The Bundy Museum’s funding crisis should be a call to action to preserve community spaces, which are crucial to community building and the mental and physical well-being of citizens.

The Bundy Museum, a staple museum and community center, recently lost one of its largest donors, which is putting the museum’s operation in jeopardy. While it was initially opened in 2004 to preserve the home and history of the Bundy family and company, which would eventually evolve into International Business Machines (IBM), over the past twenty years, the museum has served as much more. The Bundy has hosted countless concerts, shows and festivals featuring local bands and theater productions. It also houses WBDY-LP 99.5 FM, a community radio station, Binghamton Photo, the community’s only darkroom space, WordPlace, a community literacy center and Riot Act, a volunteer-run book store.

The museum relies heavily on outside funding, with 15 percent of the museum’s yearly budget coming from foundations and grants and 65 percent from individual donors and underwriting. The museum gets no funding from the City of Binghamton. Now that a major donor has pulled out, the museum might have to risk closing by the end of the year.

The Bundy’s funding crisis is a blow to the entire community. Unfortunately, the issues that the Bundy is facing are part of a greater national pattern. Across the United States, community spaces or “third places,” as were coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg, are diminishing.

Third places are spaces outside of home and work where people gather and connect. Third spaces take many forms, such as coffee shops, libraries, clubs, churches and parks. The existence of community spaces, and sharing space and conversation with neighbors, is a mode of harm reduction. These spaces are vital to fostering community in the first place, and their existence has been found to be able to mitigate loneliness and promote mental and physical well-being among citizens. Community spaces even serve political purposes — in an extremely divided national political climate, people in neighborhoods with more community spaces have higher confidence in local governments. This could be because these spaces make people more attached to their neighborhoods and can foster conversation about local issues between community members.

Despite the importance of third places, in the United States, 44 percent of Americans live in “moderate-amenity” communities, with 33 percent living in “low-amenity” communities. Museums, in particular, have severely struggled financially since COVID-19, with United States museums collectively losing as much as $29.75 billion since the lockdown. Community spaces are also distributed unevenly, with high-amenity neighborhoods being more urban, white and educated.

In suburban or rural places like Broome County, where homes are more spread out and public transportation and space are less utilized, having these community spaces is even more important. In fact, a Penn State University study even found that social infrastructure in rural communities may promote healthier aging among older adults.

There are many factors that threaten the existence and use of third places, including the pandemic and lockdown shrinking our social and physical realities and the increasing use of technology for communication. However, public spaces, especially those that are free or offer reduced prices to attend, must also receive constant funding to survive. If adequate funding cannot be adequately secured from third parties, local and state governments should have a responsibility to keep them alive, as they are important social goods.

The Bundy Museum is an invaluable resource and space for Broome County residents and Binghamton University students, and its closing would negatively impact us all. Not only does the museum serve as a space for community events, but it also preserves important local history that threatens to be forgotten. We hope that the Bundy Museum is not forced to close its doors and that the local government realizes how important its existence is and provides the necessary support.

If you have the capacity, please donate to Help Save the Bundy: