Thank you for inviting Save the Illinois State Museum to speak today.
As you know, part of what our great state has lost given the Governor’s continued tactics is a state museum system open to the public. Every day our museum system remains closed the losses mount and morale among the staff becomes lower, people find jobs elsewhere and leave Illinois. The staff who remain continue to work diligently behind closed doors to keep the 13.5 million curated objects maintained, they continue their research but now lack the forum to communicate it to the public. We have AFSCME to thank for the fact that these staff are still working and not whittled down to the staff of three, three, that the DNR director declared adequate to curate 13.5 million objects across all the facilities.
The museum closure has been a loss to the public and to Illinois working families. No more public lectures by scientists, historians, and artists, no more science education events, no more play museum for parents of high energy, curious -toddlers. It has been a loss to artists. No more Illinois Artisans program which allowed artists (essentially small business entrepreneurs) to sell their work at museum sites around the state. It has been a loss to science and historical research. No more outside researchers coming to the museum. No more loans of objects for research purposes. No more student internships. No more public exhibits showcasing the art, culture and natural history of our state. But these are not isolated losses. The museum was a coherent whole, a team of scientists, curators, education specialists who worked together in a coordinated fashion, a team that took decades, decades to build and only months for politicians to weaken.
As a women in science myself, I am personally outraged that my community has lost a role model for science leadership with the forced retirement of former director Bonnie Styles. She is not alone; six of ten science staff have now retired. The museum’s accreditation is now at risk since the American Alliance of Museums put the museum on probation in October.
I am going to end with a few demands. First on behalf of nearly 15,000 FB followers, we demand that the Governor sign SB 317 which would open the museum back up. The political will of the people of Illinois is clear, just sign the damn bill. We demand that the museum be opened back up and run, as it has been in the past, with highly-trained, professional curators and scientists in all disciplines, not political appointees. We demand that the governor apologize for the damage he has done to the ISM, to our state’s reputation, to the state of science in Illinois, and to the morale of the people who show up day after day after day because they believe in something bigger than themselves: understanding our culture and history, unlocking the mysteries of the natural world, teaching the next generation. Finally, we demand he start governing and work for a fair budget and listen to the voices of the people.
I’ll end with something I have said before. Museums are not something you close in hard times. Museums are refuges in hard times as they serve to remind us that times have been hard before and people still figured out a way forward. The Illinois State Museum was founded in 1877, for 138 years it has served to help the people of Illinois understand our past in order to chart our future. It survived World War I, the great depression, and World War II…and hopefully it will survive this administration. Governor Rauner, open our museum now!