from: Baraboo News Republic
By Ben Bromley, News Republic
March 24, 2013
The Wisconsin Historical Society says the organization running Circus World Museum is struggling financially and isn’t equipped to revive the Baraboo historic site. That organization’s reply? “Right back atcha.”
Historical Society leaders say the Circus World Museum Foundation has lost money for years, has failed to pay a debt to the state and has itself admitted it can’t raise enough money to keep operations in the black.
“We think we could help a lot,” said Ellsworth Brown, Historical Society executive director. “Our only goal is to make sure this site thrives,”
Leaders at the foundation, the private nonprofit that has run the museum since its inception, counter that the Historical Society itself is struggling to raise funds and doesn’t have the capacity to take on development for Circus World.
“How do they think they’re going to get those dollars to come in?” asked Steve Freese, Circus World executive director.
Contradictory budget claims prompted legislators to request an audit of the organizations to better chart a course for Circus World’s future. During a recent meeting of the foundation board, state Rep. Fred Clark, D-Sauk City, said legislators have struggled “sifting through competing claims” put forth by the two organizations. He is among the signers of a letter asking the state Legislative Audit Bureau to assess the situation. An audit also has been requested on the disputed debt between the organizations.
Brown said the Historical Society could stabilize Circus World’s operations and finances, but foundation leaders want the site’s public-private partnership preserved. They say the museum will thrive if it gets an infusion of state money for operations while a private, nonprofit group drives fundraising.
“Just let this public-private partnership continue and we’ll show you what we can do,” foundation board member David Hoffman said.
Leaders of both organizations agree Circus World needs state support and that its operational model needs tweaking at the very least. But the rest of this debate, at least until an audit is conducted, comes down to an interpretation of a series of competing assertions and two different visions of what’s best for the site over the long term.
“We don’t have any doubts we can do it,” Brown said of operating Circus World effectively. “That’s our business.”
Jonathan Lipp, chairman of the foundation board, said the site needs an infusion of state support, not a full-scale takeover. “We certainly have a vision of where we want to take Circus World,” Lipp said. “We have people with a passion. It’s just (needing) money and having the tools to achieve it.”