HARTFORD — Major new state grants for the Connecticut Science Center and the Mark Twain House brought harsh criticism Friday from a member of the state Culture & Tourism Advisory Committee, who called the funding unfair to other institutions.
"The state plays favorites in its cultural policies," said William Hosley. He said massive taxpayer support for a few major museums and groups means that dozens of smaller arts and historical institutions get little or nothing in state aid.
"It's so depressing," Hosley said. "It's not based on a strategic vision on how to ramp up tourism visitations… as economic development." He called the decision to provide another $4 million to the science center in downtown Hartford "grotesque" and "a slap in the face to the many museums, arts organizations and attractions that never get a dime of state support."
Hosley is a former curator of decorative arts and Americana at the Wadsworth Atheneum, former director of the New Haven Museum, and former head of Connecticut Landmarks, a statewide historical organization. He is now head of a culture resource and marketing firm.
Gov. Dannel Malloy rejected Hosley's claims that the state's distribution of cultural funding is unfair. "We've done a pretty good job of funding other cultural institutions around the state," Malloy said. He said the new state grant for the science center is intended to "support its educational mission."
Rie Poirier-Campbell, the center's vice president for advancement, said her institution "is one of dozens of cultural organizations all over the state that receive funding authorized by the legislature" each year.
"We don't receive the largest grant every year," said Poirier-Campbell, adding that the center also raises "$4 million a year from private individuals and organizations… who believe in what we're doing."
The primary targets of Hosley's anger were grants approved Friday by the State Bond Commission of $4 million for a new expansion at the Connecticut Science Center and $2.2 million for improvements at the Mark Twain House.
Malloy, who chairs the commission and determines what funding requests are brought up for approval, pointed out that the panel unanimously approved those grants without debate.
Officials at the Mark Twain House failed to respond to a request for a response to Hosley's criticism.
"I love these places," Hosley said of the Twain House and some of the other major cultural institutions that he believes receive special state support. "But I want a level playing field."
Hosley is particularly upset by the new funding for the science center. The $4 million that passed the bond commission is the first part of a $10.5 million authorization approved by the 2014 General Assembly to pay for a decade-long expansion of the center, which opened just five years ago.
The state spent about $124 million to build the science center, and private sources contributed another $40 million. Connecticut taxpayers are also providing annual subsidies of almost $600,000 for the center's operations.
"There has never been a place like this in the history of Connecticut where the state got involved in developing an attraction like this at this level of investment," Hosley said.
He said many other officials involved in Connecticut museums and cultural organizations feel as he does but are afraid to speak out for fear of losing the possibility of state funding.
According to Hosley, getting state funding for your organization is an insider's game. "Once you're in the clubhouse, you never say a word," Hosley said. "And the ones who want to get into the clubhouse won't talk."
Science center officials say their institution attracted more than 326,000 people visitors last year.
But Hosley scoffed at those figures. "I would never trust their claims," he said. He argued that providing another $10.5 million to expand the center's operations "would be like building an alcoholic a larger liquor cabinet."
Poirier-Campbell said the center's visitation numbers are rock solid. "We count the people as they come in," she said. "We certainly have the spread sheets to prove it."
She said the science center provides not only a learning experience for children and their families but also training for "hundreds of teachers" to help them educate their students in the sciences.
Poirier-Campbell said the science center was built as a result of "a state initiative" as part of a massive downtown Hartford redevelopment plan. "The state felt it needed an attraction here… that would be both a tourist attraction and an educational institution."