Economic Downturn Hits Peabody Museum Budget

Although the halls of the Phillips Academy Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology may no longer play host to casual tours and spontaneous visits, the Museum has remained active amidst the economic downturn and the museum’s first year of a “probationary period” the Board of Trustees sanctioned last spring. Under the guidance of Interim Director Malinda Blustain, who is still “very hopeful about the future,” the Museum has stayed open and has been able to continue some of its major projects in the face of discussion of possible cuts to the school’s $70 million operating budget. In the spring of 2002, the Academy announced that the Peabody could no longer generate operating funds for itself and that it might have to close its doors. Since then, not only has the museum stopped applying for government grants, but it has also begun to rely upon its limited endowment because of dwindling patron donations. Upon the recommendation of the Trustees, PA convened an exploratory panel to investigate how the museum could continue as a successful entity of the Andover community. The board also decided that the school would fund the Peabody’s operations through 2004, at which point it would hold a discussion about the institution’s future role. After laying off half its staff and limiting visits to its exhibition halls, the Peabody has managed to control its financial problems for the time being by curtailing its expenditures. Presently, the museum’s three-person staff is working on cataloging the vast collections of the museum, reported to number approximately 500,000 individual artifacts. “We really don’t know how many items we have,” Ms. Blustain said, “but with the help of work duty students, we should soon have some control over our resources.” The Peabody’s collections, which contain artifacts from across the Americas, remain on loan to other museums and private researchers, with some pieces lent to a traveling exhibition on the history of Peru. Additionally, several notable archaeologists have approached the Peabody about using some of its items for their own analysis. The Museum has also continued to sponsor a monthly lecture series in partnership with the Massachusetts Archaeological Council. Next summer, the museum plans to continue its Pecos Pathways archaeological study program, which allows five PA students to accompany Peabody staff on a hands-on tour of several archaeological sites throughout the Pecos National Historic Park in New Mexico. For the first time this year, the program will include a weeklong New England session, which will allow New Mexican students to explore the area’s diverse history. Ms. Blustain plans to advertise this year’s program in The Phillipian and will encourage instructors to discuss the Pathways opportunity with students in their classes. Despite its vast archaeological collections, museum staff and trustees have found themselves hard-pressed to find a role for the Museum in Andover’s academic program. Although some English, History, and Foreign Language instructors bring their students to the Peabody for enrichment exercises, few members of the community have realized the institution’s full potential as a learning tool. In approaching this problem, the school has created an archaeology elective that will undergo a trial run during the upcoming Summer Session. Ms. Blustain stated, “One of the most important things we need to let students and faculty know right now is that we have incredible messages of value, and that our collections provide a wonderful springboard with which to explore current events.” Student voices have also joined the outpour of opinions about the future of the Peabody. Dan Harris ’05, who fulfilled his fall term work duty at the Museum, commented,“I worked with many interesting artifacts [at the museum] and I wish there were a more comprehensive way for us to learn more about them.” Ms. Blustain observed, “[The Peabody] was once at the forefront of archaeological theory.” Although the Museum’s return to the “forefront” of study remains uncertain, the 17-member Planning and Assessment Committee is hard at work to find ways in which the Peabody can make itself a part of the Andover community. “I will be pleased if somehow we can find a way to keep [the museum’s] important aspects, and develop further a relationship with the school,” Ms. Blustain said.