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Further proof that the Arna Bontemps the Museum is more famous than Arna Bontemps the Man: Museum hits funding roadblock By Billy Gunn "The nonprofit Historical Association of Central Louisiana donated $500 to the Alexandria museum that celebrates the life and work of a renowned black writer. Association president Charles Charrier said he hopes other organizations will pitch in to help the cash-strapped Arna Bontemps African-American Museum." 500 bucks is a nice start, but it seems more like a token gesture than a real endorsement. "It'll be up to private groups to see the museum through tough times because it's doubtful the city of Alexandria will give it any cash besides the $40,000 the museum receives in the form of a city grant. "We just want to do our part and hope it helps" the only museum that showcases the life of a black artist in Rapides Parish on the National Register of Historic Places, Charrier said." Which black artist in Rapides Parish? Bontemps was from L.A and then NYC. Plus, it seems like they should be able to operate this little museum for a lot less than what they're currently budgeting. "Gwendolyn Y. Elmore, the museum's executive director who hasn't drawn a paycheck in a year, said she's still $60,000 short for the fiscal year that ends in July." Curiously: What is Ms. Elmore's salary? If this is an NPO, these numbers should be relatively easy to pull. The museum's finances have been on a downward drift for the last two years, Elmore said. Last year's two hurricanes and the effect they had on the state budget, from which Louisiana would kick in money to Arna Bontemps, left Elmore with no choice but to approach the city, she said. And guess what? Legally, the city can only give that 40G grant. The real problem with the museum is why it takes $200,000 a year to operate. What's the deal? Surely, they're not paying rent. And between the tax breaks and all the incentives NPOs receive, I doubt they have a huge overhead.... unless they're buying thousands of dollars worth of Arna Bontemps merchandise. I can't wait to go buy the latest Arna Bontemps t-shirt! Seriously, though, their main expense has to be salaries. Last week, she met with Mayor Ned Randolph and other officials, and has tried unsuccessfully to be placed on the City Council agenda, including today's. Elmore has asked Randolph to reserve the museum a spot on the council agenda, and she's also asked two council members, whom she wouldn't name, to give her time at a council meeting. All requests, so far, have been denied. It seems to me that they don't want to talk about this funding in front of the cameras because the politics surrounding the museum are inherently racial. Or am I just completely insane? A call to at-large councilman Myron Lawson was not returned Monday. "We're still hopeful that the city of Alexandria will be able to take another look at our funding," Elmore said. Delores Brewer, mayoral chief of staff, said Elmore wants the same financial treatment the River Oaks Square Arts Center and the Coughlin-Saunders Performing Arts Center get. Alexandria's hands are tied: the city owns and operates those buildings, she said. Alexandria government could, Brewer said, contribute services, such as grant-writing expertise. Sounds like they can only do so much, and they're already extending 40K a year in grants. "I understand their plight," Brewer said. "We can't legally give them money" except the $40,000 grant. For the time being, the Arna Bontemps museum will have to survive on the grant and donations like those given by the Historical Association. Charrier who, along with a dozen other people, was on hand when Elmore was given the $500 check, said he hopes other nonprofits and for-profit companies would donate to the museum. "This is a worthy cause," he said. And there's really no other option. Considering the master plan makes a big deal out of this little museum, it should be interesting to see if those in power put their OWN money where their mouth is. Originally published March 21, 2006