Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Morning Midway: Even Sarasota's Ringling Museum Faces Big Funding Cutbacks, Uncertain Future ...

It's not all peaches, Picasso and popcorn at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, the upscale Sarasota venue which also hosts, like it or not, the ever-expanding Ringling Museum of the Circus.

Fiscal woes are adding up, despite the place attracting a rather impressive 300,000 people a year. That breaks down to an average of over 800 patrons per day. I wonder how many of those ticket buyers went there to see the Ringlings rather than the Rubens? The museum has 10,000 members, and it has grown in stature among art circles.

State of Florida, said to provide roughly half the museum's $13.5 million budget, making waves about pulling out. The estate, willed to Florida by circus king John Ringling, has been run since 2000 by Florida State University and funded by the state. Big money has flowed its way. In 2002 through the University, $49 million for expansion alone. But now cutbacks are being considered. How to spend less and draw more people? FSU is facing its own 25% budget cut. In August, Museum director John Weternhall resigned, said to have grown "weary of the political wrangling."

Pardon me for giggling in retrospect. Sounds like the ghosts of old Ringling family circus wars still haunt the place. They could be dramatically revived were any of the art work acquired by Mr. Circus put up for sale, or was a single square foot of the grounds sold off. Were this to happen, as stipulated in Mr. Ringling's will, everything would revert to his heirs. Now, wouldn't that make for some extraordinary Kelly-Miller Circus funding?

All of this from a lengthy fact-packed story in The New York Times by Geraldine Fabrikant, which only once in passing, and in only four words, mentions the circus museum.

So far, even with a 20% budget cut, nobody's been laid off.

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