Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Circus World Museum On the Rocks Again? Latest Move Would Grant Total Operational Control and Hiring to State Historical Society

Pardon me for not knowing how to jump onto or run with this one --- that is, all the fretting over yet another imminent demise of Circus World Museum.  These predictions of The End seem to occur about every four or five years.  The details this time around are mind boggling.

There is a move afoot in the office of the state's fiercely decisive governor, Scott Walker (you've no doubt witnessed his gutsy revamping of state pensions and unions).  Seems he wants to roll Circus World Museum into the Wisconsin Historical Society control.  For 54 years, the grounds have been operated on a lease agreement between the state and the Circus World Museum Foundation, Inc.  The state currently pays about 30% of operating costs, with hefty private funding picking up the rest.

Let me quote from the Baraboo  News Republic:

"Just in time for March Madness, leaders at Circus World Museum and the Wisconsin Historical Society are unleashing a full-court press to convince donors and lawmakers they have the better plan for the Baraboo historic site.

"Gov. Scott Walker recently unveiled a budget plan that includes rolling Circus World — whose property is state-owned but whose operations are funded privately — into the Historical Society. This would include making Circus World’s staffers state employees; funneling the site’s revenue into state coffers; and ending a lease agreement between the state and the Circus World Museum Foundation, Inc.

Walker's proposed budget would feed $1.2 million to Circus World  over the next two years to pay for 10 staff members.

Were this to go through, current staffers, it is said, would face fresh interviews and be expected to produce documents of education and/or valid experience in order to be considered to stay their desks.  Freese, you can feel, is fairly furious, and protective as well -- in a way he was apparently not with previous professional archivist Erin Foley, who deserved far better than she got from being hired and let go, not once but twice.  Perhaps her sin was that she did not know how to restore -- or would that be, how to create virtually from scratch. -- an "historic" circus wagon?

Freese's most startling disclosure may be this, concerning his employees:  "I don’t think any of them have an opportunity to be hired.”  He added that some staffers are already job hunting.

His job may also be on the line as well (politics, you know), although from the spin back there, he seems to have done an above average job at increasing attendance and funding. He, of course, stands to lose autonomy were he to suddenly be reporting directly to the Historical Society. Can you imagine wannabe Freese replacements lining up in the backyard, already pitching ideas for a far better patronized Circus World to Historical Society big shots?

Pardon me for yawning.  I love the Irvin Feld Exhibition Hall, love the library's awesome archives. But I find the grounds a bit sprawling and nondescript, and all those carefully protected wagons a tad over the top.  Especially comparing their tony storage quarters to the shabby condition of the case and wall exhibits in the older Ringling buildings -- as I found them about six years ago.  How many more newly "restored" circuswagons before they declare a moratorium on adding to what one cynical insider has called "the world's largest full scale model circus wagon collection."

Yes, I am still steaming over their brazen disregard for the Thimble Theatre Fun house which rots away back of a fence, out of sight.   A wagon that would have added a touch of rare variety to the repetitive parade.

Where will it all end?  Scott Walker is one powerful politician.  I think the devil is in all that acreage. Think "real estate."

Howard Tibbals to the rescue? 

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