Support for museums not ‘frivolous’

A recent editorial written by Kenny Burgamy, while acknowledging that the Tubman African American Museum and the Georgia Children’s Museum “are admirable and their intentions respectable,” maintained that city support for these museums is “frivolous.” On the contrary, I suggest that not only is such support clearly warranted, but at this time and during this economic crisis, it is critical to the economic health and educational well-being of our community.

Tourism, as The Telegraph reminded us last week, is the second largest industry in Georgia. In Macon it contributes $268 million a year to the local economy, supports over 3,000 jobs and generates $7.5 million and $10.3 million respectively in local and state tax revenues. The downtown museums are a key factor in bringing these tourists to Macon and in generating this income.

A recent study by the Middle Georgia Regional Development Center, for example, found the economic impact of the Tubman Museum and its annual Pan African Festival is between $5.7 million and $6.5 million a year, and each visitor to the Tubman (the majority of whom come from outside the Middle Georgia region) spends almost $400 while they are in Macon. This outside income is especially important during tough economic times, and the loss of even one downtown Macon museum due to lack of local or state support could prove devastating.

Not only would tourism dollars and visitors decline should this happen, but the city’s image and attractiveness to potential industries and businesses would also suffer.

Museums, however, provide much more than economic benefits to the communities they serve. They also represent a key educational resource for schools and students.

At the Tubman Museum, our primary mission is education, and our programs are specifically designed to enhance classroom offerings and to expose students and at-risk youth to new experiences and new educational opportunities. We offer a broad range of after-school classes in the arts, student workshops for third and fifth-graders designed to improve performance and test scores in math and reading, summer camps that expose youth (ages 7 to 12) to museums and to important history and historic sites both here and in Atlanta, and a new Art and History Outreach Initiative that will send traveling exhibits, museum materials, and outreach teachers to classrooms and after-school programs throughout Macon and Middle Georgia.

With recent cutbacks in school budgets and school funding for field trips, these outreach programs help fill the gap by bringing the museum to the student. The Tubman is also a leader in establishing partnerships and collaborations with area colleges to expand the impact and reach of these critical programs.

Museums matter. They enrich our economy by drawing visitors to the city, by supporting jobs in the surrounding community, and by contributing to a quality of life and a positive image of the city that, in turn, entices new industries and employers to locate here.

Museums also enrich our youth by offering them unique educational experiences that enhance the learning process and contribute to better overall academic performance. This is why City Council voted to provide funding to the Tubman Museum and the Georgia Children’s Museum, and why the city has for years funded the Museum of Arts and Sciences.

Museums are not “frivolous” expenditures. They are essential elements of our community.

Andy Ambrose is the executive director of the Tubman African American Museum.