News Column

Funding decrease hurts Science & Discovery Center

June 24, 2014

By Jacqueline Bostick, The News Herald, Panama City, Fla.



June 24--PANAMA CITY -- Exhibits at the Science and Discovery Center of Northwest Florida don't change often.

"They're just ancient, probably from the '70s," Linda Macbeth said as she banged, clicked and pressed interactive parts of an unnamed bulky exhibit last week.

The executive director of the museum envisions the center's experience as the spark for individuals of all ages to look at things differently; however, decades of dwindling funds have left the museum outdated and with a surplus of aged exhibits, she said.

--MORE PHOTOS: Science & Discovery Center gallery

--VIDEO: Take a tour

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As a result, the museum leans on hand-made exhibits, such as artist Raina Benoit's Life Cycle of the monarch butterfly, which was being installed last week, and a puppet theater made out of scrap wood from Home Depot.

"People don't understand," Macbeth said. "They see the big, new building; they see the space; they think we have a lot of money.

"We don't have any money. We're paying salaries; that's what we're doing," she said.

The center established in 1967 has received funding from the city since its earliest developing stages. Prior to 2007, the city regularly contributed $30,000 annually; however, funding has fallen in recent years.

According to minutes from a 2012 commission meeting, city officials agreed to no longer fund "other charities, including ... the Science and Discovery Center and St. Andrew (Community) Medical Center."

After Macbeth pleaded with the commission to contribute that year, the city squeezed out $13,500 to give to the museum, promising another $13,500 if the museum could get matching funds from other municipalities.

Other cities didn't contribute, so the museum received just $13,500.

"We're weaning them down," Mayor Greg Brudnicki said in an interview last week. "It's up to them to get out there and get their grants and get funding from other people if possible."

Next year's budget will "probably not" see any dollars for the museum, Brudnicki said, noting private companies should contribute to the museum because STEM-related skills are a needed workforce throughout the county.

"If the city is going to make a charitable donation to someone and we take the taxpayers' money and use that and you pay taxes, you may want me to give it to somebody else," he said. "Our goal is to try to keep our property taxes as low as possible so people have the ability to give to the charities they want to give to. "

However, Macbeth believes the city should support the center as it does other local cultural attractions.

In the upcoming fiscal year, $88,200 has been budgeted for the Visual Arts Center, $83,700 for the Martin Theatre and $496,449 for the Marina Civic Center.

The city supports those three agencies because, unlike the Science & Discovery Center, they are housed in city buildings, according to the city's budget director, Brandy Waldron.

"We don't technically consider them other agencies," she said. "We consider them our buildings that we're taking care of."

The museum is the only outside agency to which the city continues to contribute, Waldron said.

The center is majority funded by money earned through its academy for ages 3 to 5, science camps, admission fees and grants. But, with $20,000 monthly operating costs, Macbeth is looking to the city again for more funding.

She said she'd like city officials to view their contributions as "icing" and "to invest in exhibits that we can change quickly."

Standing next to an incorrect Table of Elements mounted on a wall in a room about human bones, Macbeth pleaded her case, again.

"They don't consider that we are a city museum," she said. "They don't really take credit for us, but I really wish they would."

Mobile links

-- VIDEO

-- GALLERY

By the numbers

City's annual museum contributions*:

2007-08, $30,000

2009-12, $27,000

2012-13, $13,500

*Contributions go back to 1967, but were not available Monday

City's contributions to cultural agencies for FY 2013-2014:

- Visual Arts Center, $88,200

- Martin Theatre, $83,700

- Marina Civic Center, $496,449

- Science and Discovery Center of Northwest Florida, $25,000 (if $13,500 funds matched)

___

(c)2014 The News Herald (Panama City, Fla.)

Visit The News Herald (Panama City, Fla.) at www.newsherald.com

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Source: News Herald (Panama City, FL)


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