Council members had mentioned giving financial assistance in the coming fiscal year, but that is unlikely as the city struggles with budget constraints, he said.

Wal-Mart has lent computer assistance. A grant from the Jackson County Cultural Coalition will fund construction of the model of a hexagonal house that's on the National Register of Historic Places. A designer at Micro-Trains in town has volunteered to create panoramas of the city centering on the railroad in 1909 and 2009.

An anonymous bequest of $15,000 to the society several years ago forms the bulk of the reserve. The board held off spending those funds in anticipation of the current situation.

Until July 2007 the society received about $19,000 per year from the county, Casebeer said. The money was part of a permanent levy approved in 1948 by voters. But Ballot Measures 47 and 50 passed a decade ago no longer require that the funds collected go to historical groups.

"With or without funding, we still have a mission," said Wright. "There were so many women, and men, too, who kept the history and kept it alive without funding. They did things because they were interested. The energy they put forth is not dependent on money."

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboom8929@charter.net.

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