That’s not the case, said Maas, who was hired in 2010 to turn around the museum’s flagging finances, and curator Jeffrey Forgeng, who has been at the armory since 1999.
“We’ve been scrambling for years just to keep this from being a train wreck,” said Forgeng.
The museum’s annual budget is now $1.3 million. In 2010, the Higgins drew 16 percent of its endowment to cover the budget and, in 2011, 9 percent, Maas said. The recognized standard for museums is around 5 percent. Recent grants allowed the Higgins to reduce its draw to 4.5 percent over the past year, but the money came with the directive to fix the structural problem.
Mark Fuller, an incorporator whose family foundation provided a $100,000 grant last year, said that moving the holdings to the Worcester Art Museum is the best possible solution. He has told museum leaders the foundation will not again offer money to the Higgins.
“This is not a new problem,” he said. “Unless they were to get a huge increase to their endowment, they would need a minimum of $10 million to come in quickly.”
Raising even half that has proved impossible in the past. A campaign in the 1990s raised $2.6 million for improving the buildings and facilities, and an effort about a decade ago led to an additional $2.4 million, said Donnelly.
The arrangement with the Worcester Art Museum, says Donnelly, will offer the public the best solution. The collection will be displayed just 3 miles down the road in a renovated gallery space. Waschek said it was too early to know the details of the transfer, including whether Forgeng and other staffers will move to the art museum, but one decision has been made.
“At this point, I cannot tell you if we are cutting cakes,” said Waschek. “I will tell you that Helmut, the armored dog — he is going to come and be our mascot at the Worcester Art Museum.”
Geoff Edgers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.