Situation at the Athenaeum

To the Editor:

I was saddened to learn of the dire situation at the Athenaeum that resulted in the decision to reduce the staff. Having served on the Athenaeum Board of Trustees until recently, I know what a terribly difficult decision it must have been.

The board is made up of about a dozen citizens who care passionately about the Athenaeum and who volunteer their time, wisdom, work and wealth to provide stewardship for an institution that is one of the valuable legacies of the Fairbanks family to the town. It is one of the treasures that bring character and culture to the Northeast Kingdom.

I always wondered, when I was on the board if the townspeople understood the financial realities of the Athenaeum. When I was active, the annual budget was about $400,000 of which less that $100,000 was provided by the town taxes. That means that the Board and staff of the Athenaeum were hustling for over $300,000 every year from grants and the annual appeal.

In the past decade, the board has received grants that enabled them to restore the building beautifully. They have raised the money necessary to replace the old skylight in the gallery that was a danger to the art collection that is the greatest asset of the Athenaeum. But because of the realities of the economy they find themselves in a severe financial bind that cannot be saved by the dwindling endowment.

I know the board is heartbroken to have to reduce the staff of the Athenaeum. These are employees who have been loyal to the institution and dedicated their lives to serving the community for modest pay. I know it was a decision made after thorough discussion.

So, instead of being angry at the group of citizens who volunteered to be stewards of your local treasure during these difficult times, why not ask yourself if you could be part of the solution. Now that you understand the realities of the plight of the Athenaeum, perhaps you could ask how you can help, financially and otherwise.And please don't believe that the other treasures of your community are immune from the present state of the economy.

Anne Swainbank Brooks

Whitefish Bay, Wis.

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