The Shawnee Indian Mission Museum Historical site, with three 173-year-old brick buildings sitting on 12 acres in Fairway, is heading for a train wreck.
That is according to the chairman of the Shawnee Indian Mission Foundation, Allen Roth, former longtime mayor of Westwood Hills.
Kansas is not only getting out of the arts business. It may be mostly getting out of the historical sites business. There are 16 historical sites in Kansas, all funded by the Kansas Historical Society. Shawnee Indian Mission Museum was taken over by the Historical Society in 1927.
The Kansas Historical Society has told the museum board to prepare itself to dramatically cut its budget over the next several years. A spokesman for the Historical Society told me that all historical sites, including the Shawnee Indian Museum, must become more entrepreneurial and depend more on increased private donations. The museum cannot be so reliant on state general funds.
Losing this museum would be a huge cultural loss to this community. It is our namesake (hence, Shawnee Mission), and the missionary who lived there was Rev. Thomas Johnson (hence Johnson County.) Unlike the proposed Museum of Suburbia, this is the real deal. It is the cornerstone of our history.
Shawnee Mission was established as a manual training school attended by boys and girls from Shawnee and other Indian nations from 1839 to 1862. It not only is a state historical site, it is also a national landmark.
Over the past five years, its budget from the Historical Society has already been shrunk 30 percent. Where there once were three full-time staff, today there is but one. The site administrator is in charge of touring the 12,000 adults and 4,000 students who visit each year. She also coordinates much of the programming. And she also is in charge of cleaning the toilets.
The $110,000 annual budget for the museum is bare bones. All fees ($5 for adults and $1 for students) go back to the Historical Society, so those cannot be used for operations. There are indications the budget will be cut by another 10 percent next year, and likely more each year thereafter.
So, without adequate funds from the state and without the ability to keep the visitor fees, there are few options left to raise the necessary money. The supporters of the museum can plead with the county government or local cities to participate financially, although in these lean times, their participation is highly unlikely. Or, as is most likely, the museum supporters will have to raise enough from private donations to keep the doors open.
As if that were not a challenge enough, museum supporters want to renovate one of the three buildings that is in disrepair and is not open to the public. It happens to have been the residence of Rev. Johnson.
All of this could require a multimillion-dollar effort to build an endowment to generate the operating funds and also to accomplish the renovations, as well as keep all the buildings in good repair.
The supporters of the Shawnee Indian Museum are facing a daunting task, indeed.
Does culture have no priority in this state?
Kansas is the only state in the nation that provides no public funding of the arts. Soon, we may be the only state that provides little or no public funding of its historic sites.
That is notoriety we can do without.
| Special to The Star