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Historical Society hits a rough patch


The Rochester Historical Society's board is facing some serious financial challenges, and the head of its board says it may need to change how it operates.

Board Chair Pat Malgieri says the Historical Society's challenges mirror those facing cultural organizations across the country, and the economy is a factor. In an interview last week, Malgieri wouldn't go into details about the organization's finances. But its routine filings with the state Attorney General's office show that its expenses surpassed its revenue in the 2011-12 fiscal year and in several previous years.

The Society moved its offices and most of its collection to the Rochester Public Library's Rundel building in 2009 after selling its East Avenue headquarters, the Woodside mansion. It paid its rent through March, says RPL Director Patty Uttaro, but earlier this year, it informed library officials that it couldn't pay its April, May, and June rent.

The Historical Society is not in any immediate danger of losing its space at Rundel; Uttaro says there has been no talk of terminating the Society's lease. Its annual rent is $48,000.

Library and Historical Society officials say they are working together on plans to help the Society stabilize. Historical Society officials are also pursuing options regarding the organization's future operations. They are also in discussions with other institutions, though Malgieri says he can't specify the nature of the talks.

"Our responsibility is to do all that we can to try to assure that the Historical Society continues to serve the Rochester community," Malgieri says.

Cynthia Howk, architectural research coordinator at the Landmark Society and a Historical Society member, says the Society's collection contains some important resources, including photos, portraits of Rochester residents, letters, and architectural drawings.

The organization is particularly suited to draw on the region's interest in history and the booming genealogy field, she says. If the Society publicizes its offerings and improves access to them, she says, it could see a boost in membership and public interest.

"People are trying to find out their own stories," Howk says. "That's what historical societies should be all about."