|↵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. 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 Gibson home, land and outbuildings were acquired by Yolo County in 1975. The Yolo County Historical Museum Corporation (YCHM) was formed in 1984 to operate the museum in accordance with an established agreement with Yolo County (County). Under the current agreement, YCHM is tasked to collect, record, preserve and exhibit items that best portray the history of Yolo County as well as appoint a director and conduct necessary budgeting activities. The corporation is to maintain the premises and the museum in accordance with its operating budget, while capital improvement costs are to be shared with the County.
The Gibson House Museum functions as a public park, museum, location for fundraising and private events and a living history education program for local schools as operated by YCHM. Of these functions, the highest number of visitors to the Gibson House property and its largest source of revenue are from private events.
Number of Visitors, by Property Function, to the Gibson House in FY15-16
The budget for the operation of the Gibson Museum is prepared and overseen by YCHM. As shown in the budget for the past four fiscal years, Attachment A, the largest source of revenue for the Gibson House was received from private event rentals, the majority of which were for weddings. This amount increased substantially in FY 2014-15 with an increase in event promotion by YCHM staff. Fundraising events hosted by YCHM serve as the second highest revenue producing endeavor followed by net rental income received from a residential home purchased by YCHM.
The greatest expenses for the museum consist of staffing, facility costs and development, which includes advertising. It is important to note that while staffing costs are the highest expenditure for the organization, the salary for the Director is relatively low. The Director’s salary is budgeted at $14,400, which is even below the salary of another staff member.
Utilities, as well as sewer and water costs at the Gibson House, are paid for by the County. This amounts to a significant portion of the ongoing operating expenses for the property. In addition, under the current agreement with YCHM, the County is partially responsible for the costs associated with maintaining the premises and the structures.
The YCHM has a Board of Directors as well as four part-time staff, including a part-time director with an annual salary of $14,400. The low salary and willingness of the director to work additional hours, has allowed YCHM to continue to operate the Gibson House while maintaining a relatively stable budget. However, the director is set to retire and it is unlikely that YCHM can continue providing this salary to future potential directors and retain the quality of service necessary for robust and effective management.
Since the inception of the museum, the number of collection pieces has grown to an estimated 11,248 items. While some of the collection is on display, a sizeable portion of the collection is held in storage in the attic, bedroom closets and barns. This has resulted in a museum collection that is not fully available for public viewing and has, in effect, turned the Gibson House into an archive building, of which the historical house is not adequately suited for the long term.
The County contracted with Past Matters, LLC to review a portion of the collection in the attic and a number of select items from around the property to note their condition and provide general recommendations (See Attachment B: Past Matters, LLC Report). In their final report, Past Matters, LLC noted that many items were in crowded conditions with improper storage that could result in damage for some pieces. The cramped storage is a result of the large number of items that have been accessed into the museum collection, which includes many duplicate items as well as pieces that are outside the scope of the museum’s interpretive themes.
When it comes to the facility, Past Matters, LLC found that, while most of the collection was reasonably stable, the environmental conditions of the museum buildings did not necessarily meet optimum standards for storage and display. Ultimately, the vendors noted that the conditions of many of the buildings, including the barns and attic, were not conducive for long term storage (see pg. 41 of Attachment B).
The Gibson House and grounds are in need of a number of improvements to ensure its safety and continued preservation for the long term which would require funding. As shown in Attachment C, a recent review of the Gibson House and grounds provided a list of needed improvements that range from an estimated $348,000 to $1,122,000, which includes limited design work and a 20% contingency. These facility upgrades do not include the alterations that would also be needed to ensure the environmental conditions necessary to optimally display, store and preserve a museum collection as described by Past Matters, LLC.
As previously stated, under the terms of the current MOU between the County and YCHM, the County is responsible for half of the capital improvement costs with the other half falling on YCHM. However, available funds for both YCHM and the County are limited.
Recommendations and Next Steps for Long-Term Sustainability
The recommendations below have been split into two categories: Management Transition as well as a Collection Review and Deaccession. An initial timeline is provided in Attachment D.
The current operating arrangement of the Gibson House is not regarded by County staff as sustainable in the long-term. The director is currently set to retire and the position’s salary is far below what could be anticipated for another director in the future, revenue is currently not adequate to meet the capital improvement needs, and the current MOU and operational structure of YCHM is focused on preserving and displaying a collection, not event center management. Events bring in the largest number of visitors and income to the property, therefore, by adjusting management and operation of the Gibson House to include a more robust event center focus, alongside the museum focus, it is anticipated that revenue could increase. For these reasons, alternative management options and the relative benefits and setbacks were explored (as shown in Attachment E).
