Categories: Schenectady County
Grant funding for the Walter Elwood Museum may be in jeopardy now that the Amsterdam school board has closed the building.
“When big granting entities read that your building is closed, they don’t see you as being a real stable entity and it affects future funding,” museum director Ann Peconie said.
The Greater Amsterdam School District Board of Education voted to close the building last week because of health and safety concerns after Peconie informed the board about a problem with bats in the building.
Along with a bat infestation, the century-old former school — owned by the school district but occupied by the museum for a nominal fee — needs various repairs. The district does not plan to pay to get rid of the bats and fix up the building. The museum lacks the money to do the work itself.
The museum gets grant money from two major museum funding sources, the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services and the New York State Council on the Arts.
Peconie said she has already received a phone call from a representative at NYSCA who said the museum’s future grant funding could be jeopardized by the museum building’s closure. Furthermore, the museum may have to give back money it has already received if the museum can’t fulfill the requirements of the grant. Peconie said the number one requirement for both granting sources is that the museum be open to the public.
“When this hit the press, I immediately started receiving phone calls from granting entities, which were hard to get because I wasn’t at the office,” Peconie said.
Of the museum’s $120,000 budget last year, about $100,000 came from grants.
One of the museum’s grants from NYSCA pays the salary of part-time collections manager Carolyn Wavrin.
The museum is also in the process of submitting various grant applications, many of which are due around September.
The museum Friday submitted a two-year grant application for $30,000, which would enable the museum to archive and organize its photographs.
Peconie said the museum has thousands of photographs and slides of historic places in Amsterdam and throughout the Mohawk Valley that don’t exist anymore, including the old Hurricana Farm, the Presbyterian Church before it burned and Church Street.
“That’s what everyone wants,” Peconie said.
The school board has not allowed anyone to enter the building at 300 Guy Park Ave. without supervision from a district representative, which means the museum’s staff has not been able to work.
The museum was currently working on cataloging and organizing its textiles, including various uniforms and garments, using a federal grant it received last year. Each piece of clothing is entered into a special software program called Past Perfect.
“How do we continue our ongoing grant-funded projects that we’ve already got money for?” Peconie said.
Peconie said she doesn’t think district officials have thought about what it would take to move the museum out of its current facility. She said moving the collections in the museum, some of which have been there for over 40 yeas, would be a daunting task.
Moving the collections would require fundraising, specialized packing and properly trained movers. The museum would probably have to hire a consultant to pack and move some of the museum’s 200-year-old artifacts, including a painting from the 1790s and Native American pottery and baskets.
“You can’t just throw that stuff in a box with newspaper,” Peconie said.
The museum board has directed Peconie to draft a letter to Superintendent Thomas Perillo and Gina DeRossi, president of the Board of Education, asking for access to the building for museum staff, for a meeting between the Board of Education and the museum board, and for the Walter Elwood Museum to be on the school board’s agenda for discussion during its Sept. 24 meeting.
“It’s understandable that the museum needs to be open to fulfill the grants, but the grantors need to understand that there is a problem and the museum should be given a little leeway to sort things out and see if they can go to another place,” Perillo said.
Perillo said he would be willing to verify the situation to help the museum retain its funding and so future funding isn’t affected.
“I want to see the museum succeed and I want to see the museum go on, but at this point the building they are housed in is unsafe and unusable,” Perillo said.
Until the Sept. 24 board meeting, Peconie said, she is continuing to do any work she can do and remaining optimistic that the museum will reopen quickly.
“I find myself asking, what would Walter do?” Peconie said about the museum’s founder, Walter Elwood.