Museum needles taxpayers

A quilt museum may seem like an ideal summer vacation destination for the Waltons, Aunt Bee or Ma Ingalls, but quilting fails to hold the interest of most Americans today. Since department stores carry a wide selection of affordable bedding, and special memories can be recorded by photographs and videos rather than by laboring over scraps of cloth, quilts have become largely irrelevant in modern culture.

It's too bad for taxpayers that irrelevancy didn't stop lawmakers from dumping taxpayers' hard-earned money into subsidizing a quilt museum in Lincoln, Neb. -- including hundreds of thousands of federal tax dollars supplied by residents of the Chattanooga area who will never visit the boondoggle.

The International Quilt Study Center and Museum maintains a stash of 3,500 quilts, which is believed to be the largest collection of quilts in the world. In addition to storing, preserving, studying and promoting quilts and quiltmaking, the museum also features a patchwork of quilt-focused lectures and exhibits. Examples of the museum's presentations include, "Kit Quilts: More Than They Were Cut Out to Be," "The Amish and Their Quilts" and "Indigo Gives America the Blues."

The museum is housed in an enormous 37,000-square-foot building on the campus of the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. Even though the building was funded privately, much of the expense of operating the museum comes out of the pockets of taxpayers.

The International Quilt Study Center and Museum is operated through the University of Nebraska's Department of Textiles, Clothing and Design.

As a result, the school picks up the tab for a sizeable chunk of the museum's budget. Since the university is funded publically, and relies on both state and federal subsidies, the museum's costs needle taxpayers in Nebraska and throughout the country.

In 2011, roughly 23.5 percent, or $39,038, of the university-funded portion of the museum's $166,120 budget will come courtesy of federal taxpayers. Nebraska state taxpayers will shoulder approximately $38,374 of the museum's funding this year.

This year, the combined federal and state tax burden to support the quilt museum is expected to exceed $80,000.

In addition to the tax dollars slipped into the University of Nebraska budget each year to subsidize the museum, the organization is routinely showered with tax dollars from local, state and federal arts and humanities bureaucracies.

Shortly after the museum set up business in 1997, the National Endowment for the Humanities raided federal coffers to award the museum a series of grants to fund an endowment. By 2002, the museum had received $350,000 in NEH handouts at the expense of American taxpayers.

The Institute for Museum and Library Services, which is also funded federally, awarded the quilt museum a $30,000 grant in 2004 and another $800 handout in 2009.

Nebraska's Humanities Council, which is financed primarily through federal NEH funds, awarded the museum a total of $27,628 between 2003 and 2010.

This year, Nebraska's quilt cathedral snagged $25,565 from the Nebraska Arts Council, which is funded through a mixture of state tax dollars and federal National Endowment for the Arts money.

Local tax dollars frequently find their way to the quilt museum, as well.

The Lincoln Arts Council has dispensed $3,900 in taxpayer-funded giveaways to the museum since 2004, including $1,500 last year.

It is said that "a quilt will warm your body and comfort your soul." With over $1 million of tax money spent subsidizing the International Quilt Study Center and Museum since its inception, it could also be said that "a quilt museum will snatch your wallet and take your money."