Save the Gibson House Museum

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Dear Supervisors Villegas, Saylor, Rexroad, Provenza and Chamberlain:

Please reverse your December 12, 2017 decision in which you voted to turn management of the Gibson House Museum over to YoloArts.  The Gibson House is the only historic home open to the public in Yolo County and it should remain a house museum so that people of all ages can continue to visit and learn about how 19th century Yolo County farming families lived.

We are asking you to reverse this decision because (1) this process lacked transparency; (2) the public was misled regarding plans for the Gibson House and then not given an opportunity to express support; (3) YoloArts made clear they want no responsibility for “the history” at the Gibson House; and (4) the Gibson House would thrive as a history museum with a fraction of the financial support now being offered to support YoloArts. 

Over 40 years ago, community members fought to save the Gibson House so that it could be a history museum for Yolo County.  It is deeply disappointing that you brought this long tradition of support to an end with one vote and no practical notice. 

Please revisit your decision and allow the Gibson House to remain a history museum.  YoloArts can literally go anywhere in Yolo County.  There is, however, only one historic house museum in Yolo County.   Reversing this decision will allow the County to support both art and history and save taxpayer dollars. 

More information on the four reasons cited is below.

Thank you for your consideration.

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1)      This process lacked transparency.  The plans to end the Gibson House as a historic house museum were made in closed-door meetings.  The only museum representative who knew about YoloArts’ plans, which included removing the vast majority of historic items from the property and turning the upstairs into artist studios, had to keep those plans confidential.  The Yolo County Historical Museum Board, the people you selected to run the museum, were kept in the dark about YoloArts’ plans.

 2)      The public was misled and then not given a chance to express their support for the history museum.  County personnel discussed exploring “management options” but were not explicit about the fact that the Gibson House might cease operations as a history museum.  One of several examples includes a press release issued by the County on April 6, 2017, which included: 

“It is envisioned that management options presented will provide additional      functions and build upon current programming at the Gibson House.”

“We are conducting this exploration as a form of due diligence to best preserve and maximize use of the Gibson House,” said Yolo County Supervisor Matt Rexroad.  “The results could be transformational by expanding the current functions of the property for the community.”

The above press release was misleading because there was public outcry about YoloArts taking over the Gibson House.  In response to the press release, which talked about “build upon current programming” and “expanding the current functions” (which implied the current history museum functions would remain in place), community members stopped speaking out against the County exploring museum management options.

Ultimately, when the County released the staff report recommending the history museum be shut down, you gave the public, including the many, many Gibson House volunteers, two business-days’ notice.  This was not enough time for the public to weigh in on a community asset, especially because your vote was on a Tuesday morning when many people who care about the Gibson House were at work.

3)   YoloArts made clear from their proposal that they do not want any responsibility for “the history” of the Gibson House.  The County will be responsible for the projects needed to maintain a 150+ year-old house and for taking care of, and cleaning, the few historic items that remain on-site.  Everything about their mission and current programs is art-based.  YoloArts can run their arts programs anywhere.  There is only one Gibson House – and it should remain a historic house museum. 

4)      The Gibson House Museum would thrive with a fraction of the support now being offered to YoloArts—support that the Museum Board was told was unavailable. 

Money: The County is going to be spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on the Gibson House property to address deferred maintenance and to convert the facility into an art gallery.  Why was the Museum Board told not to ask the County for money but now the County is offering money on behalf of a private organization?  The County would save money by not converting the property.

The Collection of Historic Items: While there are legitimate concerns about how some of the historic items are being stored at the Gibson House, again the Museum Board was advised not to ask for additional money and told there was no way any of the items could be stored at the County Archives.  Under YoloArts, the County is going to spend $200,000 on a curator and some of the items are going to be stored at the County Archives. 

Lastly, with regards to management: The Gibson House now has a new and engaged executive director who planned to move the Museum forward and expand programming and outreach.  The Gibson House Museum Board would have moved forward with hiring a new director over two years ago, but was advised by the County not to make this change.  The County effectively penalized the Museum Board by ending the history museum, after the Museum Board followed the County’s request.

Please reverse this decision.  The people of Yolo County deserve a government that understands the value of both art and history.  After supporting this museum for 40 years, the people of Yolo County deserved a chance to be heard—and this secretive process denied the public a voice.



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