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Heritage Vitality Task Force Update

July 31, 2012

By Kyle Jansson

Hundreds of heritage organizations have struggled to remain open during the past few years. For other groups, the struggle has lasted for a couple of decades.

To find potential solutions to their challenges, the 2011 Oregon Legislature created a Task Force on Heritage Vitality in Oregon. The legislation, HB 3210A, designated 14 positions on the Task Force to be filled by specific organizations, including two spots for at-large public members.

What solutions do you have to improve the operations and effectiveness of Oregon’s heritage organizations?

The Task Force, which will present its report to the Legislature by October 1, wants solutions that will improve the operations and effectiveness of heritage organizations in promotion, history education, heritage tourism, historic preservation and related economic development.

The Task Force is studying and reviewing heritage-related laws and the effectiveness of heritage organizations with education, tourism, preservation and economic development. Task Force members have examined research, including the Oregon Heritage Vitality Report, as well as presented their diverse perspectives. They have also asked that additional research be conducted into laws related to county historical funds and city museums.

Recently, the Task Force established three committees to draft solutions related to public funding, private funding and best practices. The full Task Force will discuss those potential solutions at its meeting on Monday, August 13 at 10:30 a.m. in Room 124 at the North Mall Office Building located at 725 Summer St. NE, Salem (view map). Members of the public will also be able to address the Task Force with their potential solutions.

So what solutions do you want to suggest? Do they require any legislative action? Are they fiscally possible in 2012? Are they sustainable? We invite you to start the discussion here with your comments.

Kyle Jansson is the coordinator for the Task Force on Heritage Vitality in Oregon and for the Oregon Heritage Commission.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Alan Guggenheim permalink
    July 31, 2012 12:26 pm

    Hi Kyle,

    The Aurora Colony Historical Society (ACHS) is not a county or city-funded museum, but its experience the past five years might be helpful. ACHS resurrected itself the past half dozen years and I believe is a good example of how to survive in such challenging times that have literally eaten other heritage organizations alive. The board, chaired by Brian Asher, then Gail Robinson, and now Reg Keddie, approved remodeling the museum, hiring a curator, investing in preservation of artifacts, restoration and performance of music, and expanding “hands-on” workshops, historical arts and crafts work (especially quilts), pioneer farm life experiences for thousands of school children, and collaborated with the Communal Studies Association, and with writers like novelist Jane Kirkpatrick and James Kopp, among others. Elizabeth Corley, the volunteer coordinator, made things happen by recruiting, motivating, feeding, clothing (with costumes!), and exhorting hundreds of helpers, volunteers, students, quilters, retirees, all hands. (What she needed for her retiree volunteers was reimbursement for their gas money, plus lunch. Perhaps this is an area the state could help.)

    By “risking” the precious capital of the Society on sensible “outreach,” the ACHS board of directors made the history of the Aurora Colony accessible to the public, school children, and to tens of thousands of Colony descendants. The result: grants from foundations, including Oregon Cultural Trust, increased memberships, and a four- or five-fold increase in donations and endowments. (There’s still a lot to be done, but they’re making progress.)

    The areas where ACHS, and all nonprofits, including county and city museums, need help is in the small expenses, especially those incurred by volunteers: “gas” money, catered luncheons, small printing allowances for materials, signage, booklets, etc., stuff that costs hundreds (not thousands or tens of thousands) of dollars. If the State of Oregon simply matched dollar-for-dollar the membership dues to a 501(c)(3), up to, say, $5,000, the result would be a windfall of support to 75% of the nonprofits in the state.

    The state could also help museums and the nonprofit community in genral by simply sharing some of the public’s resources. The state could offer qualified 501(c)(3) organizations access to state government offices, for instance, to photocopy, for free, or to conduct meetings in available rooms, for free, or to use, or share, computers, or other equipment, including trucks when a nonprofit needs to haul something, or a crane when they need to lift something, or the advice of a state engineer or a state lawyer, if professional help is needed. Indeed, all nonprofits need legal advice on simple contracts, procurement agreements, donations, endowments, and other daily administrative items, but that’s the last thing they want to spend a donor’s dollars on, a lawyer! Ditto, a CPA! But they all need accounting advice, especially when a contributor wants a receipt for a combo cash-and inkind contribution, for instance!) There are liability issues to be dealt with, but the state has so much that it could effectively “share” without running up its own costs excessively — I think such help would be worth a glance.

    Good luck with the legislature.

    Alan Guggenheim
    Former Executive Director, ACHS

  2. Kyle Jansson permalink
    July 31, 2012 4:09 pm


    Thanks for sharing your experience at Aurora, and for giving suggestions on ways that the state can better support heritage nonprofits. I’d be interested in hearing from other heritage organizations on their experience, whether your support suggestions would be the best way to support them, or whether there are other options.


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