There is a lot to see at the Illinois State Museum. But few are bothering to visit.
The 139-year-old museum was an earlycasualty of the nasty state budget impasse between Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan. Rauner shuttered it in October 2015 to save money.
That was a terrible decision. Nine months later, in July, the museum reopened after a legislative committee approved a $5 admission fee for adults at the main campus in Springfield, but attendance has fallen into the basement — and not because of the new fee. Bouncing back after closing has been tough.
Looking for one clear and tangible example of how the state budget crisis is hurting Illinois? Here you go.
Attendance at the Illinois State Museum since it reopened been dismal. Figures provided by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which operates the museum, to the Springfield State Journal-Register show attendance fella whopping 78 percent.
From the July 2 reopening through Tuesday, 13,434 people had visited, down from 61,266 visitors for the same months in 2014.
It’s easy to blame the attendance drop on the new $5 admission fee, though the museum remains free for kids, senior citizens, military members and veterans. But a satellite museum facility that also was closed, the Dickson Mounds Museum in Fulton County, charges no admission and also has suffered a big drop in attendance. And school group attendance dropped by two thirds.
The nine-month closure hit hard.
“My opinion is the admission fee by itself does not account for the change in numbers,” Mike Wiant, interim director of the museum, told the State Journal-Register. “There is also the uncertainty of not knowing if the museum is open.”
What school would want to plan a field trip to a museum that it can’t be sure will even stay open? Museum lovershave to wonder about expertise lost by layoffs, which has been well reported, and the departure of top-flight staff members. The Illinois State Museum went on probation with the American Alliance of Museums last year, another knock.
As it happens, people are missing out by not visiting the state museum. With four branches, it boasts a collection of 13.5 million objects. It has the largest collection of mastodon fossils in the world. Scientists around the world have relied on the museum’s resources. Illinois artists display their work there.
For more than a year now, this newspaper has reported in detail how the state’s budget impasse is harming real people and worthy institutions. Social service agencies are closing or cutting back. Universities are in crisis mode. Illinois residents are fleeing. And now we learn the state museum is getting walloped.
At what point does recovery become impossible?
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