As the saying goes, a bird in the hand beats two at the bush, meaning that it is better to hold on to what you have than to give up trying to achieve something.

Albuquerque city councilors must seriously consider that sage adage Monday as they weigh whether to embark on an unspecified purchase of a shiny new racing museum or continue investing in the city’s art museum, which has served millions of New Mexicans since 1967.

Mayor Tim Keller’s proposed budget recommends spending $6.75 million on museums, mostly for projects at the city-owned Albuquerque Museum, including a decades-long effort to build a new education center, replace an abandoned warehouse lacking climate control before the collections are at risk, and Fix the leaky roof and crumbling walls of the museum-operated Casa San Ysidro historic adobe house in Corrales.

We’ve seen what 27-year-old Rosalie Doolittle can do with the fountain at ABQ Biopark’s Botanic Gardens. No one wants to see an artist’s work or a taxpayer’s investment go down like this again.

However, at the last minute, a late-night proposed spending option from the City Council’s budget committee contained zero money for the Albuquerque Museum’s education center, collection storage facility or Casa San Ysidro. It instead transfers $4 million of proposed bond revenue to purchase and relocate the privately owned Unser Racing Museum from Los Ranchos to Albuquerque.

The full City Council is expected to vote on the budget showdown Monday night. Voters will get the final say on a series of general category bond questions on the November ballot.

We need to be clear that this is not about choosing one museum over another, but about following due process and adequate public notice and comment (there was one public meeting in the usual not two options), prioritizing well-thought-out proposals and respecting existing public investment.

We know what we’re getting for the $6.75 million Albuquerque Museum fund—there’s a whole binder detailing it. Meanwhile Unser’s museum proposal is unexpected. We don’t know what we’ll get from the $4 million to relocate it to Albuquerque; Does it cover all acquisitions and transfers? Land and buildings?

The replacement spending plan is being hastened by unconfirmed claims from City Council Budget Chair Brooke Basson and Councilor Clarissa Pena, who proposed funding to buy the Unser Museum that it could move to Nebraska. The magazine has not been able to confirm this. To date no one from the museum has returned the Journal’s requests for comment.

So the threat of action strikes us as a red herring and a scare tactic at worst. If there is evidence the Unser museum may be relocated, the pair must present it publicly Monday or drop their hard-sell charade. If they really want to add a museum to the city’s offerings, they should start a campaign to raise money for it as well as devote their own discretionary money to it.

In the what-can-we-affirm category, Andrew Rogers, president and CEO of the Albuquerque Museum Foundation, said the city’s financial support is important on many levels, sending a message to potential private and corporate donors that investing in the museum is a priority. He says completing the funding for the third and final phase of the new education center will expand the museum school’s capacity and learning opportunities for not only Albuquerque-area students, but the entire state. That’s a big deal.

Studies show that art helps children learn. Attending interactive museum exhibits and art classes can light a child’s mind like nothing else. And for half of the South Valley students who visited the Albuquerque Museum last year, it was their first museum visit — ever.

Twelve-year-old Cottonwood Classical Prep School student Tommy Soto told city councilors at the April 3 meeting, “The museum classes have taught me about art from around the world, including Mexico, Japan, India and Australia. I learned about different art techniques and different art genres that I still use today. If I hadn’t had this opportunity, I wouldn’t have become an artist.”

The Albuquerque Museum, which opened in 1967 as the Museum of Albuquerque in the temporary location of the old Albuquerque Municipal Airport building and moved to the old truck terminal in Old Town after a voter-approved bond in 1975, had 130,000 individual visitors. 2022 and held 12 major exhibitions. Last financial year, 160 school students visited free of charge. The museum has a Magic Bus program that transports 10,000 to 15,000 school children a year to the museum for free. (Meanwhile, attendance at the Unser Museum, which opened in 2005, has always been a challenge, often attracting fewer than 20,000 visitors per year.)

Why would city councilors cut funding for a popular museum dedicated to preserving the art of the American Southwest and the history of Albuquerque and the central Rio Grande Valley? Especially when the museum’s education center is in its 2000 master plan and nothing about buying and relocating the Unser Museum?

City councilors must look outside the boundaries of their districts Monday night and decide what’s best for the city as a whole and oppose fixing on parochial projects. Kids who want to visit the Albuquerque Museum don’t care about council district boundaries.

City Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn says she is working on an amendment to offer at Monday’s meeting that would include money for the Albuquerque Museum’s Education Center. “I’m looking for every way I can think of to add money to it,” Fiebelkorn said. “We all know the Albuquerque Museum is a cultural gem.”

The Albuquerque Museum isn’t just a jewel for one council district, it’s a jewel for the entire city and state. With $200 million in proposed biennial infrastructure bonds, surely the museum’s three priorities can be funded as intended and taxpayers’ previous investments in these sites and collections are honored.

The city council should recognize that Monday and hand in the bird.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the authors.

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