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Cranbrook museum loses its annual arts funding

The Canadian Museum of Rail Travel is facing a $30,000 shortfall after the B.C. Arts Council denied its annual funding.

The museum, overseen by the Cranbrook Archives Museum and Landmark Foundation (CAMAL), learnt last month that for the first time in 2014, the B.C. Arts Council (BCAC) will not be providing the museum $30,000.

CAMAL Chair Jeanette Sissons said the BCAC's decision was based on under-staffing by museum professionals and lack of program delivery in 2012 and prior years. She said there had been prior indications that the funding was in jeopardy.

"BCAC had expressed some concerns that programs weren't being delivered, and there was too much reliance on volunteers and not enough on staffing," she said.

Since executive director Damon Colgan was hired in May 2013, Sissons went on, the museum has shifted its focus and is gaining momentum in new and different programs, such as its Pro-D Day camps, seasonal events such as the haunted trains on Halloween, and the upcoming dinner theatre event Belle of the Ball.

"With our new executive director, we are definitely moving in the right direction. Unfortunately, when you do your grant writing early in the year, you don't have the results to put on paper, so you are having to rely on what happened before."

The museum is now focusing on preserving and sharing Cranbrook's history, using the artefacts that are stored in the archives.

"We haven't had a place that talks about Cranbrook's history, and that's our focus," she said.

"Next year at this time, we'll be talking about all the wonderful things that have happened. There will be more for the community to come and celebrate and other things to do at the museum as well as the train tours."

But the loss of the BCAC funding, about 14 per cent of the museum's revenue, is a blow. Since receiving the news, the museum has cut staff hours and laid off one full-time staff member. The museum is now staffed by the executive director full-time and one part-time office manager at 25 hours per week.

CAMAL is also looking at cutting program development costs by $12,000, which would mean not hiring a program coordinator to oversee school programs to be developed in the summer.

"It means the executive director will be spread even thinner. How many things can you balance on one person?" said Sissons.

"We're not saying things aren't going to happen. It just will significantly slow down our progress.

"It becomes an obstacle for you to get around, but it's not a roadblock. It's not like the road is washed away and we can't get to the other side."

To help bridge the gap, CAMAL is asking Cranbrook city council to consider adding $30,000 to its annual funding of the museum.

On Monday, March 3, council accepted a letter from CAMAL containing the request and agreed to discuss it.

Mayor Wayne Stetski said that he has noticed positive changes at the museum.

"They have turned a corner; they are getting more involved with the community," he said. "We do have some uncommitted money in carry-over dollars but we should leave this for our budget discussion on March 11."

Council agreed to discuss the funding request at its next budget meeting.

"Even though they are coming to us for money and that is in short demand, I am very impressed with the fact that they are being proactive and cutting back their costs," said Councillor Denise Pallesen.

In the meantime, the BCAC has agreed to pay for the museum to hire a consultant to "work with us to review the mandate and the core values of the CAMAL, to help us focus on what the organization should be doing," said Sissons.

She added that BCAC should not be blamed for cutting the funding.

"BCAC has a mandate to fulfill and there are criteria you have to meet," she said.

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