By Seth McLaughlin
March 22, 2007

Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine says he will approve a $400,000 amendment that would fund the cash-strapped Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, ending its recent struggle to secure state assistance.

The cash infusion will help cover the museum’s 2007-08 general operating budget, which includes staffing. The annual price tag to run the museum is estimated at $2.1 million.

Museum officials hope that a combination of budget cuts and emergency fundraising efforts will help them stay in the black for the fiscal year that ends in June.

"We’re really happy that the state is helping us out," said Megan Miller, the museum’s director of communications. "We’re glad they have decided to take some of the responsibility for our situation. … This money from the General Assembly, that will allow us to break even [next fiscal year]. But I don’t know what that is going to mean for the future."

The state had been staying out of the museum’s finances, opting instead to focus on transportation and eminent domain.

"It just has been one of those things that has not been a top priority," said Sen. Charles R. Hawkins, Campbell County Republican who pushed for the additional funding for the museum. "Richmond looked at the state for its response and the state looked at Richmond, and in the process, it fell through the cracks."

Meanwhile, museum officials have struggled to raise enough money to maintain its financial health. Ms. Miller said the museum had a debt of about $475,000, as of June.

In August, officials were forced to cut their budget by closing the museum one day a week and trimming staff. Officials also began considering moving the largest collection of Confederate memorabilia to another locality, such as Lexington, Va., and possibly dropping the word "Confederacy" from the museum’s name.

"They want to stay in Richmond, and we want them to stay in Richmond," said Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, a Democrat and the nation’s first black elected governor. "The problem is we don’t have money to give them. … The question is what will it take for them to stay in Richmond?"

The consideration to rename the museum came after a group of historians, preservationists and grant writers suggested the change because the word "Confederacy" carried "enormous, intransigent and negative intellectual baggage with many."

Brag Bowling, former post commander with the Sons of Confederate Veterans heritage group, called the potential renaming an "abomination" and said the museum’s message would "be diluted by political correctness." He blamed the museum’s executive director S. Waite Rawls III for a "lack of leadership."

The group’s leadership was so upset with the possible name change that last month, Frank Earnest, state commander of 4,000-member Virginia division, said his group would offer to take over the museum and move to replace Mr. Rawls. "We don’t have to take the thing over, but if there is a way the SCV could exert more influence and help them, we want to do it," Mr. Bowling said yesterday. "I honestly feel they have kind of lost their way and kind of separated themselves from the good general Confederate community."

Mr. Bowling said the group hopes to meet with museum officials as early as this week.

The problems at the museum and talks to relocate it began several years ago when officials said attendance started to decline.

A General Assembly subcommittee in 2005 found that the museum and the adjacent White House of the Confederacy had been shadowed by the growing Medical College of Virginia hospital, operated by Virginia Commonwealth University.

The subcommittee had said the expanding medical campus was hurting the financial health of the museum and the mansion where Jefferson Davis presided over the Confederate government.

As the campus grew, museum attendance declined "creating a real financial crisis for the annual operating budget," the committee found.

"Fairness requires, at a minimum, a modest, and temporary, state subsidy to preserve the White House [in its original location], because it has been the Commonwealth, through its agents the Medical College of Virginia and VCU, that has at least exacerbated the current crisis, if not caused it outright," the committee said in its findings.

Last year, the museum lobbied the General Assembly for the $700,000, but only received $50,000.

Before last year, the museum had not received state support since 1991, Ms. Miller said.

"Before 1991, we received varying amounts of annual support from the state, the most significant of which was the $1 million we received for the restoration of the White House of the Confederacy in 1986," Ms. Miller said.

The situation has become so bad that the District-based Civil War Preservation Trust has put the White House and the museum on its 2007 "History Under Siege" sites.

"Although not a battlefield, the Museum and White House are as endangered as any battleground in the U.S.," according to the trust’s Web site, "They are literally being strangled by their immediate neighbor, the sprawling campus of Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center."

Copyright 2007 The Washington Times

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