The Anderson Farm Museum Heritage Society is concerned about the future of Greater Sudbury’s community museums.
At Wednesday’s meeting of the finance committee, councillors will begin serious deliberations regarding the operating budget for the upcoming year. One of the items they plan to discuss is the curatorial position at the city’s four museums, including Anderson Farm, Copper Cliff, Flour Mill and Rayside-Balfour.
Currently, there is one full-time position, as well as 3,220 part-time hours listed in the 2020 budget. Despite the city’s assertions that museums play a valuable role in the community, those line items have both been reduced to zero in 2021.
“Greater Sudbury operates four community museums to preserve and interpret the city’s collections of historical artifacts to connect residents with local history in person and online through tours, historical displays, hands-on programs and large events in partnership with community groups,” the budget document indicates.
Despite the closure of museums due to COVID-19, the city reports several accomplishments in 2020, including the emergence of digital content and programming, which increased online reach and public engagement. The city also decommissioned an old museum website and plans to work on a relaunch this year. Finally, staff said in the budget report the city “continued major capital improvements to Anderson Farm museum.”
Cutting the curator and part-time positions will save the city about $156,000 in salaries and benefits, and nearly $170,000 overall. But those cuts trouble Leslee Salo, vice-president of the Anderson Farm Museum Heritage Society. She said the group only found out about the potential loss on Jan. 21.
“You will note the full-time staff — the curator — and part-time staffing hours — which includes a curatorial assistant and students — are proposed to be reduced to zero for 2021. In short, this means the curator for all four of our museums will lose her job and the museums will remain closed for 2021,” Salo said. “There is no guarantee this decision will be reversed in 2022.”
Anderson Farm took a big hit in 2020. Normally a four-season attraction, Salo noted it had to cancel most of the activities it had planned, including the annual fall fair, which attracts as many as 10,000 people. The popular Easter egg hunt was cancelled, and in July and August, “the museum was unable to host our 12th annual Rock the Farm concerts and farmers’ market, which attract hundreds,” Salo said. It normally takes place Wednesday evenings. Creighton reunion activities were also called off last year.
Salo said the four museums need the city’s support to weather the remainder of the COVID storm.
“The AFM Heritage Society realizes museums around the world have been closed because of COVID-19; many staff have been laid off, and virtual tours and online viewing have replaced in-person events and visits,” she pointed out. “But in the City of Greater Sudbury, we have only one curator who is responsible for the Anderson Farm Museum and the Copper Cliff, Flour Mill and Rayside-Balfour museums. The curator was hired to be responsible for preserving and protecting; expanding and developing our local history —agricultural, cultural, environmental, lumbering, mining and technical.”
Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini is also concerned that once closed, museums will not reopen in 2022. He said he agrees with the assertion that once lost, the curator’s position will not be restored.
“If you read in between the lines, if their intention is to close the museums and not reopen them, tell the people now. Don’t make the volunteers run around, doing all this work to try to keep the museums open,” he commented. “I’m totally appalled to even think they would consider closing our museums.”
Vagnini said museums remain important tourist attractions and gathering spots. In addition to its popular programming, Anderson Farm also hosts the community’s annual Christmas tree-lighting ceremony, which is a favourite of the Ward 2 community.
“There are certain things that keep a community together and we all have ties to it. When you take away the history, you blank it out,” Vagnini said. “These four museums represent our history.”
Vagnini said Anderson Farm is about as old as Lively and at this point, it has become part of the community DNA. Closing the four heritage museums is not a good way to save $170,000, he argued.
“It’s a piece of our family and of our history; it’s also a piece for everything going forward,” he said. “Shame on them when they start taking away all the rural area amenities.”
While Salo said the city has stated maintenance, utilities and other items will remain in place to sustain facility requirements, she is skeptical about when the museum will be put to good use again.
“Because of the city’s plans to keep all the Greater Sudbury heritage museums closed for 2021, ever-changing provincial COVID-19 restrictions and slow vaccination programs, the Heritage Society cannot predict when it will be safe again for everyone to be together, at our three annual free events, at the Anderson Farm Museum,” she commented.
Ultimately, Salo said if the city values its museums, it should continue to support the curatorial positions.
“Does the city value and want to preserve the history of Greater Sudbury — housed in the Anderson Farm, Copper Cliff, Flour Mill and Rayside-Balfour museums as vital heritage sites now and for future generations,” she asked. “If they do, they should value the role of the curator and vote to maintain museum funding for the curator in the 2021 budget.”
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