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Clackamas County nonprofits hit by COVID-19 band together to advocate for funding changes

On March 31, a Clackamas County nonprofit board wrote a letter to the state asking for this year's Oregon Museum Grant funds to be used to help small organizations towards their COVID-19 income loss.

COURTESY PHOTO - Philip Foster Farm in Eagle Creek connects attendees of all ages with local history. This year, the historic site may remain closed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.Kuri Gill of the Oregon Historic Preservation Office has responded that state officials are adding an operational component to the $75,000 in annual funding normally dispersed in up to $8,000 increments to special museum projects.

"The operational projects responding to COVID-19 will be a higher priority," Gill wrote.

Milwaukie Historical Society board members, the owners and operators of the Milwaukie Museum, realized many small museums and heritage places are affected by COVID-19. Many of these organizations that rely on income from weddings, school groups and patronage admission pricing have lost all of their revenue stream amid COVID-19 restrictions.

David Aschenbrenner, president of the Milwaukie Historical Society, had requested that the grant funding go to small heritage places and museums to recoup their losses during the COVID-19 crisis.

"Use allotted funds from 2020 Oregon Museum Grants towards saving, aiding and reinvigorating our fellow small museums and heritage places and save their employees and operations in the great state of Oregon," Aschenbrenner wrote to state officials.

Gill said that the state will not be funding lost revenue, and the focus on operational projects responding to COVID-19 didn't require any change to state rules guiding museum grants that have always allowed for funding staff time and equipment.

"The request must still be framed as a project under one the three categories funded by the grant program," Gill said. "This is pretty easy to do, but we didn't go outside the grant statute or administrative rules to do it."

This year's grant funds can still be used for staffing and costs for care of historic collections and interpretation of heritage during the grant period beginning July 1.

"Since museums are in a variety of positions, many are operating as normal, except not open to the public at this time, we are still accepting the typical applications," Gill wrote.

As previously reported, construction projects continue at a national historic site in Eagle Creek because of grant funding, although its four full-time staff were laid off because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Philip Foster Farm will be potentially closed all year since spring field trips are the farm's primary source of funding.

The historic site has been open to the public since 1993. In the prior century, Philip Foster, his wife Mary Charlotte and their children welcomed many of their fellow travelers at their farm on the historic Barlow Road in Eagle Creek after they had made their journey across the Oregon Trail. The 640-acre property featured a store and places for weary travelers to stay.

Milwaukie Historical Society spokesperson Greg Hemer said the Milwaukie Museum won't not be seeking grant dollars from the state this year. Although they had to cancel Milwaukie's Historic Home Tour, their biggest fundraiser of the year, the group's museum pays no taxes and has a regular budget based on membership and donations.

"We feel the dollars should be spent for small heritage places and museums that need the money more than we do," Hemer said.

Prior to COVID-19, Milwaukie historians had been planning to apply for a grant to tell the story of Japanese, Italian and Swedish immigrants coming to Milwaukie to buy land, create local farms and become the foundation of today's city. That project, which would include interviews with surviving family members on the consequence of Japanese people being sent to Idaho during World War II, is currently on hold.

"We feel it would be a shame for us to capitalize on a project that we could do at a later time and let our fellow historians close their doors and not enhance the knowledge of our residents," Aschenbrenner wrote.

Grant applications are being accepted through the end of April at Pamplin Media Group reporter Emily Lindstrand contributed to this news article.

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