According to recent reports the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, which opened in Cincinnati in 2004, is experiencing "deep" financial troubles. The muses whose exhibits focus on the story of the American struggle for freedom, especially that of African- Americans, is in danger of closing some reports say. But says Eric Higgs, marketing director of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, “such reports are exaggerated.” The center, he says, will not close--but will merge with another organization. "The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (NURFC) and the Cincinnati Museum Center (CMC) announced on 2/15/12, a visionary plan to take steps to join together in a single corporate structure," explains Higgs. "It is anticipated that this framework will result in an exciting new chapter for both museums and for Cincinnati. The Cincinnati Museum Center and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center are iconic and inspirational attractions both regionally and nationally, and share a common vision to create engaging, inspiring and meaningful learning environments."
The center, located where African-Americans crossed the Ohio River into freedom, did recently slash expenses cutting the budget from $12.5 million in 2004 to $4.6 million in 2011, and its workforce from 120 to 34 full-time employees. It has been reported that paid attendance has been about 113,000 in each of the past three years and has attracted such names as former presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Desmond Tutu.
Higgs is hopeful the merge will ward off any future financial woes. "We believe the merger will strengthen the position of both institutions. The museums will maintain their own brands and continue to advance their respective missions, but are in a better position to do so, contributing more to the community. The merger will allow us to provide new product offerings by sharing exhibits, different approaches to local and regional outreach and new national and international partnerships are all upsides," he explains. "For example, take the Cincinnati Museum Center partnered to build the national traveling exhibit “America I Am”, which details the many contributions of African Americans throughout American history. A portion of that exhibit is now displayed in the Freedom Center. We see further opportunities like this to capitalize on shared partners (e.g. schools, Discovery), expertise (e.g. social media, exhibit building), innovative ideas (e.g. membership plans) and space."
Higgs feels the merge will make both organizations stronger. "Both institutions will benefit from the strengths of one another. The NURFC has built a nationally recognized brand that has impacted millions of people nationwide over the last eight years of operation. The CMC is a strong local brand, with over 1.5 MM visitors annually, and partnering allows both institutions to reach different visitors," he says. "There will also be financial efficiencies, and an independent, third party analysis of the new structure indicates cost savings of $800,000 to $1.2 million, which would help the Freedom Center close their financial gap, so they can realize their mission and benefits of partnership with the Museum Center."
The merge, says Higgs, will not only keep the center alive--but more importantly its message. "The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center has positively impacted millions of people in the past eight years of operation by revealing stories about freedom’s heroes, from the era of the Underground Railroad to contemporary times," he says. "The story of the Underground Railroad is an important piece of American history that serves as an example of courage, cooperation and perseverance. These lessons still hold true today and serve as a source of inspiration to people to take courageous steps for freedom today. With our nationally acclaimed exhibits from courage, which detail the cases that led to the historic decisions of Brown v. Board of Education, to the Invisible Slavery exhibit which tackles the many examples of modern day exploitation of humans, the Freedom Center stands as a source of inspiration for ‘freedom everywhere, everyday’."