SANTA ANA, Calif. — It was Jamie Hiber’s dream to become executive director of a museum, but the opportunity came at an unprecedented time.

“When it comes to pre-pandemic versus post-pandemic funding for the museum’s revenue stream, we’ve probably lost 75% of all of our funding and everything we had built the last six years. It went very, very quickly,” said Hiber of the Heritage Museum in Santa Ana.

What You Need To Know

  • Heritage Museum of Orange County's executive director is applying for relief grants to help keep the museum alive for future generations

  • The center sits on 12 acres in Santa Ana and is a prime location for field trips, events and weddings

  • It currently has eight employees on staff, down from 23 pre-pandemic

  • Arts Orange County was successful in getting the county Board of Supervisors to set aside $5 million to help art organizations and businesses

Hiber started volunteering at the Heritage Museum 10 years ago, having spent a majority of her career there as director of social enterprise. In her role, Hiber managed the museum’s revenue streams and income while coordinating weddings and events.

As executive director, Hiber has been leading the team managing the 12-acre cultural and natural history museum since the start of the pandemic. While it's been a dream job for her, Hiber has had to find ways to adapt to the pandemic and keep the museum alive while also trying to recover money it lost from the lack of field trips, events and weddings during the long closure.

"It’s going to take us several years to rebuild what we had in our bank accounts pre-pandemic," she said. "It’s this weird in-between stage where we need the staff, we need the events, we need the weddings and everything that’s generating income for us, but we can’t afford to staff everything the way we did before. So we’re going to have to continue to work this way for at least the foreseeable future."

With only eight staff members, down from 23, Hiber is searching for people to join her team after some of her former colleagues either found other career paths or chose not to return to the museum. It’s not uncommon for her to receive dozens to hundreds of emails after listing a job posting.

The nonprofit museum runs on donations and currently needs about $35,000 per month to keep the place running, but it’s only bringing in about $11,000 a month. To find and earn that extra money, Hiber has been applying for every relief grant possible.

Richard Stein, president and CEO of Arts Orange County, surveyed 50 different arts organization leaders in April.

"The details of which were even worse than had first been predicted by most arts organizations," he said. "More than $121 million in financial losses and 2,700 employees losses had been cataloged by about 50 arts organizations."

Stein urged elected officials at all levels for help.

"We immediately presented that to the Board of Supervisors and urged them to make available funds from the American Rescue Plan, the latest federal relief and stimulus relief effort, and they did," he said. "The county approved $5 million in funding for arts relief with $1 million per district."

Hiber says the employees on staff are wearing different hats to keep the place running. Daniel Cooper, the director of community engagement, has been spending his spare time maintaining the grounds in preparation for weddings and events on-site on top of his daily duties. Jessica Bell, the director of history and culture, is juggling multiple duties as well as spending time on a new collection.

"We’re currently going through a very small piece of Harriet Tyler collection," said Hiber. "She was the unofficial Black historian of Orange County. I’d say we have, in all, roughly 25 boxes."

Hiber added that the museum received a grant to work on this collection, and the team is the process of going through the pieces. Their hope is to put together an impactful and engaging exhibit to draw the crowds back to the museum.

Hiber has lost count of how many grants she’s applied for but says the team at the Heritage Museum won’t forget the kind donations the center has received since the start of the pandemic to help it stay open for future generations.

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