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 →
The American Alliance of Museums (formerly known as the American Association of Museums) is offering several resources and workshops that may be interest to historic sites, including:
TrendsWatch 2013: Upcoming Town Hall
This year’s edition of TrendsWatch, the annual report on key social, economic, technological and other trends that are shaping the future of museums, will be released next month. You can also learn about it at the Alliance’s Web-based Town Hall on March 27 at 2 pm ET, which will be hosted by their Center for the Future of Museums. Registration is free for Alliance members, and will open soon. Meanwhile, read (or re-read) TrendsWatch 2012 for a taste of the future.
2012 National Comparative Museum Salary Study Available
A national salary study has long been a top request from Alliance members. Demonstrating that we’re stronger together, the 2012 study was prepared in collaboration with the Association of Midwest Museums (AMM), the Mountain-Plains Museums Association (MPMA), the New England Museum Association (NEMA) and the Southeastern Museums Conference (SEMC) and based on surveys conducted in their regions. Together, these associations represent 36 states, 64 percent of the American population and approximately two-thirds of all museums in the United States. Available free to Continue reading →
Project Management for History Professionals
Dates: March 7 – 8
Location: History Colorado, Denver, CO
Instructor: Dr. Steven Hoskins, Trevecca Nazarene University, Nashville, TN
Cost: $475 members / $550 nonmembers
$40 discount if payment is received by January 31 (coming up next week!)
This unique two-day workshop improves how history museums operate and serve their community by teaching the fundamentals of project management to history professionals. Everyday work—exhibitions, programming, fundraising, special events, outreach, and collections care—benefit from the knowledge gained. Registration for the onsite workshop also includes access to an online course with related material.
From Children to Adults: Public Programming at History Organizations
Dates: March 14 – 15
Location: Homestead Museum, City of Industry, CA
Instructors: Tim Grove, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; Alexandra Continue reading →
The autumn 2012 issue of History News arrived in my mailbox a couple weeks ago and its four feature articles on interpretation that will be of interest to historic sites:
“From Quiet Havens to Modern Agoras: Libraries and Museums in an Era of Participatory Culture” by Nancy Rogers, Susanna Seidl-Fox, and Deborah Mack is a report, including the key overarching messages, from an international seminar held in Salzburg, Austria in October 2011.
“‘No More Wiggle-Tail Water’: Interpreting the History of Morgantown’s Water Supply at the West Virginia Botanic Garden” by Barbara Howe is a case study on integrating history in a place that focuses on horticulture and nature.
“When Histories Horrify: Supporting Visitors’ Responses through Responsible Interpretation” by Linda Norris, Danny Cohen, and Stacey Mann is a continuation of a session at the American Alliance of Museum’s annual meeting on the roles and responsibilities of museums in preserving and mediating horrific histories of crimes, violence, terrorism, and oppression, with references to the Kilmainham Gaol, Majdanek, Robben Island, and the Greensboro Woolworth.
“Entering the Mainstream: Interpreting GLBT History” by Ken Turino and Susan Ferentinos addresses four common challenges (institutional policies on discussing sex, lack of documentary evidence, applying modern labels to historical figures, pressure to avoid controversial topics) using examples from Pendarvis, Walt Whitman House, Beauport, Sarah Orne Jewett House, Alice Austen House, and Charles Gibson House.
The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) and the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) recently announced they will work together to raise awareness of national museum standards and align their assessment programs in order to streamline application and self-study processes. The agreement outlines ways in which applicants of AAM’s Museum Assessment Program (MAP) will benefit after completing AASLH’s StEPs program, in other words, AASLH and AAM have linked StEPs with MAP. If you understand that sentence, you’ve been working in this field a long time.
What’s this mean for historic sites? Both StEPs and MAP are great programs for improving your organization’s work, but they’re very different from each other. StEPs allows you to Continue reading →
In this uncertain environment, many organizations are unsure about the direction to pursue for their historic site or house museum. Through a self-study process and a personal assessment by an external professional colleague, the Museum Assessment Program (MAP) offers a thoughtful and proven approach to refine your operations, programs, and collections. I’ve participated in several MAPs and clever organizations have used it to confirm a strategy, refine a project, resolve a vexing issue, support a funding proposal, or move to the next level of operations. I can’t think of a better program available, except if you’re accredited by AAM, you have a large professional staff, or if you’re able to afford a large team of experts. Really. To stay sharp, every historic site and house museum in America needs to go through this program every decade and in between, they should be tackling a section of AASLH’s Standards and Excellence Program. Really. If you’re not sure, call the director of the historic sites that participated this year: Montpelier Mansion (Maryland), Old Barracks Museum (New Jersey), Louis Armstrong House (New York), Seward House (New York), Stewart House (Ohio), French Legation Museum (Texas), Poplar Forest (Virginia), and Pabst Mansion (Wisconsin).
To participate, your organization needs to meet some basic requirements (such as be open to the public at least 90 days a year), Continue reading →
Arroyo Seco Parkway National Scenic Byway Interpretive Plan produced by Engaging Places for the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority in May 2012.
If you’re interpreting a group of sites or a heritage area, you might be interested in reviewing an interpretive plan I completed earlier this year for the Arroyo Seco Parkway National Scenic Byway. When the Parkway was completed in 1940, it connected Los Angeles and Pasadena and began southern California’s Freeway Age. It’s also a region that has a dense concentration of museums, historic sites, parks, historic Main Streets, architectural landmarks, and unique businesses, including the Gamble House, Huntington Library, Lummis Home, Heritage Square, and Olvera Street. To bring attention to these cultural riches, the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority commissioned me to develop this plan and work with a local stakeholders, build on an inventory of assets developed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and integrate audience research conducted by the Community Land Use and Economic Group and Decision Support Partners.
The planning process followed a traditional approach by collecting content to develop topics and themes; conducting visitor research to identify target audiences; and finally Continue reading →
Today, the American Association of Museums becomes the American Alliance of Museums, which may appear at first to be merely a cosmetic change ushered in by a marketing consultant, but actually signals some significant changes in attitude. Those of us in the history field often felt like outsiders at AAM, which seemed to be dominated by art museums, our classier and richer cousins. But take look at the new AAM and you may find two major changes that may appeal to history organizations:
The summer Olympic games in London are now over and if you were watching, I bet you not only reveled in the athletic competition, but you also contemplated the logistics and expenses. Those of us who work at historic sites don’t experience events like most other people. Sure, we like the music, food, and tours, but we also look at the placement of signs, calculate ratios between attendance and restrooms, check out the store for items we can sell, and mentally map out visitor circulation and note the bottlenecks. Or is that just me?
The Olympics is just another special event, although it’s huge and involves a cast of thousands and decades of planning. The designers and planners of this event are the best of the best, so what can historic sites, at a much smaller scale, learn from their experience? One of the most valuable lessons is that Continue reading →
If you’re finding that your organization is in a rut and you no longer feel as inspired about its work, it might be useful to look at it in a new way by creating a “word cloud” of key documents, such as a strategic plan, mission and vision statements, interpretive themes, or visitor evaluation. A word cloud is a visual presentation of the most frequently used words, sized by frequency. For example, if you use the word “history” ten times more than “preservation” in your strategic plan, “history” shows up much larger than “preservation” in the word cloud. The word cloud allows you to look at your organization from a different perspective: words jump out at you and prompt questions about what’s being emphasized (and what’s not).
As examples, in the slide show above I’ve assembled word clouds from the first few paragraphs of the About section of the websites (which often includes the mission or vision statements) of the following historic sites: