New funding is available for local history museums and organizations in New York that are struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The William G. Pomeroy Foundation is teaming up with the Museum Association of New York to provide the funding. Pomeroy Foundation Executive Director Paula Miller says the $50,000 “Pomeroy Fund for New York State History” is designed to prevent local museums from falling through the cracks. She directs any interested 501(c)3 history organization with a budget of less than $100,000 to apply via the MANY website through April 27:
“We’re going to award grants ranging between $1,000 and $2,000 to help with things such as paying utility bills, securing facilities, purchasing computer equipment, or more Internet access," explains Miller. "Everyone’s doing virtual meetings now, right, and trying to showcase their digital collections and stay in touch with members through social media - things that maybe many of these smaller organizations have not necessarily had to do in the past.”
Miller expects grants to be delivered by mid-May.
MANY Executive Director Erika Sanger says applicants don’t have to belong to MANY to qualify. Although she is careful not to mention specific applicants, Sanger said places like Albany’s Historic Cherry Hill and the Chapman Historical Museum in Glens Falls could fit the bill. In fact, she says half of the state’s 1,400 museums operate under an annual budget of less than $100,000.
Their small size has ironically excluded them from the federal government’s numerous coronavirus aid packages. Congress approved a $484 billion bill shoring up funding for small businesses and hospitals Thursday, but Sanger says many of these sites don’t have the full-time staff needed to qualify for loans like the Paycheck Protection Program.
“The ratio of full-time to part-time staff at organizations with operating budgets under $100,000 is one-to-five," she says. "So for every organization that has one full-time staff [employee], there are five organizations that have part-time staff.”
Sanger adds most smaller organizations don’t receive regular federal funding in the first place, prompting agencies like the National Endowment for the Arts to vet them from emergency funding applications in advance.
Furthermore, in its latest report on the state of New York museums, MANY says only 2 percent of small museums received state funding in 2018, and none received money from regional economic development councils in the five years prior. Sanger says 38 percent of these sites closed in 2018 due to financial deficits — and she worries more will follow with the spring’s galas, school trips, and fundraisers canceled by COVID-19.
“Two-thirds of the revenue that museums are anticipating at any point in time is gone," says Sanger. "We know that more than half of the people who work in museums in New York state have been furloughed or laid off. I know of at least three museums whose boards said they will not be able to open again, and one of them is in the Capital Region. So this impact is hard, it’s deep, it’s catastrophic.”
As of Monday, Sanger says the Pomeroy Fund for New York History already had nearly 50 applications. She encourages those who want to help out to reach out to their local museums - many still have online gift shops, are taking donations, and can offer (safe) ways to volunteer during the pandemic.
“It could be as simple as, ‘Hey, can you drive by and make sure everything’s OK? Can you make sure there’s no broken windows, and that everything looks OK?’” says Sanger.
Based in Syracuse, the Pomeroy Foundation has funded over 1,000 roadside markers and plaques denoting historic sites across the country. The Museum Association of New York has over 670 members statewide.