Whether we exchange art, artifacts or expertise, I’ve always believed neighboring cultural institutions should help each other. Collegiality is a given in our field. With so many small museums facing budget cutbacks – especially ones staffed solely by volunteers – what can the rest of us do to help?

A small museum in our area, the Napa Firefighters Museum, recently had to move out of its building. Its board members have spent the last few months looking for both temporary and permanent sites to store their collections. The all-volunteer staff has an operating budget less than $100,000.

My institution has five times as much in its operating budget, with 3 full-time and 3 part-time staff members, yet we still face the same challenges: limited staff, insufficient budgets, and lack of space. Some of my board members and I want to help these folks in some way.

I’d love to have the resources, financial leeway and physical space to house and care for their artifacts temporarily. Unfortunately, that’s not realistic. We’re all lucky to belong to this network of small museums, a community where sharing, cooperation and mutual aid are our guiding principles.

Whenever one of us stumbles, whenever one of us encounters calamity or disaster, the rest of us rush to offer a helping hand. Whenever necessity forces one of us to disappear, we grieve at losing another piece of the historical panorama.

Keeping our eyes on the long-term reality, though, causes us to stop, count our blessings and reassess our positions. I’m sure many of you have witnessed similar heartbreaking situations.

What kinds of services have you offered during these times? Or how did others help you?