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U.S. Senator calls grant for museum of play "waste"

Updated: Wednesday, July 10 2013, 02:44 PM EDT

Rochester, N.Y. --- Next month a new exhibit looking at the history of games in America will open at The National Museum of Play at The Strong.  The exhibit is called “Game Time!” and is the second in a four-part series called “America at Play.”

This exhibit, or more specifically the federal grant money spent on it, is the target of U.S. Senator Tom Coburn a Republican from Oklahoma.  Sen. Coburn annually documents a number of taxpayer funded projects he deems “wasteful” and his latest“Waste Book 2012” released in October listed 100 such projects. 

A $150,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to The Strong was #42 on Coburn’s list. 

In his report Sen. Coburn states that the IMLS is “playing around with taxpayer money” and that “Museum officials do not want to just play with taxpayers’ hard-earned money.  They hope the exhibit will ‘tell the story of the evolution of play and how it has affected both children and adults.’ Admission to the toy museum is $13 for adults, $11 for children.”

Yet the Museum has quite a few points in response to this accusation as staff makes the final preparations for an April 13th opening.

“What is hard for me is he (Sen. Coburn) doesn't really explain what his problem with our exhibit is,” said Christopher Bensch the Vice President of Collections at The Strong.  “Maybe he doesn't think play is a serious topic?  In that case I can tell him that play is integral to human development and our experiences as part of American culture and as a history museum we're capturing our slice of history.  It's not about the history of wars or politics it's the history of how everyday people play and engage.”

It took three years to assemble this exhibit and many of the games and artifacts were part of the Museum’s current collection.  Bensch states that the cost of the entire project was about $600,000 and the federal grant was just one piece of the funding.  Museum donations and other revenue handled the rest of the cost.

The federal grant itself went to physical elements of the exhibit including display cases, lighting, and additional technology that can be seen and used by the public.  The exhibit is permanent and will remain in place for many years to come.

"And if you think about value $150,000 sounds like a lot when you name that figure but when you think about the three-million people who will be visiting The Strong in the next five years, you divide that 150,000 out, that comes to 5-cents a person over the next five years and this exhibit is going to be around way longer than that,” Bensch reasoned.  “So everybody can make their judgment whether that's a good value for taxpayers.  I happen to think it's a pretty good deal and something that is a driver of tourism and economic development here in Rochester brings; (it) hundreds of thousands of people here every year.”

U.S. Senator calls grant for museum of play "waste"

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