After a very intensive week in the Dawson City Museum (DCM) archives, I am sorting, reading, and analyzing what I found. The documents scanned are interesting and contributing to the narrative(s) about the DCM’s development. In order to help with the analysis, the “Archival Research” series considers the stories archival materials tell, looking at the items I found most exciting.
Within this post, I build on my considerations of Director task saturation and the obstacles community museums face. I am looking at letters sent to the territorial government advocating for more support to the Dawson City Museum at a time when the Museum faced severe financial difficulties. Importantly, Museum representatives sent these letters (e.g., board members and the Director), but so did community members and organizations.
For example, Bombay Peggy’s Victorian Inn & Pub wrote a general letter of support stating:
Providing another example, the Dawson City Chamber of Commerce wrote to the Premier of Yukon, stating:
Why are these letters interesting?
In the early 2000s, the Dawson City Museum (DCM) failed to receive expected grants partway through a project. It also experienced unanticipated difficulties, such as a bug infestation.
As a result, the Museum was in a dire financial position and sought additional support from the territorial government. Representatives and supporters engaged in a letter writing campaign (see examples above) and media interviews to address the immediate problem – that is, a lack of funding to pay for staff.
The territorial government and its representatives were far less supportive than they had been when the Museum faced difficulties in 1979 – 1980. To some extent, Yukon helped address the cash shortfall by letting the DCM reallocate some of its project funding. However, the responses to requests for additional funding and advocacy for change were, at times, hostile.
For example, while vocalizing a willingness to assist, the Deputy Minister stated:
Further, responses tended to emphasize capital contributions as impressive when the Museum and its allies were advocating for operational support.
Despite the territorial government’s unwillingness to respond with more support, community organizations continued to advocate for the Museum. For example, the Premier responded to the Dawson City Chamber of Commerce’s letter above and outlined the support already provided to the DCM. The Chamber of Commerce was not deterred and continued to advocate, showing an understanding of the Museum’s plight – that is, a need for operational funding. They wrote:
In short, the Dawson City business community responded to the Museum’s problems with letters showing an understanding of its plight and commitment to standing with the Museum in face of opposition.
Is there broader relevance?
In 2002, the letters did not lead to additional territorial support and the Director was let go. However, about a year later – that is, for the 2003-2004 fiscal year – the Museum’s operating grant increased from $23,500 to $80,000.
While the increase happened as part of a new Museum Strategy, its likely these letters and the Dawson City Museum’s plight during the consultation process had some effect in contributing to the change. I have not found anything indicating causation, but there is clearly a correlation between an advocacy effort by one of the most well established museums in the territory and then an increase to the museum program only a year later.
As such, I believe the examples demonstrate the importance of community mobilization in advocacy.
What do you think? Are these the same lessons you draw from the letter? Do you think this is an important event in the development of the Dawson City Museum?
Brenan, Dan. 2001, August. “Letter to DCM.” O&M correspondence. Box 29b. DCM.