By Ben Bromley, News Republic
Feb 28, 2013
A proposed state takeover of Circus World Museum would endanger fundraising efforts and possibly force the site to close this year, its leaders say.
Since learning that Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget includes a plan to end the state’s longstanding public-private partnership with Circus World Museum Foundation, Inc. and roll the onetime Ringling brothers circus headquarters into the Wisconsin Historical Society, enraged donors have vowed to discontinue their support. Jonathan Lipp, president of the foundation, called the proposed state takeover a “death sentence” that will compromise Circus World’s ability to raise money.
“They basically sabotaged us,” Lipp said. “I’m concerned whether we can even keep Circus World open under the current conditions.”
Steve Freese, the museum’s executive director, said if angry donors pull their support, Circus World may not survive the year. “We think it’s going to put Circus World in danger, long-term,” Freese said.
Walker’s budget would fold Circus World — whose property is state-owned but whose operations are funded by the foundation — into the Historical Society. This would include making Circus World’s staff state employees, funneling the site’s revenue into state coffers, and ending a lease and management agreement between the state the foundation, which has operated the museum for 54 years.