Government Money Woes Hit the Local Museums

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When the Oakland Museum of California was founded in 1969 as a “museum for the people,” there was no question about who would pay for it. The museum’s land was owned by the city, its building was operated by the city and its collection belonged to the city. Admission, now $12, was free.

But the fiscal crisis affecting governments across California is changing the way museums operate. The Oakland museum recently announced that it would seek to radically alter its relationship with Oakland by having its nonprofit arm, the Oakland Museum of California Foundation, take over operations from the city.

Currently, about 60 percent of the museum’s operating costs are absorbed by the private foundation, and 44 of the 100 or so museum employees are city employees. Until the 1990s, the museum did not even have a private fund-raising body, but the institution was able to raise over $60 million for a capital renovation of its building, which made its debut last spring....

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