As detailed in the table below, one of these management options is the establishment of an MOU with a non-profit: either an existing provider, a creation of a Friends of the Gibson House non-profit or a combination of both.
|Non-Profit: Establish a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with a non-profit.
|Benefit: Through a non-profit with a stronger event center focus, the museum could retain programs, including the museum and educational program. Through an established MOU, revenue from fundraising and events could be put towards operational expenses and to address facility needs. There is also the added benefit of potentially growing an existing non-profit through the partnership.
Setback: The County would still retain responsibility for the property as the owner, the facility needs may take longer to fix than if privately owned, and the County would not receive revenue from a sale. Additionally, event center promotion may be more robust under an experienced management company.
The recommendation of staff is to further explore this management option to develop an MOU with a non-profit provider, specifically with the organization YoloArts. This option will allow for the land to be preserved for the public as a museum and for the educational program. It also has the added benefit of potentially growing an existing non-profit through the partnership.
It is envisioned that the new operational arrangement would include a more robust event center focus, alongside the museum focus, to provide an increase in revenue. With a reduction in the museum collection, through a refined scope and deaccession, the barns and bottom floor of the house will be more readily available for rent for private events thus allowing for further expansion of this function for the Gibson House. This could bring in increased revenue to further offset staff and facility costs.
County staff are currently in discussions with the non-profit, YoloArts, to explore a potential partnership at the Gibson House. YoloArts is a long established organization with the mission to cultivate and enrich lives through the arts in Yolo County as done through supporting arts education programs, exhibitions, galleries and more. It is intended that the County would retain ownership of the property while YoloArts would utilize the Gibson House for education programs and exhibitions as well as some of the operations of the House. Such a partnership could be beneficial in providing a facility for YoloArts and expansion of their programming while also providing an operator for some of the programming at the Gibson House.
Pending Board direction, County staff will work with YoloArts to develop partnership terms and a transition plan which would be returned to the Board of Supervisors. Part of this plan would include determination of what operations (event management, the living history educational program and museum) may be conducted by YoloArts, the County’s role in operations moving forward and any potential costs to the County.
In addition to the recommended management option, some alternative management options include:
|Private Ownership: Sale of the Gibson House to a private party.
||Benefit: Through private ownership the facility would likely receive the needed building restorations and the County would be relieved of the property costs and management while also receiving some revenue through the initial sale.
Setback: The public would likely lose access to the historical property, lose the educational program and the museum. Additionally, there is a grant obligation, totaling $75,000 through the year 2030 on the barn buildings that would need to be negotiated.
|Management Company: Establish a contract with a management company.
|Benefit: With a management company the County would retain ownership to continue the museum and educational program. This would allow for a more robust event center revenue stream for the Gibson House with an experienced event company as operator.
Setback: This arrangement would likely still require a non-profit to assist in fundraising, management of the museum and operation of the educational program. The County would still retain responsibility for the property as the owner, the facility needs may take longer to fix than if privately owned, and the County would not receive revenue from a sale. Additionally, the contract for the management company would cut into revenue for the facility.
Ultimately, it is desired that for the management model chosen, the YCHM Board of Directors and staff would be available to provide guidance and assistance during the management transition to ensure the continued preservation and sustainability of the Gibson property for the community. As displayed in the YCHM budget, the cost of operating the Gibson House and programming for a full fiscal year is around $57,000 and is then offset by income from private events, rental income and fundraising events. If YCHM is unable to sustain its operations through the transition period, then the County may need to assist in maintaining current staff and covering operational costs to continue operation of the living history educational program, museum and scheduled events.
Collection Review and Deaccession
In accordance with the recommendation of Past Matters, LLC, it is recommended that the museum collection be reviewed entirely to identify pieces for deaccession. Pieces identified for deaccession can then, in accordance with deaccession policy, be provided to another institution, sold at public auction, returned to the donor or, if in deteriorating condition, destroyed. This would allow a sizeable reduction in the collection to increase storage space, thus allowing adequate room for proper storage and reduce the risk of damage (see pages 19-21 of Attachment B).
This would include narrowing the scope of the museum collection to the primary interpretive themes. The primary themes focus on items of the Gibson family as well as farming and ranch life in Yolo County from 1850-1930. Currently, the museum has a list of secondary themes that fall outside of this scope. Focusing on the primary themes would better serve the purpose of the Gibson House and provide room for collection storage.
To accomplish this recommendation, County staff are in discussions with YCHM staff to develop a plan for a full review of the museum collection during the management transition. It is anticipated that this review will occur over the course of this year and be conducted by a Collections Review Committee, which would ideally include current YCHM staff as well as a County representative from the 3rd District. The developed plan and estimated timeline will be brought to the Board of Supervisors for approval in the coming months.