August 13, 2014
The Isle of Wight Historical Society has initiated a campaign to close a $26,000 funding gap for the Isle of Wight County Museum after the Town of Smithfield and county government agreed to fund portions of the imperiled institution.
Isle of Wight County has funded the museum since 1978. During a tough budget season this spring, it stripped the Historic Resources Division, which oversees the museum, from its books.
Many feared the museum would close without the division to manage it and with no funding from the county.
However, the county and the Town of Smithfield signed a deal recently that will see the county cover the costs for the building — maintenance, utilities, insurance — and the town pay about $100,000 for staffing costs.
Judy Winslow, who has overseen the museum for years as the Isle of Wight and Smithfield director of tourism, said that still leaves the museum needing about $26,000 by June 30.
“(That $26,000) is light bulbs, it’s paying for the copier, it’s all the operational stuff that’s not staffing,” Winslow said, including maintaining and preserving exhibits. She noted that this won’t be a one-time need — funds will need to be raised every year to cover operations costs.
The museum in downtown Smithfield is one of the county’s most visited attractions, Winslow said, drawing more than 14,000 people last year.
“That museum is an incredible gem. It houses all of the history of Isle of Wight County and we’d love for people to step up to the plate and help keep the doors open,” Winslow said.
The Isle of Wight Historical Society is spearheading the campaign to close the gap and offered a $5,000 challenge grant to kick things off, which Winslow said was matched by the Isle of Wight County Museum Foundation.
Historical Society Director Lee Duncan said he can understand why the county felt it had to defund the Historic Resources Division.
“You don’t eat a museum or sleep in a museum, so when times get tight, certain cuts have to get made,” Duncan said. “But a museum is never a bad guy. When something like a museum that appeals to many people is suddenly threatened, I think it’s a good opportunity to get different groups together for one cause.”
The campaign, which launched earlier this month at saveiowmuseum.com, had raised $16,000 from organizations, merchants and individuals at last count, Duncan said.