Museums, Other Cultural Organizations Buying Time with CARES Act Grants from Statewide Humanities Council

Daisy The Cow in the Ag-Xploration Gallery is ready for visitors at the South Dakota Agricultural Heritage Museum thanks to the South Dakota Humanities Council CARES grant.

Interim Funding a Respite During Pandemic

The Journey continues.

That's the mantra of The Journey Museum & Learning Center executive director Troy Kilpatrick, who's scrambling to keep the storied Rapid City institution operating as normally as possible in an abnormal time.

Venues like the Journey, which relies on in-person traffic, have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting restrictions on gatherings — especially those that are considered "non-essential."

Facing monumental revenue losses and a massive programming overhaul to accommodate the pandemic restrictions, Kilpatrick was relieved to receive a South Dakota Humanities Council CARES Act grant for $20,000.

"It's buying us some time to reinvent our programming strategies," said Kilpatrick. "It doesn't solve the Journey's issue of sustainability, but it gives us time to create programming that will eventually get the support of community members."

The Journey Museum & Learning Center received a $20,000 SDHC Cares Act grant. 

103 Day Closure for Journey

The Journey Museum was closed for 103 days and has since re-opened with limited hours. But its sustaining revenue — admission fees and gift shop sales — hasn't returned. Getting back to regular revenue won't be easy as long as the pandemic continues. The museum, now operating on approximately half of its former budget, hosted 300 bus trips for adults and school classes last summer. This summer? Three.

Now, with a $20,000 financial boost, Kilpatrick is using Zoom and other virtual technology to bring visitors in without physically bringing them in.

"What SD CARES is doing is giving us the opportunity to heal ourselves a little bit," he said. "It's buying us time to reinvent the way we serve the community."

The Journey, whose mission is to preserve the history and heritage of the Black Hills, found a valuable opportunity in the SDHC CARES Act grant, which provides unrestricted operating and/or humanities program support to cultural organizations suffering financial losses due to COVID-19 in the state of South Dakota.

The grants, funded by the NEH and distributed in South Dakota by the statewide South Dakota Humanities Council, have helped stabilize museums, libraries and other cultural organizations that provide humanities programming in South Dakota. By maintaining essential functions and retaining core personnel during the pandemic, the aided institutions will have opportunities to thrive beyond it, which hasn't been a sure thing since the virus shut down much of the country.

"Our vision is to create valuable educational programs for all ages," Kilpatrick said. "Right now, we're going to keep moving enough to do that enough in 2020 and 2021, and hopefully, we all rebuild to a better future."

Perhaps just as importantly, the grant provided peace of mind for Kilpatrick and his staff.

"It gives me the ability to breathe a little easier," said Kilpatrick. 

South Dakota Agricultural Heritage Museum Maintains Summer Staff, Creates COVID-19 Compliant Exhibits

On the other side of the state, a $14,050 CARES grant made a difficult decision exponentially easier for South Dakota Agricultural Heritage Museum director Gwen McCausland.

The Brookings facility, nestled in with SDSU's campus, uses summer earnings from the gift shop to fund educational programming. With revenue down 70 percent after a six-month shutdown, McCausland figured she'd have to cut loose her summer staff, complicating an already difficult financial situation.

"It came at a perfect time for us," she said. "A very crucial time for us."

Not only was she able to pay student staff, but she also remodeled and added to two galleries to make them COVID-19 compliant. The grant provided funding for additional supplies and equipment to help keep the Ag-Xploration children's gallery sanitized for guests.

"This really came at a time that gave us a solid foundation to start the school year, and hopefully we can build on it and see how the spring goes as well," she said.

The South Dakota Agricultural Heritage Museum is dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of South Dakota's agricultural history and rural heritage. While the museum is currently open, as it follows SDSU's COVID-19 guidelines, the situation is fluid. The university is at "Safety Level Orange," which means it is "open to the public in some areas with strict guidelines."

With the possibility of future restrictions looming, McCausland is using the grant opportunity to bolster the museum's virtual presence.

"We are hoping to continue being open for guests and are working on getting more content online."

Find Out More

For information on CARES Act Grant applications, go to