The Museum That Couldn't Think Straight

It's named after Kemper Marley, the apparent inspiration for the murder of newsman Don Bolles. It's full of inaccuracies, racism, Chamber of Commerce blather and third-rate gimmickry.

Weber blames the state Department of Administration, which built the Marley Center, for not making sure the building complied with disability law.

The Department of Administration says the building was "in compliance" when it was built and refused to comment further.

Given that the Historical Society and museum administrators were repeatedly warned the building was out of compliance before it opened, neither explanation makes sense.

Staffers who raised disability concerns before the opening say they were told then that the administration was "working on" the problems. They are still told that today.

Hasty measures have been taken. People who can't hear can ask for scripts of the videos, and an aide proficient in sign language is available if people call ahead, says museum director Nancy Dallet.

Until the doors get fixed, there's generally someone around to help people in wheelchairs get into the museum.

But no official can say how much it will cost to fix the mistakes, and whatever the cost, taxpayers will pay the bill.

Historical Society officials explain away problems in complying with disabled-access laws by saying they were in a "rush" to get the museum open for this year's Super Bowl.

But actually, there was no real rush.
It took five years to get the museum open.
The museum's "conceptual plan," complete with rough drawings and gallery concepts, was completed by the Brooklyn-based American History Workshop in 1989. The plan, funded by Kemper Marley's seed money, goes a long way toward explaining why three exhibits conjured up by the workshop seem more like boosterism for agribusiness and urban development than reasoned reflections of historical reality.

The New York group lists among its research sources Arizona Highways, the Arizona Office of Tourism, university history professors, visitors bureaus, developers and major corporations, including Salt River Project and Arizona Public Service Company.

The plan seems designed to reel in corporate donations.
And to please the Legislature.
In fact, the Legislature has taken on the Marley Center as one of its favorite causes. It funded the building in 1990 and promised to pay operating expenses and salaries. All the Historical Society had to do was pay for exhibits--about $4.5 million in total--through private donations.

The building itself was completed in 1991. A nine-member staff of state employees moved into the Marley Center in 1992.

But the museum didn't open.
As well as anyone can explain it, the reason the museum remained closed centers on the Historical Society's inability to raise the money for the private exhibits.

In its 112 years of existence (the Historical Society is 28 years older than the state itself), the society has spun itself into a Kafkaesque bureaucracy. There are seven divisions. Four are geographical and have their own museums and boards. Then there is the exhibits division. And the publications division. And the administrative division. And there is the Arizona Historical Society Foundation, which raised money for the society.

All of the divisions answer to the Arizona Historical Society board of directors, the only state board with no legislative or gubernatorial appointees. The board appoints its own members.

The board, criticized last year by the state auditor general for ineffectiveness and lack of diversity, consists in large part of rich people from "old" Arizona families, history buffs and society matrons.

A consultant for the auditor general last year blasted the agency for funneling funds to the new Tempe museum, while ignoring the poor storage conditions for collections at museums in Yuma, Flagstaff and Tucson. (For the last two years, the Marley Center has consumed about $2 million of the agency's $4 million total annual budget.)

In 1994, the society fired the foundation that was supposed to raise the private money to build exhibits at the new museum. (The foundation says it gave the society a total of about $2.4 million, including the $1 million Marley seed money.)

Weber says the foundation tried to meddle in administrative affairs and didn't raise enough money.

Members of the foundation say the Historical Society administration was inept, disorganized and gave no clear picture of what money should be raised for what project.

Mark Killian, speaker of the state House of Representatives, transferred control of the Marley Center to the Department of Library and Archives, which he could do under House rules without a legislative vote. Killian said he wanted to send the Historical Society a "message" to get the museum open.

By what former Phoenix mayor John Driggs says is simply coincidence, Driggs, the speaker's cousin, took over fund raising for the Marley Center. Driggs will earn $150,000 under a two-year state contract to raise private funds for the exhibits.

But those contributions haven't been all that private.
Driggs says that he's raised $2.6 million so far.
About one fourth of that money comes from central Arizona cities. Driggs also hopes to persuade the City of Phoenix to donate an additional half-million dollars through an incredibly complicated deal he's engineered.

Here's how it would work: Phoenix pledges the Marley Center about $500,000. In return, the state appropriates an additional $50,000 to the Marley Center yearly for ten years. The Marley Center contracts for services from the Phoenix Museum of History (where Driggs' brother Gary happens to serve on the board) and pays the Phoenix museum the yearly $50,000 it gets from the Legislature. This goes on until the city museum gets back the sum that the city gave the Marley Center in the first place.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Phoenix Concert Tickets