Visitors dismayed over Southern Illinois Art Gallery closure at - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

Visitors dismayed over Southern Illinois Art Gallery closure at Rend Lake

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REND LAKE -- People stopping by the Southern Illinois Art Museum were dismayed upon looking through the locked doors of the exhibition rooms where all of the artwork has been removed.

"I'm very disappointed today to see nothing," said Lois Dion.

She and her longtime friend, Marilyn Benson, live in the Chicago area. Over the years, they've often stopped here while taking trips to the South.

They've noticed odd hours. Sometimes they'd stop and it would be closed. On Wednesday, they learned from News 3 that the doors will close on Thursday and no one's sure when they'll re-open, due to the state's budget crisis.

"And, of course, the arts are always the first to go," said Dion. "And really, they're one of the most important, I do believe, for our whole total well-being."

One worker remains on-site. On Tuesday afternoon, he was using a chainsaw to cut a stump at the side of the driveway. He tells News 3 he's a member of AFSCME, the government workers' union. Gov. Rauner agreed to delay laying-off union members until after the issue goes before a judge.

Several women at the center, who are not union members, have already been laid-off.

"Oh! They were wonderful!" Benson said. "And I feel terrible for them because they were so knowledgeable and they had such history here."

Benson and Dion question whether the layoffs and closure of the gallery make sense.

"And so our state is saving some money by closing this facility and saving their salary," said Dion. "But they're now having to pay for the unemployment. So what are they really saving in the long run?"

News 3 tried to find out from Gov. Rauner's communications team, asking them for specific figures about the amount saved versus the amount that will be owed to the laid-off workers' unemployment funds and the union workers' wages. However, their reply simply stated "millions" will be saved.

"Closing the Illinois State Museum and Sparta Shooting Complex will save Illinois taxpayers millions of dollars and having a definitive closure date for these facilities eliminates confusion," wrote Rauner spokeswoman Lyndsey Walters.  

The chairman of the board that oversees state museums, Guerry Suggs, doubts it'll be millions. He's stated that laying-off non-union museum employees --- like those at the Rend Lake facility --- will save less than $400,000.

Yet Illinois is at least $5 billion in the red.

"We're part of the political football," Suggs said.

That $400,000 figure could grow, though, if Gov. Rauner wins the court challenge and a judge allows him to lay-off AFSCME workers, too. 


The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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