Be wary of sales pitch on museum


To the Editor:

The topic of my comments in this letter is “the case for pursuing the effort to construct the Mississippi Native American Museum on court square in downtown Kosciusko” as reported on in the June 13, 2019, Star-Herald by Karen Fioretti. 

To be clear at the outset, however, my comments do not pertain to the reporting job itself, which seems excellent, and by that I mean clear and unbiased. My comments relate instead to the substance of what was reported on. This was a presentation (sales pitch) which Darren Milner made to the Board of Alderman on behalf of, and probably at the bequest of, those persons and organizations avidly seeking to have this museum constructed.

Mayor Cockroft in his report on this presentation in “Minute for the Mayor,” June 5 on, salivated over how good this presentation was, i.e. “fantastic job.” Keep in mind though that Milner’s degree and years of experience is in marketing, so producing impressive sales pitches is probably one of his strengths, and marketing Kosciusko provides him and his family with a more than adequate sustainable living wage, which many residents of Kosciusko have no ability whatsoever to achieve, or marginally so.

Apparently Milner and those he represents think that a Native American Museum is obviously the best $4.8 million dollar investment that a small city can make. They must think this is especially true for a small city like Kosciusko, which is without walkable sidewalks, or any sidewalks in many places; without decent facilities for senior citizens (check out the decrepit furnishings where senior meals are served); without a modern spacious community center; without an indoor teen center; without a wellness center (once proposed and even funded by a local physician, but rejected); without a recreation center; without a recycling center or even bins; without small manufacturing enterprises paying sustainable wages (which might require incentives to locate here); and of course, without any form of public transit (the latter of which admittedly would be a stretch, but which might be feasible for the disabled, handicapped, or elderly, in the form of a small transit van).

The presentation, according to Fioretti, may have solidified most aldermen and the mayor into (further) positive support of the museum. What about the average citizen on the street though, who wasn’t in attendance, or who may not even read The Star-Herald report on the presentation? What is their opinion about the proposed museum? For various reasons, some citizens may not yet even have an opinion. Perhaps some feel their voice doesn’t count anyway, regardless of what they might think. This may be one reason the downtown square still flouts — despite protests — an abominable “just cause” Confederate monument. Some may just be too busy with multiple jobs, or commuting out of town to earn a living, along with raising their kids. Some may simply be apathetic, stoned out (literally although the substance may vary), simply not care, be under-informed, or could actively not care less.

Not to worry though about the average citizen’s view of the museum, which Milner and his proponents are touting for the city. The Star-Herald reports that public opinion about the museum will be taken care of and given specific attention. Supporters of the museum are going to spend the next nine to 12 months “educating the public” in order to “gain support” to “ensure” that the museum will be constructed. The word “education” has roots in the Latin word meaning to shape or mold, and the Kosciusko Attala County Foundation is taking this definition to heart. It has its mold ready to shape and convince citizens of what it thinks is best for them, regardless of what their present sentiments might be, if any. Since memory is short, in a March 8, 2019, letter to the editor on this very same museum, I identified members of this molding foundation (the educators) as Jeffrey Lacey, George Hester, Jimmy Cockroft, Wade Shumaker, and James Rasberry. Soon, they might be coming to a theatre near you, except unfortunately the Strand still languishes without purpose and the other movie theatre closed years ago now.

I would say beware of the molders, however. A $4.8 million dollar museum is not something one would want to buy on trumped up impulse and whim because of winsome presenters on the home shopping TV channel. It doesn’t come with a return if not truly useful or helpful guarantee (my friend used her midnight purchase of a fancy panini press exactly one time). Beware of the fallacious remark that “the state has already given us $1 million” and we can’t back out now, so we have to spend several million more. The state could have better spent its money stepping in to assure that Jackson has affordable and drinkable tap water in the capital city.

I would say beware of those who aim, not to give you unbiased information to make your own decision, but give you enough information to mold you in their chosen direction instead. This is what a marketer, just like a used car salesman, or any salesman does. Beware of a slick sales pitch that glosses over essential facts, for example maintenance costs, insurance costs, costs to procure collectible items for display, advertising costs, as well as the growing alarm in museum communities nationwide that visitation is declining and may continue in that direction.

Beware of spiels about undefined and rather complex “economic indicators” claiming a major positive impact on jobs, retail businesses, restaurants, and lodging, especially when national statistics ($50 billion to the economy, 726,000 jobs, $12 billion in local taxes) are used to numb the mind into “wow.” Besides, Milner astutely  borrowed these numbers from the web page of the “American Alliance FOR Museums.” What would you expect them to say, that some museums are struggling to stay afloat?

Beware as well of vague local economic projections which can’t be generalized or deduced from nationwide statistics — or even statistics for nearby regional museums. Examples of these include perhaps the apparently presently successful B.B.King Museum in the Delta (which has its own intrinsic attractive fascination) and the Mississippi Civil Rights museum in Jackson, where it probably should and needs to be. Even knowledgeable persons at esteemed MSU, Bob Neal, the “state economist” at the University Research Center, has cautioned that economic impact multipliers (labor income multipliers) for enterprises (including tourism) in small areas of Mississippi are not a whopping “seven times” turnover, but a much more modest or even meager 1.25 or even lower for some areas, up to a possible max of 2. The issue of clarifying economic impact arose in Mississippi when determining economic impact of casinos and other “tourist” enterprises. (Google “The Economic Impact Multiplier is not Seven” [for Mississippi], Bob Neal, June 2007.)

Beware of those claiming that the museum is the $4.8 million way to ultimately revitalize the cultural and educational life of the community. It certainly could use intensive revitalization, but citizens perhaps should seriously be asked to reflect on how they might like this reinvigoration achieved, not authoritatively told how to achieve it by the powers that be.

Beverly E. Johnson