Politics & Government

State History Museum in Tacoma would close under Gregoire's plan

Under a budget proposal by Gov. Chris Gregoire, the Washington State History Museum, upper right, in downtown Tacoma would close, with as many as 42 of its 44 employees losing their jobs.
Under a budget proposal by Gov. Chris Gregoire, the Washington State History Museum, upper right, in downtown Tacoma would close, with as many as 42 of its 44 employees losing their jobs. The Olympian

Advocates complained Wednesday that Gov. Chris Gregoire's austere budget has dire consequences for Washington's future. They could say the same about the state's past.

The Washington State History Museum, a cornerstone of downtown Tacoma’s redevelopment, would shut its doors under the two-year budget proposal.

Gregoire slated the museum for a cut of $2.9 million, more than half its state funding. If state lawmakers approve the cut, the museum would have to either raise dramatically more money from the public or mothball its collections.

“It would be just another step backward for the city which seems to have taken quite a few of them lately,” said David Nicandri, director of the State Historical Society that runs the museum.

Nicandri was just glad the governor called for preserving enough funding for a skeleton crew to keep the power on and secure the society’s buildings: the downtown museum on Pacific Avenue, a research center in the Stadium District and the State Capital Museum in Olympia.

Manuscripts, books, artifacts, photographs and other pieces of the state’s history would remain, with the hope that the museum would reopen in better fiscal times.

But the museum’s public programs across Western Washington would end. As many as 42 of 44 jobs would be eliminated.

A similar shutdown would happen at Spokane’s Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture. And in another blow to the state’s cultural work, the Washington State Arts Commission would be eliminated.

Tacoma and the city’s legislative delegation expect a push to preserve the museum.

Compared to the state’s $4.6 billion budget shortfall, the amount of money it takes to run the facility is small. Roughly a third comes from nonstate money, including private contributions, admission fees and memberships.

Its size and access to private money could improve the odds advocates will succeed.

Another possibility, one Gregoire has suggested two years ago but lawmakers rebuffed, is merging the state’s two historical societies that run the Spokane and Tacoma museums.

Staff writer Kathleen Cooper contributed to this report.

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