Historic House Management Workshop in DC Reveals National Issues

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For two days last week, about two dozen people gathered in Washington, DC for AASLH’s annual Historic House Management Workshop.  George McDaniel and I have been co-teaching this workshop for more than a decade around the country and while all the classes are fun and interesting, the one we recently completed was unusual because it was held in two incredibly significant historic houses designed by two of America’s pioneering architects.  Special thanks go to AIA Legacy for hosting the meeting at the Octagon and the White House Historical Association for hosting the meeting at Decatur House.  The workshop usually attracts a diverse group of participants but this one especially so with a mix of curators, educators, conservators, directors, boardmembers, college professors, and consultants–it would have been great to conduct a charrette with them!

Each year we ask the participants to identify one issue they’d like to address in the workshop and although it often changes as a result of the presentations and discussions, that list provides a glimpse into the issues facing historic sites across the country:

  • How to develop priorities for actions
  • How to incorporate archives into interpretation of house
  • How to launch a new historic house museum in partnership with a casino
  • How to gain support from longtime supporters for new plans
  • How to identify and create appropriate storage for collections in historic house museums
  • How to attract group tours that are already visiting other sites in town but to our house museum
  • How can a historic preservation organization more effectively use a historic house it owns and operates
  • How does a long-established historic house museum develop a mission and be reinterpreted
  • How do we upgrade utilities (e.g., HVAC) installed in the 1970s
  • How to effectively use and gain support for four small historic buildings
  • Branding and public perception of a historic house museum that’s also the headquarters for a national organization
  • How can an art museum more effectively integrate two historic houses into its programming
  • How to respond to natural disasters that occur regularly (e.g. hurricanes on the Southeastern coast)
  • How to manage an environment when the house has diverse uses (e.g., collections, offices, cafeteria)
  • How to manage ghost tours (affect on house, collections, revenues)
  • How to diversify income (overly dependent on single fundraiser)
  • How to managing collections that are actively used
  • How to transition from amateur to professional management
  • How to get local members more interested in the national organization’s historic site

2 thoughts on “Historic House Management Workshop in DC Reveals National Issues

  1. Kate Laurel Mac Intosh

    One way to incorporate the two historic houses into the art museum (as was proposed by the participant above) is to integrate art into the historic spaces, either by hosting historical exhibitions, or by inviting contemporary artists into the historic space to create a reactionary work, reflective of the story and history of the site. This is something that has been done previously (see here https://www.facebook.com/pages/Revitalizing-Historic-Sites-Through-Contemporary-Art/101444309899044 on Facebook, and the website http://www.revitalizinghistoricsites.com for a list of examples), and is a great way to increase a site’s viability, open a site to new audiences and diversify revenue streams. Additionally, it helps to alter public opinions of historic sites, which, unfortunately, get the rap of being ‘stuffy.’ The best examples of this type of juxtaposition, of contemporary art in an historic setting, occur when a great liaison is brought in to develop the relationship between the artist(s) and the site, and the artist is equipped to make an inspiring work. Please feel free to email me, kate@revitalizinghistoricsites.com, to talk more if you’re interested.


    1. Max van Balgooy Post author

      Thanks Kate! These are great suggestions. A couple places where I’ve seen this done is at Chesterwood in Massachusetts (through their annual contemporary sculpture show, which carries on the work of sculptor Daniel Chester French) and at the Seward House in New York (where they display contemporary art in the visitor reception area).


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