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Milner clowning endowment is no laughing matter

picture of clown boot

Milner Library's assortment of circus-related books has received a private endowment. (Photo by Vidette photographer Monica Mendoza)

Milner Library’s Circus and Allied Arts Collection currently contains roughly 8,000 books, and that number is likely to grow in light of a recently announced private endowment.

The endowment, financed by long-time donors Bruce and Carole Johnson, will be for more than $25,000 once fully funded. It will be utilized to both preserve existing items within the collection as well as to bring new items into the fold. Johnson, a clown historian and member of the Circus Fan Associations and Circus Historical Society said that picking Illinois State University for the endowment was an easy decision.

“I got my start with Circus Kirk and completed two semesters of circus internship through York College of Pennsylvania, so I understand the importance of youth circuses,” said Johnson. “The link between Milner Library and the Gamma Phi Circus was an important factor in our decision. Also, I was impressed by how the circus and allied arts collection is incorporated into the University curriculum.”

Milner Library Head of Special Collections Maureen Brunsdale said the endowment coincides with a recent uptick in public circus awareness and interest.

“Circus, and by extension clowning, is pretty big right now,” said Brunsdale. “’Water for Elephants’ was a tremendously popular book that was made into a film a few years ago. There’s currently another book that has had its film rights sold and is said to be going into production. In addition, there were three documentaries that came out last year with circus as the main theme. Any time popular culture picks up on something like this, there’s an effect on academic research.”

The library’s circus collection already contains heavy emphasis on items related to clowning, such as clown stilts, shoes, props and other wardrobe items. In addition, the collection contains a number of periodicals dedicated to the art of clowning.

Brunsdale said that working with the Johnsons was a pleasure.

The endowment, financed by long-time donors Bruce and Carole Johnson, will be for more than $25,000 once fully funded. It will be utilized to both preserve existing items within the collection as well as to bring new items into the fold.

“Bruce and Carole are magnificently generous people whose passion aligns nicely with what we do here in Special Collections,” Brunsdale said. “We work very hard to get the materials under my care here integrated into the ISU curriculum. It is a pleasure to do so.”

Brunsdale also said that the Johnsons’ work and contributions to aid the collection both through the endowment and prior support to the library are cherished.

“Bruce and Carole understand that we are a predominantly paper-based research facility that strives to get its materials used and studied in the classroom,” she said. “The fact that they regard this collection and what we do here important is tremendously rewarding and gratifying.”

Those interested in learning more about Milner Library’s special collections can contact the Special Collections staff or call them at (309) 438-2871.

This story first appeared in the Vidette.