Marjorie Woodruffs Ghost Trees
  • Guy Nicol
  • Marjorie Woodruff’s Ghost Trees

My favorite stops on any visit to the state offices at the Thompson Center are the Chicago Gallery of the Illinois State Museum and the Illinois Artisans shop.

(Well, after I gawk at architect Helmut Jahn’s astounding lobby.)

The gallery curates and hosts exhibits by Illinois artists; the shop offers beautiful work by Illinois artists and craftspeople.

So it wasn’t welcome news to hear that both are under threat of closure at some yet-to-be-announced date in the near future, having fallen victim to the budget standoff between Governor Rauner and the state legislature.

In preparation for this shutdown, the current exhibit at the gallery has been abruptly canceled and the gallery door locked, effective yesterday. (It’ll reopen from noon to 1:30 PM on Wednesday, June 24, for a previously scheduled discussion with artists Nora Lloyd and Christine Redcloud, as well artist and historian Frances L. Hagemann and curator Jane Stevens.)

The exhibit, “Footprints Through Time: Artists Inspired by History,” had been slated to run through July 10, but—after a period of apparent confusion—the 15 participating artists have been told that their work must come down this week.

And all of the consigned pieces at the Artisans shop are being returned to their makers.

Which means the two facilities, although technically still open, are effectively out of business.

On June 2, Rauner announced an initial list of steps he’d be taking in an effort to address what he says is a gap of up to $4 billion in the state’s 2016 budget. His list included closing the 138-year-old state museum, which is run by the Department of Natural Resources, and consists of a flagship museum and research center in Springfield and five satellite facilities. The proposed 2016 museum operating budget is $6.29 million.

A DNR spokesperson says most of the museum system’s 68 employees will be laid off when it closes, leaving just enough staff to maintain the collections and buildings.

The museum staff isn’t talking, other than to refer questions to DNR. But some of the artists are—and they’re rejecting the idea that money saved by the shuttering justifies the cultural loss to the public, noting that closing could put the museum’s accreditation in jeopardy. (The accrediting body requires at least 1,000 open-to-the-public hours annually.)

Artist Marjorie Woodruff, whose installation Ghost Trees was part of the Chicago Gallery exhibit, wonders why the show had to come down so quickly.

DNR’s response when I put that question to them by e-mail was this: “Since the FY 2016 budget is not yet in place, it is prudent to complete as much work as possible prior to the end of the fiscal year June 30.”

Woodruff says the whole thing flies in the face of current thinking about art as an economic engine.

A petition addressed to Rauner, asking him not to close the State Museum, has collected more than 6,000 signatures so far.