Over the past year, Engaging Places has been looking over individual segments of the museum field. While these segments are unique in specific ways, as demonstrated by the data, several of them do share a common theme and mission: an overall goal to promote history. These four segments are History Museums (A54), History Organizations (A80), Historical Societies & Historic Preservation (A82), as well as the broad Museums (A50) category. By combining these segments we can focus on the history-centric portion of the museum field that makes up close to half of its revenue and consists of a whopping 89% of its institutions (see Figure 1). This block of museums is incredibly dominant within the field and a major focus of Engaging Places’ work. For ease of reference, we will be referring to them as History-Focused Organizations.
It is important to remember that as an aggregate these History-Focused Organizations still trend small. Over 90% operate on less than $1 million in revenue annually, with contributions and grants bringing in over half of that vital revenue. For these smaller museums, financial security is a constant and essential priority. While many of these History-Focused Organizations are unable to achieve large pools of investment to stabilize operations, unlike some of their larger counterparts, they can develop practices to move them in this direction.
Of all the organizations in the United States devoted to arts, culture, and humanities, Historical Societies & Historic Preservation (NTEE A82) organizations have an outsized presence. More than a third of all organizations “sponsor activities which celebrate, memorialize and sometimes recreate important events in history such as battles, treaties, speeches, centennials, independence days, catastrophes that had an important impact or other similar occasions.” “Historical society,” “historical association,” “heritage society,” “preservation,” and “restoration” are in the name of nearly 80 percent of institutions in this category. They are also focused on local history—only one in twenty institutions appear to have a geographic scope larger than the county level.
While preserving and interpreting local history is their primary interest, these organizations are the smallest by revenue. More than 90 percent operate with less than $1 million in revenue annually and have a median revenue near $64,000 (yes, the median is $64,000 annually for all A82 organizations for 2011-2017—half of these organizations operate with less than this amount). Only Historical Organizations (A80) produce similar financials, albeit with slightly higher figures.
This blog has been fairly sparse this past year because Ken Turino and I were editing and assembling two dozens essays for Reimagining Historic House Museums: New Approaches and Proven Solutions, an anthology to be published by Rowman and Littlefield as part of the AASLH series. I’m delighted to announce that it is now off my desk and in the hands of the publisher; we expect it will be released in fall 2019.
One of the biggest consequences of the under-resourced and over-stretched community of house museums is that it is difficult for them to share their successes with others—they just don’t have time. The field doesn’t learn about them except through publications, blog posts, or conference sessions—that’s one of the major reasons we assembled this anthology. There’s lots of good work happening in house museums but we’re simply not aware of it. Our hope is that this book is a good place to grab a hold of the current thinking about reinventing house museums so that they are more relevant, sustainable, diverse, inclusive, equitable, and accessible, hopefully broadening and deepening the current conversations in the field.
With the support of the American Association for State and Local History and local funders, we embarked on a series of workshops in subsequent years to lay out a “reinventing process” that has taken us to Missouri, New Hampshire, Vermont, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Illinois with more to come (Washington, DC in June; New York City in October). The one-day workshop, Reinventing the Historic House Museum includes an analysis of the most important opportunities and threats facing historic sites in America based on the latest Continue reading →
GW’s Museum Management class in the midst of a whirlwind tour of the Smithsonian on a hot and humid day in Washington, DC.
As I enter my second semester as a full-time faculty member in the Museum Studies Program at George Washington University, I’ve adopted a “flipped classroom” format and am fully integrating theory with real-life experiences. It’s been an incredible amount of work to revise my syllabi this summer, but so far, the students seem to be learning and enjoying their classes more (we’ll see how the evaluations look at the end of the semester!).
In my museum management class, students will complete an abridged version of a MAP Organizational Assessment for a museum, relying on information available from the website, newspaper articles, IRS Form 990, and the AAM Standards. I assigned the museums based on a random selection to represent the diversity of museums in the United States. We work through the Standards and as we discuss each topic in class, such as governance or collections, we’ll talk about how their particular museum has approached it. This week we’ll be discussing mission so they’ll be evaluating the mission statements for the 25 museums we’re examining in class to determine a set of criteria and identify model mission statements.
New this semester is my course on project management in museums. Our core readings are: Continue reading →
This fall I’ll be teaching a project management class in the Museum Studies Program at George Washington University (GW) and the final project will be writing a grant application to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The final project gives graduate students a real-life experience and provides museums with a foundation for an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant application.
If you’ve been thinking about applying for IMLS grant to improve the care of your collections, better engage your community, or improve learning through your museum but have been too busy or unsure where to begin, GW graduate students may be able to help. It’s part of our effort to serve the museum field, especially smaller institutions that are often juggling too many responsibilities without sufficient resources.
IMLS’ Museums for America (MFA) is one of the best federal grant programs available because it supports “projects that strengthen the ability of an individual museum to serve its public.” That’s pretty flexible but projects do need to focus on one of three areas: Continue reading →
The frontside of the New-York Historical Society shopping bag.
