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Heritage Trust program rolled out to support small-town museums

The new program will provide $5 million over three years to create endowment funds within local community foundations for museums and archives across Manitoba

Small museums and archive sites across Manitoba begin a new year on a high note with the creation of a new endowment fund to help them along financially.

Last month the provincial government rolled out its new Heritage Trust program which will provide $5 million over three years to create endowment funds within local community foundations for museums and archives.

“We have heard a strong call for greater investment from our heritage organizations across Manitoba,” said Sport, Culture and Heritage Minister Cathy Cox who announced the program alongside Municipal Relations Minister Jeff Wharton just before Christmas.

Cox said the Heritage Trust program will be a partnership that provides stable long-term funding for Manitoba’s smaller museums and archives.

The province is dotted with nearly 200 of these smaller entities and 75 per cent are located in rural areas.

Their need for funding is widely varied but many of those in the smallest towns and villages have been operating on shoestring budgets, with dwindling volunteers wondering how to find cash to keep operating.

This is wonderful news, said Monique Brandt, executive director of the Association of Manitoba Museums, adding as far as she knows this is a first-in-Canada approach to funding the museum community.

“It’s fabulous,” she said. “This is a way for them to get money that isn’t tied in anything except to what they need to do for the museum. It doesn’t come with strings.”

The endowment program will provide a maximum of one provincial dollar for every two private dollars raised by qualifying heritage organizations. That creates an incentive for communities to develop an endowment pool worth up to $15 million to support heritage projects across Manitoba.

That’s a different approach than the grant-based system they’ve tried to operate under, said Brandt. Grants often required matched funding and had specific criteria which didn’t match museums’ needs, she said.

“An endowment fund is producing money that can be used any way you want,” she said. “You could use it as matching funds for a grant. You can use it to repair a roof or for staffing. Those are things really important but are really hard to find outside money for.

“What we’re really pleased about is, this is a way for the smaller community museums to build community support and to build their own resources so that they can be sustainable in the long run,” she added.

Manitobans are already supporting museums with donations from individuals and corporations amounting to $7.6 million in 2013, matched by about $7.8 million from the province.

But the operating budgets of museums vary widely, and many struggle to find qualified workers to fill summer positions and lack software to digitally manage collections. Inadequate environmentally controlled storage systems is a huge concern as museum volunteers watch precious artifacts put away for winter in unheated conditions.

Brandt said she hopes municipalities will contribute to this program too.

Municipal government per capita contribution to museums in Manitoba is, at $2.08, lower than the $3.58 national average, according to figures cited by the association in a submission to the province’s cultural policy review earlier this year.

“Almost every municipality has museums or archives within their constituency,” said Brandt. “I think this might be a way they could step up and help as well.”

There are also 75 archive sites throughout the province and these will also benefit from the new program.

“The creation of a Heritage Trust program that includes Manitoba archival institutions is indeed positive news,” said Heather Bidzinski, chair of the Association for Manitoba Archives.

“We are excited about the possibilities presented by this contribution to the long-term sustainability of the archival community.”

Wharton said just as major attractions are important to the province, so are our smaller museums, archives and heritage organizations.

“We are working with heritage organizations and community foundations across the province to create stable, long-term funding to maintain these important community infrastructure assets,” he said.

The province will enter into a three-year agreement with The Winnipeg Foundation to work with Manitoba’s other 54 community foundations to administer the program.

“This new initiative is an exciting breakthrough because endowments provide sustainable funding that can be counted upon year after year,” said Rick Frost, chief executive officer, The Winnipeg Foundation.

“The Heritage Trust program provides a unique opportunity for those wishing to support the preservation of Manitoba’s rich history.”

The program is part of a larger package that will contribute $8.75 million to the Royal Aviation Museum and $10 million over five years to the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s Inuit Art Centre.

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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