By Scott H. Harris, Executive Director of UMW Museums
I am pleased to share with you some very good news regarding public support for the University of Mary Washington Museums. But first, a little background . . .
Gari Melchers Home and Studio and the James Monroe Museum are properties of the Commonwealth of Virginia that are administered by the University of Mary Washington. The Belmont estate and a large collection of Gari Melchers’ paintings were a bequest by his widow, Corinne Melchers, in 1955. The James Monroe Museum, founded by family members in 1927, was gifted to the Commonwealth by the James Monroe Memorial Foundation in 1964. In both cases the donors’ intent was that these historic and cultural resources be preserved in perpetuity and shared with the citizens of Virginia, the nation, and the world.
The museums, and UMW as a whole, receive allocations from the Commonwealth’s General Fund—i.e., taxpayer dollars. However, the funding streams for each are quite different. The University’s state support is largely from Education and General Programs. Gari Melchers Home and Studio is budgeted through the Museum and Cultural Services line item. Funding for the James Monroe Museum comes from another line, Historic and Commemorative Attraction Management. The various delineations date back many decades. While they are largely a matter of bookkeeping, they also serve, in part, to distinguish UMW’s state funding for its discrete instructional mission from that allocated for operation of the museums, which serve larger public audiences.
In the biennial state budget adopted in June by the General Assembly, Gari Melchers Home and Studio received a permanent operating budget increase of $300,000, raising its general fund allocation from $481,117 to $781,117. The James Monroe Museum budget grew by $200,000, from $273,948 to $473,948. These increases are by far the largest ever received by the UMW Museums.
These budget actions occurred because the University of Mary Washington made them part of their official “wish list” in the last legislative session. UMW President Troy Paino and the Board of Visitors invested some of the University’s precious political capital by including funding for the museums among other budget requests. Outgoing Governor Ralph Northam made the museums’ increases part of the budget he submitted to the General Assembly at the start of the session, and incoming Governor Glenn Youngkin retained them in his amended budget. Both houses of the legislature approved the measures without opposition.
The University of Mary Washington Museums are grateful to all involved parties for this transformative investment of public funds, which will support increased staffing, new programming initiatives, and sustainable general operations. It will benefit both the UMW community and the general public as the museums fulfill their educational and public service missions.