Monday, March 15, 2010



HELENA (AP): Gov. Brian Schweitzer is challenging Helena city leaders to develop a proposal to keep the Montana Historical Society museum in the Capital City.

Democratic Sen. Steve Gallus, of Butte, has proposed using $40 million from the state’s pool of natural resources damage funds to build the museum in Butte.

Schweitzer said Helena will need to have a plan before the Legislature convenes next year if it wants to keep the museum.

“We can’t allow the Legislature to come to town another time without a plan,”
Schweitzer said Thursday morning [3/11/10] at a Hometown Helena meeting. “We don’t have a proposal from Helena and $40 million from Butte will always beat nothing.

“The tie will go to Helena,” he said. “But Helena needs some kind of proposal.”

The current museum has long been considered overcrowded. A plan to buy and raze a Helena mall and build a new museum there stalled for lack of money. The state is now focusing on a piece of property near the current museum but still does not have enough funding.

Schweitzer also raised the probability of requesting a donation from Huguette Clark, the daughter of William A. Clark, the Montana copper king and former U.S. senator who helped Helena win the state capital over Anaconda.

“She’s 103 years old, worth billions and she’s still alive,” Schweitzer said. “I’ve been trying to get ahold of her.

Later Thursday, Schweitzer said he contacted Clark’s attorney and planned to send a letter to Clark through him.


What happened to the last billionaire, Governor? The one who wanted to pay for the museum but only if he could have design control and maybe name it for himself? I see he’s selling his ranch. Is it the economy or is it this winter’s storms or is it something darker? Big shot financing of governmental entitites is waaaaay out of date, 19th century stuff. For one thing, big shots are rarely individuals anymore, especially when they are 103 and have long since probably been corporatized.

It tickles me to think of the Montana Historical Society in Butte, which will always be a very popular idea right before St. Patrick’s Day. Because to many people, Montana will always be an allusion to Europe -- not an illusion, though that, too -- but I mean alluding to Europe as a source of prestige and prescribed way of life. You know, tribal folks are not that fond of Butte. Why would they be, except that everyone’s up for a party.

When Richard Sims “took the helm” of the Montana Historical Society, he said he saw the organization as the “Mother Ship”, the “mother of all historical societies,” who would show the little guys how to do it. He didn’t define how to do WHAT. There were two problems with this attitude. The first is that every historical society assumes that they are their own “ship” (that’s the point of them) and the second is that no one in this whole conversation is trying to rethink what an historical society is and does. The “lot of little things” approach is always better, in my view, than the “one big thing” that America loves so well, having imported it from the British Empire -- since dispersed into a lot of little entities.

The Montana Historical Society is far more than the museum, as it is referred to here. The first “cut” that divides up what-the-society-is separates the objects from the information. Most people value the objects: you can display them, you have pride of ownership, a group of curators is employed to sort and maintain them. The school kids will begin arriving on buses soon to see their heritage which is always more effective than reading about it.

But the 80% of the “iceberg” that is below the waterline is the information which in this day and age can be anywhere as soon as it is digitized and put online. If you’ve ever been in the archival vaults of the museum, you know that there are boxes and boxes of old letters, invoices, speech texts, and myriad of other documentations of government, individuals, and organizations. These are the ore of history. The great danger of digitizing is that under the pressure of recording the material, some will be discarded as worthless, though every historian knows there’s no such thing as worthless and one generation’s crud is the next generation’s sapphires. But the paper has no intrinsic worth. Putting everything online makes it a great temptation to create a giant bonfire afterwards instead of continuing to store it. Even if everyone is scanned, it is all based on systems that are frail (internet transmission lines) and soon outdated (scanner software). If you’ve ever had to suffer through an “information migration,” you know that updating cybercontent means losing some of it. But this enterprise means jobs -- assuming that they are funded -- and could be anywhere. Butte is as good a place as any. The location of this function is not visited except for the reading room. Even the books in the library can be scanned. Some of them are probably online right now. The old mall would be an ideal place to spread out, sort and scan the archives of the Historical Society.

It’s the “museum,” the holdings of valuable objects, that is the bone of contention. There is a stubborn belief in the US that tourists mean money, that prestige means money, that big imposing buildings mean money. Something to point to and admire. Something with a big door to welcome more new objects and lots of paying tourists, and a nice loading dock for putting the unwanted objects quietly into trucks headed for landfills or commercial galleries and auctions across the country. No reporter, no editor, wants to get into this issue. De-accessioning is never mentioned except in the largest news venues or the specialized art forums. What is needed for this part of the historical society is security, transparency, and -- yes, a nice big building. So I propose that Great Falls make a bid for this part and put it in the C.M. Russell museum building, at least the display part of it. The storage aspect needs to be in a fort. Like the Scriver collection in its steel warehouse by the airport in Helena. At least I hope it’s still there.

1 comment:

Lance Michael Foster said...

My comments to the IR;

"Sure wish people would be a little realistic. There's no money right now to do much of anything. That ship has sailed already.

The university system is undergoing cutbacks and people want to build a new museum. Makes absolutely no sense.

Back when the economy was good, there was a window to do it. The window is shut. I guess they could have built something at the mall. They could have asked all the multimillion dollar chains along the mall site, like McDonald's, Wendy's, Taco Bell, Safeway, etc., who would have benefited by that location and increased visitor traffic. But the economy has tanked.

The realistic thing is to look at the problem and do what you can for now with the resources we have.
Group Montana's individual museums together, the way the universities, colleges, and vo-tech's were grouped, the way the Smithsonian is grouped, and allocate the collections and money amongst all the communities. Have a truly Montana Museum System with speciality museums in various communities.

Put the mining history collection in Butte's World Museum of mining and upgrade the physical plant and interpretation. Put the natural history collection with Bozeman's Museum, put the art collection (Poindexter) at Missoula, put the Native American collections at the Museum of the Plains Indian, put the cowboy collection in Billings, etc. That should resolve the "we have too much to display here" problem. And hookup with the existing "living history" operations too, like the ranch near east Helena.

Then Helena can keep the displays that still are crowd-pleasers (the main one in there right now that is an overview of Montana history), and bring back the displays that the oldtimers and visitors always wish we still had: Territory Junction (the old town in the basement), and the dioramas done by artists showing lifestyles of the past (the only one left is the buffalo jump).

Partnering and wise allocation of existing resources is the way to go right now in this economic climate. Not another boondoggle that digs our graves even deeper. If things get better, THEN we can re-visit it. But use the money to fix the water and environmental problems it was MEANT to fix."

There is no money. Montana is lagging in its economics behind the rest of the nation, as it always does, but- there is no money. The Mall idea tanked because they couldn't raise the money. Now as of today the Helena boosters have a reprieve from moving it to Butte ( all dependent on their raising 30 million in private funds.

What?? The Capital Hill Mall idea tanked because they couldn't raise the millions in private money, and now they can stay where they are IF they raise the millions in private money. Not just a couple of miion, but 30 million. In THIS economic climate. You see the disconnect? Yeah, keep banging that head against a brick wall.

I had applied for Simms' job when it was open, but didn't even get an interview, even though I had served as a manager in a cultural organization serving 400,000 people and with an annual budget of 2.5 million.

The system is broken. All the buffalo have been shot by hidehunters and their bones ground up for fertilizer. The only hope is to radically reconfigure the museum system in Montana, the way the Montana University system was reconfigured.