State grant money helps historical groups make ends meet
The Pennsylvania Trolley Museum enjoyed record high attendance the past two years, with more than 30,000 visitors making their way through the doors for a glimpse into another era.
Yet such steady ticket sales cover just a third of the museum's operating budget.
“The tickets we sell for visitors to come don't cover all the expenses,” Executive Director Scott Becker said.
That's where donations come in, along with state funding when it is available.
The Trolley Museum in Chartiers, Washington County, was one of 130 organizations statewide, and among dozens in Western Pennsylvania, to receive a grant recently from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission as part of a one-time $2 million support program.
In a post-recession era, museums have experienced dropoffs in private donations and public grants, experts say. Becker said although his organization cuts costs with a volunteer staff equivalent to 15 paid full-time employees, the museum's grant of $8,890 will help offset its day-to-day bills.
“We have expenses many museums don't have,” said Becker, noting the fully operational trolley line that visitors ride. “That helps to cover our overhead.”
Other allocations went to attractions such as Fallingwater in Fayette County, the Carnegie Institute, the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh and the Frick Art and Historical Center. Each received $65,000 grants. Historical societies in Butler, Westmoreland and Greene counties received $4,000 each.
Commission spokesman Howard Pollman said organizations can use the grant money for nearly any purpose. Often, that includes salaries, wages, benefits, insurance or equipment purchases.
“It's a lot easier to fundraise for an exhibit or program or something special,” he said. “To fundraise to help defray some of the day-to-day costs is more difficult.”
With the state nearing a projected deficit of $1.2 billion in next year's budget, Pollman said, there's no certainty of the grant's continuance. About 10 years ago, when the state's economy was in better shape, Pollman recalled about $15 million worth of grant allocations.
“We're really happy to have this money this year,” he said. “Moving forward, we don't know. There's a lot of things at play in this year's budget.”
Augie Carlino, president and chief executive officer at Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, said that organization's grant of about $19,000 is a positive step after state support was “zeroed out” in years past.
Rivers of Steel works in the eight-county region to develop industrial sites in ways that commemorate and honor the area's industrial history. Leaders maintain and host tours of the Carrie Blast Furnaces in Rankin.
“We use it for outreach in the community,” he said of the money. “It goes towards helping pay staff, some interns and others that will be doing technical assistance projects.”
At the Beaver County Historical Research and Landmark Foundation, a $4,000 grant fills gaps in the $32,000 operating budget, said Executive Director Brenda Applegate.
The money helps cover day-to-day operating expenses such as phone and Internet bills, and will help offset the purchase of boxes for quilt storage for an ongoing project.
In addition to running thematic youth and adult programs, much of the foundation's work includes fielding questions and tracking down answers on landmarks, artifacts, preservation or area history. Applegate works closely with other organizations, especially as they've had to cut resources, she said.
“With our coalition of historical groups, we're trying to work closely together,” she said.
Becker, at the trolley museum, said Western Pennsylvania has 85 notable museum and historical sites, a mainstay of the state's tourism industry. Museum guests sometimes come from out of town — and the museum gives them a unique experience, he said.
“When you go to visit an area, lots of things are similar,” Becker said. “A lot of the restaurants are national chains. A lot of the hotels are national chains. It's places like museums that tend to make that area unique.”
Melissa Daniels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8511 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.