Yolo supervisors take cautious approach to new partnership

Yolo supervisors have taken the first steps toward a new partnership that could help two organizations thrive.

On the surface, the concept before the board is simple: relocate YoloArts to the Yolo County Historical Museum, which would help solve problems for both groups.

For YoloArts, the nonprofit has been looking for a new, more fitting home for years. There is even a pot of money long since set aside for capital improvements — $250,000 in county funds — to make this happen.

Meanwhile, the museum is facing management and funding issues. The building is also said to be deteriorating due to lack of upkeep.

Basically, the idea is to somehow house both organizations under one roof — the Gibson House roof — bringing $250,000, as well as a full-time executive director, to the historic site.

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

County Management Analyst Carolyn West presented the idea to supervisors on Tuesday, highlighting the growing needs at the museum.

One of the problems is the current part-time director has moved out of the area, although he is continuing to work remotely. Even so, the salary for the position is “relatively low” compared to other such organizations, West explained.

“Part of that concern is being able to sustain on a limited budget for the Yolo County Historical Museum for the director function in the future,” she said.

In terms of funding the museum, most of its money comes from private events on the property, such as weddings or special functions. The educational programs are also credited for drawing in lots of area students and their families. Maintaining these two functions was listed as a top priority should the merger with YoloArts happen.

West also talked about facility improvement needs. County staff conducted a brief review of what the needs are, including roof replacement, electrical upgrades and foundation work. This could cost between $350,000 to potentially over $1 million, West said.

Due to the museum’s limited budget, staff there have not had enough funds to resolve these issues.

“They have done what they can but ultimately a larger amount of funds is needed to really address those facility improvements,” West said.

The final aspect discussed was the longevity of the museum’s collection, listed at around 11,000 items. Many of the pieces are in storage on the property, in attics, exterior barns and closets, putting them at risk of deterioration or degradation.

To learn more about the condition of the collection, the county hired a contractor to review a portion of it. The contractor’s main concern was the cramped storage, which can lead to damage over time.

“Currently the museum is kind of serving as both a museum and an archive, which as a historical house it would need some improvements to be able to do that well,” West said.

Because many of the items are duplicates, or pieces that do not fit the Gibson House era, staff are suggesting the collection be downsized to help with storage issues.

Reiterating the partnership with YoloArts, West clarified that “it is unknown what the potential cost to the county would be.”

This is just one of the many facets of the merger that need to be looked at.

During the meeting, YoloArts Executive Director Alison Flory told supervisors she was excited about the idea.

“As a small organization what we look to do is partner so we are more effective, we can increase our impact in the community and that is why my board as well as my staff are very excited to pursue this opportunity to look further into this partnership to see how it could be mutually beneficial to both organizations as well as to the overall community,” she said.

Her museum counterparts were less enthusiastic.

Those who spoke at the meeting seemed afraid that the changes would take away from what the museum does, although many indicated they would like to know more details before giving a resounding “no” to the partnership.

However, change may be necessary, Supervisor Matt Rexroad explained.

“I don’t believe that staying put in our current setup is viable long term,” he said. “You can see what’s happening with the collection and if you see what, if you’ve gotten to look at the structure it needs some love and an infusion of resources into that.”

Rexroad agreed with staff that “we need to at least study this.”

The board agreed, giving staff the green light to explore the concept. They were directed to come back with more detailed information on what the partnership might look like.

Staff could also determine that a merger with YoloArts is not a good solution, Rexroad pointed out, although he remained optimistic.

“If it can be a place for YoloArts and the Gibson House to be able to thrive then that’s what I want to do,” he said.

By Sara Dowling, dailydemocrat.com