Outreach is Our Job
Outreach is one of the essential duties of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. Chapter 121 of the state’s general statutes delineates and defines the “powers and duties” of NC DCR. The 13th duty listed in section 4 is “To promote and encourage throughout the State knowledge and appreciation of North Carolina history and heritage by encouraging people of the state to engage in the preservation and care of archives, historical manuscripts, museum items, and other historical materials…[and] the display and interpretation of historical materials…”
In this day of budgetary slashes and movements for smaller governments, why should tax money go toward promoting the preservation of and access to historic materials throughout the state? Isn’t maintaining a network of state-run history museums, historic sites, and a state archives enough?
Here are three reasons for state government to be involved in outreach to private cultural heritage entities around the state:
- A centralized authority can help ensure more even distribution of cultural investment throughout the state.
- Cultural heritage institutions have unique capacities to nurture communities, especially in smaller towns. Strong communities are in the state’s best interest in many ways.
- Less quantifiable than financial distribution and community building, is the idea that history-creation is a basic civic right. Although not a specific reference in the Bill of Rights, history-creating activities strongly relate to the 1st Amendment’s call for freedom of expression and the right to assemble. Telling stories of the past is an essential function in human society, and gathering places and objects enliven and enrich these histories. Both competition among similar organizations and guidance from governmental agencies can help lead history-creating organizations toward quality in their productions.
If these ideas convince you that NC DCR ought to continue reaching out to private cultural heritage organizations, then funding becomes the issue and leads to more questions: which outreach activities? how much? where should the funds come from? Over the past decade or so, federal grants through the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) have paid for much of DCR’s outreach, especially through the NC ECHO and C2C projects. Other states, most notably Minnesota and Indiana, have strong statewide museum field service programs, and central offices are able to distribute state-funded grants-in-aid for projects around the state. It would be wonderful to offer financial support (in addition to the professional development and guidance we now provide) to struggling institutions across North Carolina. But the NC legislature has not yet invested in such public-private cultural heritage partnerships.