The oldest and one of the most valuable museums in the region, the Southwest Museum, is again in crisis, and this time the crisis threatens the independent future of the institution. That is a matter of concern for all, not just for the museum board that has been struggling to find a solution. It is a challenge of national consequence because the museum has one of the finest collections of Native American artifacts and literature in existence.
Paradoxically, the crisis comes at a moment of new vigor, growth and expansion under the imaginative leadership of Patrick T. Houlihan, director since 1981. He has led the museum to accreditation last year in the prestigious American Assn. of Museums, doubled memberships, increased school visits to 25,000 students a year, revived a moribund program of exhibits and special programs, and attracted substantial gifts that have more then doubled the endowment.
But none of this growth has overcome a stubborn deficit. Budgets, ranging from $1 to $1.2 million a year, have been plagued with shortfalls of $250,000 or more year after year. The gap has been closed by the generosity of a couple of trustees and foundations, a financial dependency that is inappropriate in the long run.