Grant funds secured for museum project

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"It's new, but a logical continuation of the work we've been doing for two years," said Williams College economics professor Stephen Sheppard, who co-founded the center.

The center, also known as C3D, is a joint project between Williams College and Mass MoCA.

The grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services is for $334,384, along with $177,404 in matching funds from the college and other funding sources, for a proposed study titled "Museums and Community: Evaluating the Economic and Social Impact of Museums."

It will study 16 museums and their communities, including work already begun at Mass MoCA and North Adams and Dia-Beacon and Beacon, N.Y., to "assess how local neighborhoods are economically transformed by their museums" and "the impact of these institutions on employment and income, and how these impacts are distributed over the population."

The IMLS is a federal agency that is the source of federal funding for the nation's libraries and museums. According to its mission statement, it works to create a "Nation of Learners" and "to provide leadership and services to enhance learning in families and communities, sustain cultural heritage, build 21st century skills, and increase civic participation."

Other grants in this round of funding included $724,415 to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Libraries, and $197,650 to the Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover.

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The center was founded in May 2004 with $662,500 in funding from the Ford Foundation and Williams College. It also receives support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council through a partnership with the New England Foundation for the Arts.

The center focuses on analyzing factors like job growth and property values to determine with more precision just how these organizations contribute to the economy, and how widely their benefits are spread within it.

"The work we're doing is certainly of interest to museum managers, boards of trustees, and major donors who are interested in evaluating the social impact of these organizations," Sheppard said. "I'm hoping the research will be interesting to communities and policy makers as well."

Projects it has completed include in-depth looks at how Mass MoCA has impacted the North Adams region, a paper that examines how cultural nonprofits have affected residential real estate values in 11 Massachusetts cities, and case studies on places ranging from Hartford to Colquitt, Ga.

It is through those studies that the center decided to expand its scope.

"It makes sense now that we've established the methods and thought through this to broaden the set of museums and communities we're looking at, " Sheppard said.

Among Sheppard's projects before the center was up and running was a 2002 study with several students for the city of Pittsfield on the potential economic benefits of a restored Colonial Theatre. Mayor James M. Ruberto later told the New York Times that the report "quantified what we felt instinctively, that the theater would indeed make economic sense."


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