Statement from the Western Reserve Historical SocietyPress release received:
Subject: A Statement from the Western Reserve Historical Society
The Crawford Auto Aviation collection is an integral component of the Western Reserve Historical Society and is here to stay. We would like to set the record straight and tell the real story:
The Western Reserve Historical Society has a significant debt burden – due to the ill-fated project known as the Crawford Museum of Transportation and Industry (CMTI), a proposed new high-cost museum intended to house significant parts of the Crawford collection. The CMTI project ended for a variety of reasons in 2004.
Many community and WRHS leaders, including Crawford supporters, were advocates for CMTI. Sadly, when all finally agreed CMTI could not go forward, some $18 million had been spent on its development – creating a significant debt burden for the Historical Society and damaging donor relationships.
In 2007, the Board brought in a new President and Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Gainor B. Davis. She immediately made elimination of the debt a priority. Dr. Davis and the Board of WRHS drew up a plan to eliminate the debt burden and create a stable and sustainable future for the Historical Society. The total debt is approximately $5.4 million with $2.8 million of that due in 2010. The Board set a January 2010 deadline to pay off that portion of the debt.
At the same time, WRHS instituted aggressive budget cuts including staff reductions, pay cuts, increased deductibles for health care benefits, and suspension of the retirement plan match. Variable costs were cut to the bone. Revenue projections were conservative. All told, in the past 18 months we have cut $2 million, 35% of our operating budget. We feel we are positioned to move into a stable future as soon as the debt is paid off. Leading this effort with Dr. Davis is a new CFO who is improving the business methods and making sure we are good stewards of donor funds.
So how to pay off debt? You can’t fundraise for debt. Donors support projects and even general operating – not debt reduction. As with any organization that is fighting for financial stability, or any individual or family for that matter, the Historical Society had to turn to its assets – its collections – to work itself out from under the debt burden.
We have carefully selected those items to be sold from our collections, limiting them to duplicates or those that are not mission-related (more on that later). Selected items are not integral to the collections or the Historical Society’s work and programs. Our collections will maintain their integrity – including the Crawford which will still hold about 150 vehicles.
This is not a route any historical or museum professional wants to take. We know, as well as anyone, that selling collections in order to pay debt is not acceptable under current museum standards (however, given the current national fiscal situation and its impact on museums, some are calling for a review and revision of those standards).
Let us ask you this: what’s the alternative? Would you rather we close our doors entirely?
The belief that the Crawford Auto Aviation Museum is an entity separate from WRHS is baseless. The nucleus of the collection was an unrestricted gift from Thompson Ramo Wooldridge (later to become TRW Inc.) to the Western Reserve Historical Society in 1963. It is a unique and important collection, and a valued part of our educational programming. The Historical Society’s internal operating divisions, the Crawford, the Archives-Library, the History Museum and Hale Farm and Village are simply that – departments within a single entity. The collections in each support and rely on one another. None are financially self-sustaining, and no department or set of collections is more important to our mission than another. Collection assets from all WRHS departments have also been sold over the years in order to reduce the debt. The Crawford is not and has not been singled out.
We recognize that among our assets is our volunteer corps which numbers some 600 people with about 10%, or 60 volunteers, working directly with the Crawford collection. Volunteers are and will remain major and appreciated contributors to the Society’s workforce.
Organizations grow, change and evolve – they must in order to survive. To believe we can and should operate today, with the identical mission as we had in 1867 when founded, or even in 1963, is not realistic. These tough economic times has forced all nonprofits, including WRHS, to narrow and focus their mission. Overly broad missions, trying to be all things to all people, are the death of organizations – especially nonprofits. We should be recognized for tightening and refining our mission – not criticized.
We know what we are and need to be in order to be a true asset to this community – and that means being the purveyor and storyteller of the history of the Western Reserve. That means using our vast collections: our archives, our photographs, our decorative arts, our buildings, our costumes, and our cars and airplanes to tell the WHOLE story – as no other institution in this region is able to do. That means using our cars to teach math and science to thousands of students. And using our Hale Farm & Village to teach about sustainability. And using the history of our steel industry to teach about entrepreneurship and motivate our next generation. And using our library to help people discover their heritage – where they came from – so they can build their own future.
This is the Western Reserve Historical Society, where we take history personally.