The mood is considerably brighter at the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford, where, thanks to a well-publicized fund-raising effort, its projected operating deficit of $400,000 is paid off and the organization may end its fiscal year on Saturday with a small surplus.
And that's without tapping into a recent $500,000 grant from the Annenberg Foundation that gets the Twain house well on its way to a new $1.5 million Stabilization and Planning Fund, intended to support operations and future fund-raising initiatives.
The site, dedicated to the author of " Tom Sawyer" and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," ran into money trouble when the original budget of $15.3 million for its new museum ballooned to $19 million. It had to borrow $11.5 from Webster Bank, increasing its annual operating expenses from $2.5 million in 2002 to $4 million in 2004, including $800,000 to service the debt.
Managers hoped that increased revenue from visitors, sales in the gift shop and rentals would cover the shortfall. That did not happen and contributions were lower than projected. Since 2004, the museum has cut its full-time staff from 49 to 17 and reduced its programming.
The state of Connecticut pitched in $3.5 million to reduce the debt and Webster Bank forgave interest payments and stretched principal payments until 2021. These moves reduced the debt from $11.5 million to $4.9 million.
A publicity campaign was launched last spring. Eleven best-selling authors, including Jon Clinch ("Finn") and Avon's Stewart O'Nan, held a fund-raiser last September that attracted national media attention, including a segment on CBS' "Sunday Morning" show.
Since last summer, eight new members are added to its board for a total of 30. New members include Kate Metcalf, who was development director for the Twain House in the late 1990s; Brian Flaherty, who served as Connecticut representative from Watertown; and Louise Bailey, daughter of John Bailey and sister of Barbara Bailey Kennelly.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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