For this workshop, they assembled an outstanding team of speakers:
Tom Mayes of the National Trust for Historic Preservation discussing a “shamelessly anecdotal and personal approach” to historic sites that prompted questions about why people visit (or avoid visiting) them
And now for something completely different, a one-minute video promoting the Museum of Architecture in Russia. Created by Saatchi Russia, it’s a humorous spin on the “little old ladies” that guard museums and historic sites. If you understand Russian, could you tell us what’s going on?
The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, and its cultural partners, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, recently recognized 50 exceptional programs for their work in providing rich arts and humanities learning opportunities for young people. The National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award is the nation’s highest honor for out-of-school arts and humanities programs that celebrate the creativity of America’s young people, particularly those from underserved communities.
According to the IMLS news release, “From small towns to big cities, the 2013 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award Finalists reflect the diversity of disciplines and settings of these wonderful programs that are taking place from coast to coast.” Hmm. The 2013 finalists are overwhelmingly heavy with Continue reading →
Last week I led an AASLH workshop with George McDaniel on the management of historic house museums at Oaklands, a mid-nineteenth century house in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Eighteen people participated, most from Tennessee, but we had a couple from as far as Alaska! Adding to the diversity were several graduate students from Middle Tennessee State University (which has strong programs in history, public history, and historic preservation) and even though it was near the end of the semester and finals were on their minds, they helped enrich the discussions.
One of the features in the workshop is that every participant brings an issue or problem that they’d like to address. The range is wide and unpredictable, but it’s a helpful way to check the pulse on the challenges facing historic sites. In this class, these issues were:
How to prevent staff burn-out (how to keep growing despite small staff; finding the right mix of skills for staff)
This week I’m teaching a workshop on historic house museum management with George McDaniel for the American Association for State and Local History. It’s great fun working with people from all over the country because we learn so much from each other.
One of the most popular sections is membership (who doesn’t want more supporters?). George uses his experience from Drayton Hall to demonstrate some techniques in the tour for showing “membership dollars at work,” which gets visitors so excited that many join at the end of the tour. With members in more than 7,500 households in all 50 states, Drayton Hall must have one of the nation’s largest membership programs for an historic site, so their techniques work.
I provide a complementary perspective, using profiles to understand member motivations and interests. In an exercise, I have the class combine a mission statement with a member profile to develop a membership program or activity. I’m always surprised by Continue reading →
TrendsWatch 2012 identified crowdsourcing as one of the seven major trends affecting museums, allowing more people to volunteer in meaningful work. If you’re not familiar with crowdsourcing, it’s a “process of soliciting content, solutions, and suggestions from an undefined set of participants via the Internet.” The April 2013 issue of the Harvard Business Reviewincludes two articles on working with crowds in different ways: one to innovate and the other to solve problems.
In “Using the Crowd as an Innovation Partner“, authors Kevin Boudreau and Karim Lakhani claim that “for certain types of problems, crowds can outperform your company. You just need to know when–and how–to use them.” If you’re hesitant to work with large groups on a project, the authors have identified four ways that best use crowd-powered problem solving and how to manage them:
Contests (example: Longitude Prize) ”The most straightforward way to engage a crowd is to create a contest. The sponsor (the company) identifies a specific problem, offers a cash prize, and broadcasts an invitation to submit solutions. Contests have cracked some of the toughest scientific challenges in history, including the search for a way to determine longitude at sea.”
Collaborative communities (example: Wikipedia). ”Like contests, collaborative communities have a long and rich history. They were critical to the development of Continue reading →
The Abolitionists. A small group of moral reformers in the 1830s launched one of the most ambitious social movements imaginable: the immediate emancipation of millions of African Americans who were enslaved.
Slavery by Another Name. Even as slavery ended in the south after the Civil War, new forms of forced labor kept thousands of African Americans in bondage until the onset of World War II. Produced and directed by Sam Pollard.
Loving Story. The moving account of Richard and Mildred Loving, who were arrested in 1958 for violating Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage. Their struggle culminated in a landmark Supreme Court decision, Loving v. Virginia (1967).
Freedom Riders. The Freedom Rides of 1961 were a pivotal moment in the long Civil Rights struggle that redefined America. This documentary film offers an inside look at the brave band of activists who challenged segregation in the Deep South.
Up to 500 communities across the nation will receive these four inspiring NEH-funded films, accompanied by programming resources to guide public conversations. Each participating site will receive an award of up to $1,200 to support public programming exploring the themes of the Created Equal project. Applications are due May 1, 2013 and open to museums and historical societies; humanities councils; public, academic, and community college libraries; and nonprofit community organizations.
Last week the Virginia Association of Museums (VAM) held its annual conference at the Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Virginia, and I was fortunate to be asked to speak at their historic house forum. It was my first time at their conference and I was so impressed by the quality of the sessions and the camaraderie of the participants. I wasn’t able to stop by every session, but I wanted to provide some highlights from a few I did attend.
The Nexus of Art and Science. Rebecca Kamen, professor of art at Northern Virginia Community College, talked about the ability of art to interpret historic scientific and medical collections found in museums and libraries. Rachel Carson’s The Sense of Wonder (1965) prompted her to work with such diverse institutions as the American Philosophical Society, Chemistry Museum, and the National Institutes of Health. A recent work, “Divining Nature: An Elemental Garden,” explores the orbital rotations of elements in the periodic table through sculptures. I’ve seen lots of examples of science being explained in new ways, but I’ve only encountered a few glimpses of it being done with history–anyone have any suggestions?
Using Social Media to Conduct Historical Research. Lynn Rainville, a professor at Sweet Briar College, discussed how she used Facebook, Tumblr, and other social media to study Continue reading →
On Monday, March 11, I’ll be a plenary speaker at the Virginia Association of Museums conference to discuss the trends, challenges, and opportunities facing historic house museums. It will be followed by a forum with historic site managers, tourism experts, preservationists, and community leaders on the needs and opportunities for historic sites in Virginia, such as a statewide association for historic house museums. It’s great timing for this topic: Governor McDonnell declared 2013 as the Year of the Virginia Historic Home in recognition of the bicentennial of the Executive Mansion and Virginia’s more than 100 historic homes, most of which are open to the public as museums and historic sites.
Whenever I’m asked to give a presentation or write an article, it’s an opportunity to do some research and reading to gains some new or deeper perspectives on the issue. For the VAM presentation, I’ve been looking closely at the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts by the National Endowment of the Arts. For decades, NEA has interviewed thousands of people across the United States to learn about their involvement in music, art, theater, festivals, reading, and dance. NEA conducted the last survey in 2008 and published a series of analytical reports in 2009-2011.
Looking back over 30 years, the survey confirms that attendance closely correlates with Continue reading →
This week I’m attending the Small Museums Association‘s 29th annual conference in Ocean City, Maryland, where I’ll be giving a plenary address this morning on, “Mild-Mannered Superheroes Rarely Make a Difference.” As you might have guessed, it’s a mash-up of a quotation by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and the conference theme on superheros. I hope to encourage attendees to rethink their mission, vision, and strategy to become more relevant and engaging in their communities. Unfortunately, most museum mission statements are mild-mannered, with the usual phrase of “collect, preserve, and interpret” stuck behind the name of the organization.
Funding agencies, museum accreditation, and strategic plans require a mission statement, so many organizations create a least offensive version that can be approved by the board. The result is that mission statements are often so vague that they’re ignored, have little to no influence on day-to-day activities, and are viewed as empty public relations gestures that provokes cynicism. No doubt they’ve found that having a mission statement doesn’t have much impact, but a recent study shows that the right kind of mission statement can significantly improve financial success and organizational performance.