Ironworld in bad decline

Posted on November 20, 2009 under local history, minnesota, museums, public history

I discovered yesterday (via the Minnesota Association of Museums on twitter) that the Minnesota Discovery Center (formerly Ironworld), the mining history center in Chisholm on the Iron Range, is closing as of today, and putting its 47 employees (26 fulltime) on “temporary layoff.”  It’s unclear if and when it will reopen.

Two years ago the state agency (Iron Range Resources) which used to run Ironworld helped spin off the museum/center as an independent nonprofit with a new name and helped establish an endowment for continuing operations, with transitional funding tapering over 5 years.  It’s a huge attraction (I’ve heard it described as a “mining theme park”) on 660 acres, with not only the museum but an important archives center.  The recession has hit the endowment hard (it dropped from 10M to 6M this year), and the museum can no longer make payroll.  Apparently revenue from the gate has been going up:

Revitalized programming within budget yielded a 15% increase in attendance figures despite cold weather, five months of highway construction, and an economy where tourism spending in northeastern Minnesota saw double digit declines.

–but that has not been enough to offset the endowment decline and lack of state funding.

The scariest part of  the Duluth News Tribune report on the venue’s closing is this:

Efforts are underway to make sure the facilities don’t freeze while closed.

I really worry for the collections at Ironworld as winter rolls in.  The museum’s artifact collections are good, but the archives in particular are an extensive and unparalleled repository of life and work on the Range.  I hope that the board is able to regroup and reopen the facility as soon as possible;  and if not, that collections held in the public trust are transferred to another public history institution (ie, the MHS).  In this transition period, please take care of your collections, Minnesota Discovery Center.  They touch your visitors’ lives.

4 Comments on “Ironworld in bad decline”

  1. Certainly. I think the board needs to figure things out at the moment. If they decide not to reopen, then we can start calling them with worries about the collections.

  2. My understanding is that the IRRRB still owns all the assets, including collections, and that the nonprofit was tasked with operations. If that is the case, then there is less of a worry.

  3. Both the Ironworld Development Corporation board and the IRRRB need to be reminded of the importance of the collections in this critical time. Crucial decisions are being made in the next few weeks regarding the fate of the institution.

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