David Chesebrough is the president and CEO of the Buffalo Museum of Science. Like many of the cultural institutions in the county, the museum is currently under a cloud as the Legislature considers a budget that could drastically cut funding. Chesebrough discussed the future of the 143-year-old museum.
Q: What are your thoughts on the current county budget crisis?
A: I am very concerned as a citizen and a cultural leader. This is not just about taxes. It is about our community's future. We are in serious danger of unraveling one of the last positive foundations upon which to build a better Buffalo region.
The rich cultural fabric of museums, theaters, zoo, art galleries and performing arts is a proven economic generator of direct and indirect revenue calculated to be over $150 million in impact. The culturals return more tax revenues to the community than the county invests in them. It doesn't make economic sense to gut our cultural base.
Culturals are used by employers to combat our image in persuading professionals to take up employment here. Can we afford to throw away the $30 million of investments in the cultural infrastructure (think zoo and others) that has been made in just the last four years?
I hope the county legislators can show leadership and consider our future beyond the next budget.
Q: What is the status of the museum's finances and what cost-cutting measures have you had to employ?
A: We anticipate finishing 2004 with a balanced budget while reenergizing our historic strength as an educational institution. This would never have been possible had we not made the tough choices and adjustments last year to assure a strong museum for the community.
However, should there be serious cuts to our county funding, we would be thrown into a precarious position with the major expense of preserving and operating two significant city-owned facilities - the community's Humboldt museum and Tifft Nature Preserve.
Q: Last year, you promised to install more interactive museum exhibits and bolster educational programs by involving area schools. How is that effort proceeding?
A: Our Place in Space was the first major remake of a science area, and is a great hit. The experimental Byron Dig lab engages school children and the public with our ice age research, and nearly every gallery now has some interactive elements added. Our new Center for Science Learning successfully developed and launched a major school program package that blends the museum and Tifft resources and engages students in real research. Grant money is supporting the development of more projects along the same model.
Q: How has your strategy of building scientific partnerships with colleges and universities, instead of paying full-time curators to conduct in-house research, progressed?
A: UB's graduate-level Museum Studies program is working with our staff to research our collection and present a Greek Vase exhibit in 2005. The renowned Museum Conservation Department at Buffalo State is a partner caring for selected artifacts, and we've together hired our first joint research scientist. She will join our other scientific staff and conduct research that will help support more Tifft programming. With this early success and the research leaders of several major corporations and UB now on the board, we anticipate continual growth in this area.