State budget cuts to higher education have unexpected casualties in Fredericksburg: local museum budgets.
Gari Melchers Home and Studio at Belmont is seeking donations to avert a shutdown early next year.
The museum, owned by the University of Mary Washington, was subject to state budget cuts along with the rest of the university’s departments. A decrease of $12,000 is roughly two months of hourly pay for the museum’s docents and visitors center workers.
Earlier in December, the museum put out a call for donations. Director David Berreth wrote, “As you may be aware, the University of Mary Washington, of which Belmont is a part, had its annual state budget drastically reduced. Our own operating budget was reduced enough to force us to consider closing to the public for up to two months. To forestall this and other cuts, I am making a year-end appeal. Please consider making a tax-deductible gift or pledge to Belmont. Friends of Belmont will receive my request via mail, but gifts can be made online or on site.”
Since that message went out, Berreth said about half of the funds that were cut have been made up by private donations.
Due to those donations, the museum will remain open through January and February but with fewer hourly staff members.
Berreth said that while the upcoming year has been squared away, he is concerned about the lingering effects of the budget cuts.
The museum will need to make the same amount in additional donations to remain fully operational in the next year.
“The appeal has been successful, but next year, that’s another story,” he said.
He said the museum’s budget has been cut incrementally by the state over the past 10 years, meaning fewer full-time staff members than there were a decade ago.
Last year, the museum closed over the two weeks between Christmas week and New Year’s, but he said the amount of revenue lost between store sales and admission mirrored the staff cost saved. So this year, the museum will remain open during the holidays.
“We will continue to hold the line,” Berreth said. “Unlike the university, we don’t have the option of raising tuition or fees. Raising admission rates or rental fees would drive patrons away.”
He said those interested in supporting Belmont should consider joining the Friends of Belmont membership program or holding an event on the grounds.
Another Fredericksburg-area museum, the James Monroe Museum, is also owned by the University of Mary Washington and is also facing budget reductions.
But director Scott Harris said increased visitation and sales in the museum’s store are making up part of that loss.
The store has made 53 percent more than it brought in by the same time last year. Visitation is up 12 percent.
“We experienced the same percentage of cuts, but our budget is smaller than Belmont’s so we were able to absorb the loss without a huge amount of trouble,” Harris said.
Still, the James Monroe Museum will increase the price of admission $1 in the new year to bring in additional revenue.
Both museums have four funding sources: state allocations, sales, membership programs and UMW’s budget.