SF State program shuts its doors, students lose 'priceless treasures'
December 8, 2009 12:12 AM
SF State's museum studies program is closing its final exhibit for at least a year due to lack of funding from the University. The program's museum, which ideally would run two exhibits a semester, is part of a learning experience for museum studies graduate students and a free resource for elementary schools in San Francisco and San Mateo counties that cannot afford to visit museums which charge entrance fees.
"We use those exhibits as primary content," Christine Fogarty, full-time staff member for the museum studies program said. "So, next semester we have to look off-campus for practical projects, which means more work, if you think about all the man-hours looking
The museum, located in room 510 of the Humanities building, has not been given an operations budget from the University since the 1970s, according to Linda Ellis, director of the museum studies program. The only money allocated by the University to the program is faculty salary, and there are currently only two professors in the entire program.
"It's depressing how bureaucracies can withhold resources for their survival and then starve everyone else below them -- because we have so many administrators making a lot of money and each one has a support staff," Ellis said. "This is not a corporation. It's a university."
The Instructionally Related Activities Fund, which comes from student fees, paid for the current exhibit, "The Lost Cities of North Africa," which cost $4,500. The only other source of income, besides fundraising through gift shop sales from the museum, is a percentage of the interest collected from a donation that was left to the University, called the Kaufman fund.
According to Fogarty, the majority of the last Kaufman fund deposit was spent on paying a part-time employee who provided necessary help. The program has to wait at least a year for another deposit from the Kaufman fund while the fund collects interest again.
"We try to spend the absolute minimum," Ellis said. "We make a dollar stretch very far."
The loss of exhibits for at least a year isn't the only repercussion from lack of financial support. The loss of a lecturer this year left the department with only two professors. Lack of faculty resulted in two graduate courses being combined. And improper climate control equipment has resulted in mold growth on one of the exhibit's mummies, which is one of three of its kind in the United States.
"The mummies have been in less than ideal temperature and humidity," said Ellis, the curator for the current exhibition. "We can't afford to let these priceless treasures deteriorate."
According to Ellis, building specifications for the museum were given to the construction company when the Humanities building was being built. Those specifications were ignored and that has resulted in the intrusion of humidity and insects. As a result, Ellis keeps the air vents blocked off, weather-strips the doors and keeps dehumidifiers, which attach to a hose that dumps the excess moisture in a trash can -- which must be emptied daily. Ellis visits the museum on weekends and holidays to handle this task.
With the original climate control system, the museum maintained 65 percent humidity. Now the humidity is kept below 50 percent.
"It's a rigged-up system," Ellis said. "It works -- but it shouldn't be that way -- only because it means I have to come here seven days a week."
Ellis says protecting the collection will take precedence over anything else when it comes to handling future funds. Ideally, she wants to get six special cases for the mummies that would keep out all the oxygen that deteriorates them in the first place. The total costs for all these cases would be around $25,000.
In the meantime, not only will the roughly 70 students of the master's program suffer without an exhibit but so will beneficiaries of their Outreach Program -- which provides educational materials and a free visit to a museum for elementary school children representing underserved members of the San Francisco and San Mateo public school system.
"This is a multifaceted program that teaches us how to create an exhibit and in turn we provide a service to schools," said Cynthia Drennan, a 29-year-old museum studies graduate student. "It's an invaluable experience for public schools."
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