The Clinton House Museum has 15 months to find a new funding model after the Fayetteville Advertising & Promotions Commission voted 6-0 to end its funding on the facility at the end of the year.
Molly Rawn, the CEO of the tourist bureau Experience Fayetteville, is in charge of helping the museum’s board, the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and the commission to put together a new plan. Rawn said the commission has committed to paying for the museum’s lease and upkeep and maintenance of the grounds through 2021, something Rawn said was “particularly positive.”
The museum, like many facilities in the tourism industry, has been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Museum Director Angie Albright said the museum was on track to surpass visitors numbers of the previous two years when it had to close in the middle of March; the museum reopened earlier this month.
The museum had about 5,500 visitors in 2018 and 5,554 in 2019, Albright said. Attendance for basically three months in 2020 has been around 500.
Rawn said the museum, like most museums, isn’t self-sustaining but the A&P was OK with that until the pandemic drastically hammered tourism dollars. The commission reduced the museum’s budget from $250,000 to $185,000 in June, of which about $115,000 has been spent.
The museum had two full-time employees and two part-time employees before the pandemic. It now has Albright and one part-time staffer.
“It is not the A&P expectation that the museum be 100% self sustaining,” Rawn said. “Once COVID hit, that [revenue] gap was just a little too wide for the comfort of our commission.”
The Clinton House Museum board of directors released a statement through President Mark Henry.
“On September 21, 2020, the Fayetteville Advertising and Promotion Commission voted unanimously to approve a motion to decrease funding for the Clinton House Museum for 2020,” the statement read in part. “We understand the vote was made in response to the substantial decrease in tourism revenues resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. It is our understanding the commission has provided us with adequate time in which to take action to preserve this important landmark.”
The 90-year-old home is located at 930 W. Clinton Dr. and is where future U.S. President Bill Clinton lived while he was a professor at the university. Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton, the future U.S. Senator and Secretary of State, were married in the house’s living room in 1975.
The Clintons sold the home to UA music professor James Greeson in 1983 for $47,000. The University of Arkansas acquired the home in 2005 and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2010.
“What got interpreted by many is that we were just dumping this,” Rawn said. “To me it really felt like a long runway to give the opportunity … to find a new model. It is too strong of a statement to say that someone else has to take over.
“What we know is we are not going to continue to operate it at the level and the same way we have been. I don't think that means the A&P’s support and involvement is off the table.”