Consolidation would weaken public-private partnerships

Abolishing the OHS membership, reducing the OHS Board of Directors to advisory status, and converting the Oklahoma Historical Society to a division buried in a super agency would irretrievably undermine the prospects for further public-private partnerships.

"Ironically," said Dr. Bob Blackburn, "the proposal to save unidentified mystery money would actually reduce funds available to collect, preserve, and share history."

Blackburn points to a record of leveraging reduced state resources to attract an increasing amount of outside funding. That ability to raise funds, he said, rests squarely on the independent identity of the OHS and a focused, long-range business plan divorced from the revolving door of politics.

"The most visible outcomes of public-private partnerships include the Route 66 Museum in Clinton, the Oklahoma History Center, and the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center in Enid," said Blackburn. "Not only did we raise millions for all three museums, but we developed operational systems that generate cash to support the improved services."

The new exhibit, "Power to Grow: The Oil and Gas Industry in Oklahoma," is another example of the ability to generate funds that leverage a shrinking state appropriation. "More than $1 million was donated for the good cause," said Blackburn, who curated the exhibit.

Developing collections is another way that fund-raising capabilities serve the people of Oklahoma. The most recent example is a multi-year grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation to digitize and make searchable more than 1.4 million photographs that appeared in the Daily Oklahoman and Oklahoma City Times from 1928 to 1998. "Without the grant, we could not get the collection," said Blackburn.

Blackburn points to another recent grant from a foundation that is paying to digitize and make searchable the OHS newspaper collection from 1844 to 1923. "Within the next year, thanks to our identity in the academic community, we will post more than 7 million pages of newspapers on the internet that will be searchable by key words . . . and it will be offered free to everyone."

"Consolidation under House Bill 3028 would cripple our ability to attract partners with their funding," said Blackburn. "Why would anyone contribute money to a division that does not control its own mission, policies, and quality control?"

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