Yolo County museum, YoloArts’ futures may be linked

By Sarah Dowling, Woodland Daily Democrat

Efforts to aid one Yolo County organization may help another.

For years, YoloArts staff have talked about finding a new home that can house the nonprofit’s collection and programs in one place, according to County Administrator Patrick Blacklock.

There is even a pot of money long since set aside for capital improvements — $250,000 in county funds — to make this happen.

However, it’s the growing need of the Yolo County Historical Museum that seems to have sparked an idea that could mutually benefit both, putting the organizations back in the spotlight and before supervisors once more.

“There is a natural synergy to explore here,” Blacklock said recently.

Basically, the idea is to somehow house both organizations under one roof — the Gibson House roof.

What this would actually look like remains to be seen, but at this point the county is simply exploring its options.

“It was been a board priority for a number of years to bring all operations under one roof,” explained YoloArts Executive Director Alison Flory. “There have been so many different scenarios and things on the table and this (partnership with Gibson House) would be just another lens for looking at it.”

Flory and her staff currently occupy at building at 120 W. Main St., which is used primarily for office space. Their main gallery — Gallery 625 — has long been at the County Administration Building.

But the prospect of bringing everything together is long overdue, Flory indicated.

Meanwhile, folks involved with the Gibson House have faced a different set of challenges.

“The Yolo County Historical Museum, also known as the Gibson House, serves as an architectural and cultural relic of rural ranch life in Yolo County from the period of 1850 to the 1930s,” according to a staff report. “Over the years, sustainability concerns have arisen regarding the Gibson House budget, maintenance of the museum collection and needed facility repairs. Therefore, in an effort to address these concerns and promote efficient use and management of the Gibson House, a review was undertaken to develop a long-term plan for the property.”

The report goes on to detail the museum’s operation, including a breakdown of its budget, which was described as being on a “shoestring” by longtime volunteers and board members.

Supervisor Matt Rexroad stood before a number of these individuals last Thursday night to brief them on the concept of housing YoloArts at Gibson House — effectively bringing $250,000 with it.

About a decade ago, previous supervisors “made a deal” with YoloArts to house the agency at a county-owned property on the corner of Fifth Street and Oak Avenue.

“The idea was to put some kind of studio there,” Rexroad explained. “But that was not a good location for a studio. It was on a bad parcel and a poor choice of location.”

Deciding against this, YoloArts has remained in limbo, going through “several different evolutions in terms of where they wanted to be located,” but still not finding a more fitting, permanent home while the $250,000 set aside for the organization remained unspent.

“Their current facility right now is probably the least artistic building that we have in the county,” Rexroad said. “One of the options was to consider having them co-locate here at Gibson House.”

Rexroad continued to emphasize that the concept was still in its early stages — all details would be hammered out later in the process, starting when it comes before the full board on Tuesday.

“There would be some changes involved in here but some potentially good ones for the community,” Rexroad said, highlighting new funding streams and the addition of a full time executive director as pluses for the merger.

Blacklock, who also attended the Gibson House meeting, echoed this, repeatedly stating that everything would be hashed out once supervisors “give the green light.”

This did not stop museum board members and volunteers from asking questions, many of which went unanswered.

For Board Member Kathy Harryman, her main concern was the future of the objects within the museum, and the building itself. Co-locating would likely mean some design changes, including storage of museum pieces.

“Before I would even think about YoloArts being part of this picture, we should think about the museum and all these wonderful things that have been donated by pioneer families from Yolo County,” she said. “That to me is really important.”

For others, the future of the education programs were an issue — apart from events this program is the main draw for the museum.

Blacklock assured them that YoloArts staff recognize this and would make the education programs a priority as well.

For Alan Flory, it was the prospect of more funding that piqued his interest as the Gibson House itself has been in need of repairs for some time.

“The building is falling apart,” he said. “I don’t know whether this is the answer or what the answer is but I do know from a structural standpoint is that there has got to be money put into the building. Whether it comes from there or it comes from somewhere else I think that’s reality.”

Flory also wanted to make sure museum members had a voice during the process, and recognized there would be a lot of “give and take” on both sides if the partnership happens.

“This is not a hostile takeover, it’s a potential marriage and it’s not a shotgun wedding or anything like that,” Rexroad told him. “It’s an opportunity to see if it works for both entities.”

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