By SHERIDAN CYR
The Southington Town Council approved a grant application requested by the Southington Library and Barnes Museum, both of which full under the direction of Kristie Sadowski. The grant, which would come from a program called “Museums for America” and would be distributed by the institute of museum and library services, would allow the Barnes Museum to implement a volunteer docent program as well as hire a part time program coordinator.
The ultimate goal for the two-year grant period is to bring the Barnes Museum up to a point where it is self-sustainable and less reliant on funding from the municipal budget.
There are just two employees at the Barnes Museum: Bonnie Plourde, the caretaker, and Marie Secondo, the curator. Plourde is part-time, while Secondo is the only full-time employee. The museum is open Monday through Friday and two Saturdays per month.
“My biggest concern is the security of both of the employees who work there, and for the collection itself,” said Sadowski. “Often times, there is one staff member, alone for all or part of the day, opening the door to strangers and taking them on a tour of a museum with priceless artifacts.”
Having a part-time program coordinator for the Barnes Museum, Sadowski said, would take some of the burden of work off of the two existing employees, who currently are unable to perform some of their own duties because they are using more of their time to fill the gaps.
Secondo said she has been using much her time to provide tours alone and often does not have time to do office work. Plourde also admitted the grounds have not been tended to as much as she would prefer.
“I have a report that Marie wrote in July 2017 that said between the amount of time answering doorbells for individual tours, she doesn’t have time to do any curatorial work, which means nothing else is getting preserved,” said Sadowski. “History or research is not getting done. The volunteers and program coordinator could take care of that, and free the curator up to preserve our history.”
Sadowski said the museum attracts visitors from all around the world. Last year, according to guest book records, 11 percent of the visitors came from out of state or even out of the country. Out of the in-state visitors, only 46 percent were from Southington.
“That means the museum is driving in a lot of people from out of town—people who stay for lunch or shopping, bringing money into the community and helping with economic development,” she said.
There was some concerns from council members prior to the vote. Since the grant would last two years, councilors questioned what would happen after the two-year grant comes to an end.
“In the event that the revenues don’t come through, what happens to this part time coordinator at the end of the two years?” asked Chris Poulos (D). “Would that be passed on to the town, or is that person going to be laid off?”
Sadowski answered that the person would indeed either be laid off, or the museum would need to find another source of funding.
Kelly Morrissey (D) questioned if other options have been tested, such as closing the museum to the public for one day to catch up on office-work, or implementing the volunteer docent program without adding in the part-time program coordinator for a year to see how it works.
“I’m not a big fan of having a grant that has a trail off, but we have had a goal of making the museum more sustainable for years,” said Town Manager Mark Sciota. “I think this is our way of doing that. Sometimes we have to run these kinds of risks to get a grant in there and do this.”
Sciota said he was willing to recommend the grant to the council, noting that if the plan did not work out, the part-time position would not be included in the municipal budget two years from now.
“You need to invest money to make money,” said Mike Riccio (R). “I too am not a fan of grants with these tags and add-ons, but in this revenue-generating scenario, and with the manager pledging to eliminate this position, I would support it.”
The council passed the grant application in a 5-3 vote, with Dawn Miceli (D), Kelly Morrissey (D) and John Barry (D) casting the dissenting votes.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Roy, email her at SRoy@Southing-tonObserver.com.