The backside of the New-York Historical Society shopping bag.
The frontside of the New-York Historical Society shopping bag.
The inside of the New-York Historical Society shopping bag.
The side of the New-York Historical Society shopping bag.
The bottom of the New-York Historical Society shopping bag.
When I recently visited the NY History Store at the New-York Historical Society, they provided me with a sturdy bag to carry my newly purchased books, but also an engaging history game. On one side of the bag are a dozen questions, such as
Who kept live whales in Manhattan?
Who were the Death Avenue Cowboys?
When did slavery end in New York state?
Why is Broadway on an angle?
Who gave New York its famous nickname: The Empire State?
A clever storage area for odd-shaped tools and equipment at Strawbery Banke.
I just returned from leading a historic house management workshop for AASLH at the Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It’s always an opportunity to pick up some good ideas from the host institution and at Strawbery Banke, there was no shortage. Most intriguing was their Heritage House Program which restores and leases fifteen underutilized properties, creating a virtual endowment fund to support their educational programs. It’s an outstanding combination of mission and financial sustainability, earning it an award from the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance and a feature on NPR’s “All Things Considered.”
In my workshop, we discuss the importance of combining mission and sustainability using one of my favorite tools: the Double-Bottom Line. I often joke that if historic sites just wanted to increase attendance, they might as well become petting zoos of puppies and kittens. Incredibly, Strawbery Banke has figured out how to make a mission-related puppy zoo in an event called, “Baby Animals.” For one week, visitors can learn about a dozen heritage breeds such as Jacob sheep, Nigerian goats, and Gloucester Old Spot pigs. No, they can’t be petted but families can watch lambs, kids, and piglets play, eat, and sleep. For those who are really interested, there are a couple lectures and a “meet the animals” program for children ages 4 to 8 where they can have a snack, feed the animals, and create a take-home gift for $25. What a clever idea! I’ve attached the brochure on Baby Animals at Strawberry Banke with more details.
President-elect Trump continues to demonstrate that he doesn’t plan to govern like his predecessors, having recently nominated department heads who are at odds with the mission of their departments. What does that mean for theInstitute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), whose Director and its National Museum and Library Services Board are appointed by the President and whose authorization and funding are approved by the President? Most house museums and historic sites know IMLS for its grant programs (e.g., Museums for America) but they also conduct research on the state of the museum field (e.g., museum database); tackle national issues that are important to museums (e.g, preservation of collection, digital platforms); and fund the Museum Assessment Program (managed by the American Alliance of Museums) and Collections Assessment for Preservation Program (managed by the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works).
September 11 Memorial Museum visits by President Obama in 2014 and Presidential candidate Trump in 2016. Note the differences in how the groups are moving through the museum.
At this point, it seems President Trump will have little interest in museums or libraries, which could be good or bad, depending on Continue reading →
AASLH Historic House Management Workshop at Brucemore in 2016.
At the annual AASLH workshop on historic house museum management, we always start by asking participants about the biggest or most important challenge they are facing at their historic site. For the participants, the exercise allows them to get to know each other beyond a name by recognizing the issues they may have in common. As the instructors, It’s an opportunity for George McDaniel and me to ensure we address their concerns. For AASLH, it’s a way of keeping a finger on the pulse on what’s happening in the field. At the end of the workshop, we review the list and provide some time for participants to develop a plan to address their issue. As a reminder, they also fill out self-addressed postcards with a message to themselves, which I’ll mail to them in six months.
So that you can keep your finger on the pulse of the field, here’s the list of issues and challenges from the Cedar Rapids workshop at Brucemore, which included participants from Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Illinois: Continue reading →
Curated nutrition bars are turning out to be an effective way to interpret collections and earn income for museums and historic sites across the country. First introduced by the Friends of Gettysburg National Battlefield for the July 2015 re-enactment, the “Blue & Gray Battle Bar” drew inspiration from the historic Civil War battle. “We knew the kinds of foods soldiers were eating so it was just a matter of coming up with a combination that tasted good and was good for you,” said curator John Rupp, “Hard tack, peas, and coffee had to be in there, of course, but we had to work with food scientists to figure out how to include salt pork. Quinoa wasn’t my idea, but someone said we had to include it for marketing purposes.” Fortunately, the curators were also able to have some fun and included minie balls, which also resolves a major deaccessioning challenge because of the thousands that fill their collection.
Other museums and historic sites heard about the success of this venture, especially after it was featured in the fall issue of Museum Business. Currently under development are:
Big Met Bar: It’s so big, you’ll be full before you’re even halfway through.
Smithsonian Behring Bar: a sprinkling of stars from a spangled banner, dinosaurs, pandas, air, space, and some wonder. So many flavors you can’t tell what you’re eating.
Colonial Williamsburg’s Christiana Campbell Bar: crab, salet, and corn pudding dipped in heritage chocolate (with zombies!). It’ll be about 4 inches high and equally thick.
If you know of a museum or historic site that’s developing a Curated bar, please share it in the comments below!