As one of the three arts programs that spoke before city commissioners on Tuesday, the Owensboro Museum of Fine Art (OMFA) asked that the city government continue its contributions of $144,000 per year.
OMFA volunteer Jim Knott said the museum’s extensive art collection — the second-largest in the state — “have been gifted to our community from the patronage of local businesses and families and individuals who have invested millions of dollars over the now 42 years or so.”
“Their vision was to establish in our community an important educational asset for now and for future generations,” Knott said. “It’s our mission to protect that vision. The museum’s collection of art, dating from the 15th century to the present, and its historic facilities are iconic symbols of what we think of ourselves as a community, as well as a reflection as to how we value our culture.”
Visual entertainment services at OMFA are provided free, and this comes, in large part, as a result of corporate sponsorships. Knott said this makes OMFA comparable to art museums in much larger cities. Knott reminded commissioners that the city has been contributing to OMFA since 1972.
“The allocation of public funds to these endeavors is a direct service to those in the community who may not be able to support the arts, but nonetheless benefit from their educational and life-enrichment value,” Knott said.
To provide Owensboro with an art museum at no cost has been an “arduous task,” said OMFA Director Mary Bryan Hood–one that required innovative fundraising techniques. Most recently, the art museum retained a development consulting firm out of St. Louis to help accomplish new goals that ensure future solvency.
“Program sponsorships have increased this year. New supporters are subscribing to the Friends of the Foundation,” Hood said. “More families are taking advantage of the museum’s educational programming, and out of town visitors have increased substantially.”
Commissioner Larry Maglinger said the art museum was “fantastic” after having visited there last week. However, Maglinger acknowledged that a balanced budget was key to the continuation of OMFA’s success. Schools that used to pay for guided tours no longer do, which has caused OMFA to see less revenue.
“Within the last three or four years, we’ve found that many of the schools want tours and can’t afford guided tours,” Hood said. “But they come anyway, and they go through the museum and, when they do, it’s free.”
As far as fundraisers, Hood said they held a variety of events to help raise money toward the museum. Donation boxes throughout the museum collected around $8,000 last year. However, OMFA relies on funding from the city to make ends meet.
“It is the mission of the foundation to provide support and funding for the museum, that’s its sole purpose,” Hood said. “The museum is free and open to all, as are many museums throughout the United States. The funding the city directly provides the museum enables us to do that.”
Maglinger pointed out that the 2017-2018 Visitors Data Chart showed the museum showed 72,000 people throughout the year. However, Hood said those numbers represented were a conservative estimate of the museum’s services and its contacts with the community.
“A great deal of our programming takes place outside the museum in cooperation with civics organizations and sponsors,” Hood said, noting partnerships with City of Owensboro, Owensboro Health, and Kroger.
When asked whether OMFA had considered charging residents to see the museum, Hood said the consideration had been on her mind for the 42 years she’d been there.
“There are pros and cons to that,” Hood said. “One of our missions is to make this available to everyone. There are many, many, many people in this community who cannot afford to support the arts.”
The $144,000 given to OMFA by the City is a reduction from what the City has provided in previous years, Hood said, but those with the museum still plan to use that money to make art accessible for everyone. OMFA has projected to lose $100,374 in the 2018-2019 fiscal year, and another $107,992 for the 2019-2020 fiscal year.
“We do have some wonderful development plans. We have implemented some of them. We have much to announce in the coming months,” Hood said.