Reporting Steve Grzanich
CHICAGO (CBS) – Two icons of Chicago culture, The Adler Planetarium and The Field Museum, have been tightening budgets and refocusing missions. The Adler recently cut 15 staff positions and next year, 18 positions will be eliminated at The Field, mostly through attrition.
Have the museums fallen on hard times? No, say the leaders of both institutions during an appearance on WBBM Newsradio’s At Issue program.
“We are in the process of adjusting the size of our entire enterprise to a more realistic budget in light of the stresses and strains that we’ve gone through just like every other institution in town and every other business in town,” says Richard Lariviere, President and CEO, The Field Museum.
Lariviere, hired in October 2012, says despite what the headlines might suggest, the situation at The Field is not dire. He acknowledges the museum’s debt is nearly $170 million but is quick to add that the institution has an endowment of $320 million. Still, the 120 year old museum will cut its budget by an estimated 20 percent next year and merge some departments.
“We have to do be smarter about what we do, so that we can live within our means,” said Lariviere. During tight times, one of his top priorities is protecting the museum’s collections.
“These are world class treasures that you can only begin to find if you go to The Smithsonian or to The American in New York. “We have to preserve these collections at an enormous cost and expense for the benefit of humanity forever.”
And at The Adler Planetarium?
“I don’t think we have challenges,” says Michelle Larson, President and CEO, The Adler Planetarium, who’s been on the job as leader of the planetarium since earlier this year. “We haven’t changed our mission, we haven’t eliminated our ability to do anything. The Adler is still strong in all of our areas.”
Larson recently trimmed her staff by 15 employees but she says that had more to do with streamlining operations and honing the planetarium’s focus than being a symptom of financial hardship.
“We’ve been thinking through what it is that we do well and what it is that we want to focus on, so that we have a sustainable model for going forward in the future.”
The ultimate goal of both leaders is keeping the institutions relevant. Larson says the Adler will take a stronger role in community education and outreach. “What’s the arena that we can play in as a cultural institution that’s value added to the fine work that’s being done by our school systems, by other institutions in the defined education that they do?”
Having strong research and science departments will always be a top priority at both institutions. On this Fourth of July weekend, Lariviere is reminded of how important The Field’s science mission is. The institution’s research helped saved one of the symbols of our country.
“The Bald Eagle was essentially saved by research at The Field Museum,” he says. There was a suspicion that insecticides were having an impact on the thickness of falcon and eagle eggs. A team of scientists then began examining the museum’s collection of peregrine falcon eggs and discovered the likely cause of the Bald Eagle’s steady demise.
“The Field Museum had a collection of peregrine falcon eggs taken every year and could measure the thickness of those eggs and documented a gradual thinning of those eggs that directly corresponded to DDT in the atmosphere.
On the basis of that evidence, the federal government banned DDT and that saved not only the Bald Eagle but the peregrine falcons and who knows how many other species of birds. If it hadn’t been for the collection in The Field Museum, we would not have Bald Eagles today,” says Lariviere.
Both The Adler and The Field are looking forward to a strong summer tourist season to bolster attendance. Both institutions have special exhibits.