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The latest Montana politics, elections and Legislature news.

Lawmaker: Sell State's Art To Fund New Museum

"Herd Bull," a bronze bison skull sculpture by artist Benji Daniels on display in front of the Montana Historical Society in Helena, MT.
Eric Whitney
/
Montana Public Radio
"Herd Bull," a bronze bison skull sculpture by artist Benji Daniels on display in front of the Montana Historical Society in Helena, MT.

Montana's Historical Society has been asking state lawmakers for help to build a new building for years. In the last legislative session it narrowly missed getting the okay to issue bonds for construction. Now, a Republican lawmaker is proposing it sell off parts of its collection to pay for a new museum.

As state lawmakers debate larger budget and infrastructure bills, Billings Representative Dennis Lenz is proposing letting the Historical Society sell art and other objects to generate up to $50 million for construction:

"If there are items that have less historical value, less likely to tell the story of Montana, are artists, or historical things that are less Montanan, maybe better suited in someone else's museum and maybe don't tell our story. To enable the museum, by selling those items off, to build a new museum."

Montana Historical Society Director Bruce Whittenberg says he appreciates what Lenz is trying to do with House Bill 594, but says it’s a bad idea:

"It would be a violation of public trust, it would be a violation of every code of conduct and ethics. It would cost us accreditation, it would cost us donations. There would be so much pain involved with this, it is even hard to imagine."

Governor Steve Bullock has asked lawmakers to approve just over $27 million in bonds to help cover the cost of the proposed heritage museum, which comes with a total price tag of about $44 million.

But Representative Lenz says the Republican controlled Legislature is generally opposed to bonding, and so would be unlikely to support Bullock’s proposal.

Whittenberg disagrees with Lenz's assessment of state lawmakers' appetite for bonding.

The first hearing for HB-594 is Thursday morning.

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