From the Executive Director features news and reflections on the work of PHMC by its chief administrator.

Steep budgetary cuts this past year forced the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) to make difficult decisions, resulting in drastic reductions in staffing and operating hours at nearly every facility. We have temporarily closed several historic sites and museums while we work with local groups to find new operating models that will provide as much accessibility as possible with limited financial resources. With our Friends groups and colleagues across the Commonwealth, we are working diligently to make sure that Pennsylvania’s history is not permanently lost as a result of a temporary fiscal crisis. We’ve asked non-profits and other organizations to step up, but we also recognize the Commonwealth’s long-term obligation to preserve Pennsylvania’s past for future generations. This is not a time to abandon ship, but rather, a period for partnership.

I applaud the contributions of citizens to support our programs. The Flagship Niagara League in Erie raised $200,000 to keep the brig sailing. The Friends of the State Museum, in association with the Pennsylvania Heritage Society, launched a campaign to fund the restoration of the museum’s 10,000 year-old Marshalls Creek mastodon, discovered in Monroe County in 1968, and the installation of a paleontology gallery. The effort has raised more than $45,000 of the $250,000 goal. Enthusiasm has been tremendous, and individuals and corporate sponsors continue to support “Buy-A-Bone.” I hope these and other undertakings inspire even more groups and individuals to follow suit and support organizations dedicated to preserving and sharing Pennsylvania’s past.

This year’s annual theme, “Black History in Pennsylvania: Communities in Common,” offers an exciting opportunity to work with partners and communities to demonstrate our commitment to the preservation and interpretation of African American heritage. One highlight of the observance is the exhibition of the exceptionally unique 1780 Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery at The State Museum of Pennsylvania through Sunday, June 20. This original document, safeguarded by the Pennsylvania State Archives, is signed by Thomas Paine, clerk of the General Assembly and author of Common Sense.

In these troubling economic times, we value what we hold dear more than ever. Pennsylvania’s past is a priceless asset that connects us all. You can help keep and share it, now and for generations, by visiting a historic site or museum; supporting sites and museums through membership and donations; advocating on behalf of historic properties; and knowing your own history and sharing it with family and friends.

To help us effectively direct resources, we have identified key needs of Pennsylvanians that PHMC and history organizations and museums help fulfill. We encourage organizations and individuals to join us in satisfying these basic needs with a “Pennsylvania History Bill of Rights,” which includes provisions that: Pennsylvania’s students understand history in the context of local, national, and world events; the Commonwealth maintains a competitive position as a premier tourism destination for heritage travelers; citizens have access to the permanent records of government and the permanently valuable documents which tell the history of the Commonwealth; current and future generations are assured that historical resources are preserved for their enjoyment and use; museums, historical societies, and historic sites receive adequate public and private support to maintain high standards of stewardship and public access; and communities retain their historic character that is essential to attracting and retaining residents, businesses, and visitors.

This can’t be accomplished alone or immediately. We need your help—not only to support PHMC, our Friends groups, and the Pennsylvania Heritage Society, but also other organizations throughout Pennsylvania. By working together, we can ensure that the past will live on for future generations.

Barbara Franco
Executive Director, PHMC