Notes from IHA
As the IHA newsletter goes to press, it appears that the Illinois State Museum system will be shut down as proposed by Governor Bruce Rauner. This involves six sites. It means closing the main museum facility in Springfield; the research center, also in Springfield; Dickson Mounds Museum in Lewistown; and three galleries (one in southern Illinois, one in Lockport, and one in Chicago). All of these have records of serving their communities, and the museum system is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, a mark of high distinction. The state museum is a place where people, from young children to lifelong learners, can learn about our culture. At the research center important work helps to provide answers to life challenges scientists are working to understand. The center is also a repository for important aspects of our history and culture, including Native American and archaeological material. Dickson Mounds Museum is a nationally and even internationally acclaimed archaeological site that helps people understand the importance of history and prehistory in our state.
The news of the possible shutdown of the state museum system has primarily focused on the main museum, the research center, and Dickson Mounds. Less attention has been paid to the three galleries. However, their closure will be a loss for our state. The galleries have served as significant creative outlets for Illinois artists, not only well-established ones, but emerging artisans from throughout the state. Some of these individuals have come from small, rural communities, continuing a long tradition of artistic innovation in Illinois.
If these resources are destroyed, years from now people will ask what caused it to happen. One answer will be that there were those who targeted the museum system for closure as a fiscally sound remedy to offset the state’s serious budgetary problems, even though the estimated savings from the system’s closing are $4.8 million out of a projected $4.3 billion deficit. Another answer might be that some people rejected the stewardship of our cultural artifacts in the belief that the museum system’s meaningful work was not as important as other pressing social needs. Yet another explanation of the closing could focus on the people who strongly opposed it but did not make their voices heard.
We lament the loss of cultural resources in other countries through the actions of the Taliban and ISIL militants who destroy ancient monuments and shrines. In our country we don’t smash statues, but perhaps our “civilized” methods of destruction are equally effective in denying future generations opportunities to learn about our diverse cultural heritage. The state museum system is already in place. Closing the sites removes embodied energy in the structures and negates a long-standing investment of time, money, and expertise that provides essential services to our state. But our children and grandchildren will not know what they are missing. It’s hard to feel connected to your heritage when its evidence is gone.