Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler seems to be acting reasonably in placing responsibility for a number of small museum properties in the hands of local communities.
Many of these museums shouldn’t have been acquired by the state in the first place.
The Secretary of State’s office administers a network of museums. Most of them are tiny institutions in small towns, though the agency’s portfolio includes two crown jewels: the Old State Capitol in Baton Rouge and the Louisiana State Exhibit Museum in Shreveport. Those two facilities have a strong regional appeal that argues for the logic of state ownership and control. But most of the other museums under the Secretary of State’s Office are small attractions with limited appeal beyond the communities in which they’re located. Their existence and operation should be left to local communities, not state government. In many instances, these little museums ended up as state properties because local communities seemed unwilling or unable to support them on their own. Their acquisition by the state often seemed a matter of political expedience driven by lawmakers representing local constituencies.
The result has been a patchwork of museum properties with ill-defined missions — and only nominal support from a state government that has, in recent years, simply been unable to afford the museums it acquired in better times.
If there’s a silver lining in the state’s tough budget circumstances, it’s the possibility that financial limits can force state officials to think more carefully about how the state is spending its money.
Schedler inherited these small museums when he took office, and he’s right to try to wean some of them away from the state dole.