Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Republican candidates and the Arts.

You know THIS will be a short post, yeah?

Here's what you need to know about McCain's policies re: art and culture:

Desperately Seeking John McCain's Arts Policy

and, a little tale from a small museum in a small town, circa 1997:

Anchorage Daily News (Alaska)

August 6, 1997, Wednesday, FINAL EDITION


BYLINE: S.J. Komarnitsky; Daily News Mat-Su Bureau


LENGTH: 975 words


Opal Toomey, Esther West and Ann Meyers don't seem like politically active types. There are no bumper stickers on their cars, no pins on their lapels.

But the three gray-haired matrons of Wasilla's city museum decided to take a stand last week. Faced with a $ 32,000 budget cut and the prospect of choosing who would lose her job, the three 15-year-plus employees decided instead to quit en masse. They sent a letter to the mayor and City Council announcing they plan to retire at the end of the month, leaving the museum without a staff. They also sent a message: They'd rather quit than continue working for a city that doesn't want to preserve its history.

"We hate to leave," said Meyers, who at 65 is the youngest of the three. "We've been together a long time. But this is enough." If the city were broke, it would be different, she said. "If they were even close to being broke."

Instead, the city is flush thanks to a 2 percent sales tax passed in 1994 that has left it with $ 4 million in reserves. There is no reason the museum's budget should be cut, Meyers said.

But the mayor and several City Council members who supported the cut say the budget surplus is beside the point.

They were elected on a platform to minimize government and concentrate on infrastructure -- paving roads and extending sewer lines. They appreciate the museum and the work the women do to manage it and several buildings that make up a historic townsite in downtown Wasilla. But the operation needs to be more efficient, they say.

"I think everybody was in agreement there were ways to make the museum more efficient, to spend taxpayers' dollars wiser over there," Mayor Sarah Palin said.

The museum, which had an annual budget of more than $ 200,000, was costing roughly $ 25 per visitor, she said. Besides, she added, "if you talk to someone in Wasilla (about) where they want their tax dollars to go, nine out of 10 say, 'Fix my road. I still don't have water in my area. And protect our lakes with a sewer system.' "

That philosophy, supported by Palin and many City Council members, has been debated in the town since the mayor took office last fall. Some say the museum is just the latest example of cutting government at the expense of the community.

The women are only the latest to leave the city payroll, noted John Cooper, who was the museum's director until Palin fired him last fall.

In addition to Cooper, Wasilla Police Chief Irl Stambaugh left last winter after Palin fired him, and planning director Duane Dvorak and Public Works director John Felton turned in their resignations this summer.

"People are voting with their feet," he said.

Palin maintains she is doing what voters asked. To have $ 4 million in reserves is prudent. That's not even an entire year's budget, she said.

Much of the latest flap over the museum is a misunderstanding, she said.

All the council wanted was to cut back the museum's hours in winter from seven days a week to five. The women made the decision to resign, Palin said.

West, Toomey and Meyers disagree. They say they were told that one of them would have to leave in September.

Regardless of what was intended, museum supporters say, losing the women will be a blow to the city.

The three have run the two-story building just off the Parks Highway since the early 1980s. And while it is no National Gallery of Art, its collection of mining materials, homestead memorabilia and early Wasilla history has its charm, said Fran Seager-Boss, Mat-Su Borough anthropologist.

"It's people and characters of the area you wouldn't find anywhere else," she said. "It reflects their location and is unique."

Several of the items in the museum were donated or are on loan, including an ore stamp mill built in 1900. Used to crush ore, the hefty-looking piece of steel machinery was carried from Knik to a mine north of Wasilla by four Chinese laborers, according to the man who donated it.

Nearby is an ancestor of the modern game of foosball, with handcrafted soccer players in place of molded plastic figures. Miners paid a dime a game to pass long hours at the mines. The outside edges still bear burn marks where the players placed cigarettes.

The three women bring their life experiences to the collection. During a recent tour, Toomey, 77, added snippets of her years growing up and homesteading in the Wasilla area. She remembers riding the train from Anchorage to Wasilla and waiting at the freight station where the family received its furniture, lumber and other goods.

"That was how everything came in those days," she said.

West, 74, recalls wearing metal hair clips similar to ones under a glass display at the museum. The metal curling irons next to them, which were heated on stoves, were before her time though, she explains.

The three also bring their institutional memory. The museum used to be a community hall that was built in 1932, they said. Dances were held there, and the City Council used to meet in the basement. It was dedicated as a museum in 1967.

Seager-Boss said she frequently calls the three for information that could take much longer to gather from traditional sources. "Opal is my source," she said.

The museum and a farmer's market held each Wednesday in the old townsite, she noted, have given a heart to a town that is mostly business.

"Everything else is strip mall," she said. "But suddenly there's a nice little area right in downtown."

Palin said she doesn't downplay the museum's importance but at the same time she has to look out for the city's budget.

For now, there are no plans to try to woo the women back. For their part, none of the three expects it. Palin said she plans to meet with members of a local historical society to discuss options for finding replacements.

LOAD-DATE: August 7, 1997



Copyright 1997 Anchorage Daily News

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