A group of joggers runs past the entrance to Circus World Museum along Water Street on Wednesday in Baraboo. A pair of meetings will be held today that could help shape the future of the historic site.
By Ben Bromley, News Republic
March 14, 2013
Debate over Circus World Museum’s future takes the center ring today with two important meetings.
The first is a gathering of the Circus World Museum Foundation board, set for 9 a.m. in a theater inside the museum’s Irvin Feld Visitor Center. At 6 p.m., Circus World will host a town hall-style meeting in the same location.
Steve Freese, the museum’s executive director, said foundation board meetings don’t allow for public comment. The town hall meeting was set up to foster dialogue between Circus World leaders and the museum’s supporters. “Then they have a forum to ask questions,” Freese said.
The foundation board meets monthly, but this meeting carries special significance. Last month in his budget proposal, Gov. Scott Walker proposed rolling Circus World into the Wisconsin Historical Society. Since its inception, Circus World’s buildings and collections have been owned by the state, but its operations have been run privately by the foundation.
Walker’s proposal would make Circus World staff state employees, put the museum’s revenue in state coffers and end the state’s 54-year-old lease and management agreement with the foundation. It also would earmark $1.2 million in state funds over the next two years for Circus World operations, an infusion Historical Society leaders say would help secure the museum’s financial future.
But many Circus World supporters counter that while state support is necessary to ensure the site’s long-term viability, the museum should continue to operate independently.
The board meeting agenda includes discussion of Walker’s proposal and a request for the state Legislative Audit Bureau to audit the foundation and the Historical Society to resolve a disputed debt between the two organizations.
The meeting then will adjourn to a closed session for discussion of fundraising, employee performance evaluation, contract issues and potential litigation. The meeting later will reconvene in open session, with possible action to be taken then.
The evening meeting is designed to inform donors, circus fans and area residents how Walker’s proposed budget might affect Circus World. Freese and Jonathan Lipp, chairman of the foundation board, will make presentations and take audience questions. Freese said local businesses and organizers of a summer circus parade downtown have exhibited concern. “Everyone knows this is going to affect their business if there’s a dip in attendance,” he said.