Category Archives: Strategy

Is Historic Preservation Ready to Preserve Culture as well as Architecture?

Sustaining San Francisco's Living History by San Francisco Heritage

Sustaining San Francisco’s Living History by San Francisco Heritage

The fundamental boundaries of historic preservation have been significantly expanded by San Francisco Heritage, one of the country’s leading historic preservation organizations. In Sustaining San Francisco’s Living History: Strategies for Conserving Cultural Heritage Assets, they state that, “Despite their effectiveness in conserving architectural resources, traditional historic preservation protections are often ill-suited to address the challenges facing cultural heritage assets. . . Historic designation is not always feasible or appropriate, nor does it protect against rent increases, evictions, challenges with leadership succession, and other factors that threaten longtime institutions.”   In an effort to conserve San Francisco’s non-architectural heritage, historic preservation must consider “both tangible and intangible [elements] that help define the beliefs, customs, and practices of a particular community.” Did you notice the expanded definition?  Here it is again:  “Tangible elements may include a community’s land, buildings, public spaces, or artwork [the traditional domain of historic preservation], while intangible elements may include organizations and institutions, businesses, cultural activities and events, and even people [the unexplored territory].”

With many historic preservation organizations, it’s all about the architecture so protecting landscapes, public spaces, and artwork is already a stretch.  They’re often not aware that Continue reading

Know a Museum or Site Making an Impact with History?

Discussing the History Relevance Campaign at a packed session at AASLH in St. Paul.

Discussing the History Relevance Campaign at a packed session at AASLH in St. Paul. Photo by Lee Wright.

At the American Association for State and Local History annual meeting in St. Paul, the History Relevance Campaign presented an update on their work to a packed audience. During the session, we presented the Impact Project, a year-long process for identifying and studying historic sites and history museums that are making history relevant in their community. The goals of the Impact Project are to:

  • Increase the use of history as a way to understand and address critical community issues.
  • Help board members and staff make an impact in their communities by integrating best practices into their strategic and interpretive plans
  • Encourage AASLH and other professional associations to include standards on community relevance and impact
  • Encourage academic programs in history, public history, and museum studies to include community relevance and impact in their curriculum
  • Encourage elected officials, funders, and communities to provide more support for history organizations that are making an impact
  • Provide every Governor with at least one example of history organizations that are making an impact in their state

We Need Your Help

We are looking for history museums, historic sites, and similar organizations that are Continue reading

Brown University and National Trust Provide Recommendations for Historic House Museums

The financial sustainability and social relevance of historic house museums continue to intrigue scholars, preservationists, organizations, and even pundits on National Public Radio (I was recently interviewed by them about this topic) and adding to the conversation are two recent publications by the John Nicholas Brown Center at Brown University and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Bedroom at Liberty Hall Museum, Kean University, New Jersey.

Bedroom at Liberty Hall Museum, Kean University, New Jersey.

If historic house museums are historic sites that primarily educational (not commercial) in purpose, how would they be different if they were managed by educational institutions? “University-Affiliated Historic House Museums,” a report by the John Nicholas Brown Center at Brown University may provide some answers. Prepared for the 1772 Foundation by Hillary Brady, Steven Lubar, and Rebecca Soules, the report examines the issues facing historic house museums that are owned or operated by colleges and universities based on a survey of existing practices at ten sites.  Offering recommendations for “new ways to make these museums more useful to the university community,” it concludes with a half dozen alternatives for the Liberty Hall Museum at Kean University, which might be applicable to sites that are not affiliated with universities (swap “campus” and “students” with “community” and “residents”).  By the way, the Center is hosting an intriguing colloquium in May 2015 on “lost museums“.

Future of Historic Sites Forum Journal 2014In 1949, Congress created the National Trust for Historic Preservation to Continue reading

How a Classic Business Matrix Can Help Museums and Historic Site

BCG MatrixIn the 1970s, Bruce Henderson at the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) introduced the “growth-share matrix” to help its clients better manage a portfolio of business units and products.  The matrix facilitates management decisions by rating each product according to their share of the market and their potential for growth.  Putting each product in one of the four quadrants of the matrix graphically showed which ones were the stars, cash cows, question marks, and pets (cute but worthless).  More importantly, it showed the overall position and health of the company and suggested next steps.  For example, “cash cows” should be maintained and used to invest in “stars” but “pets” should be abandoned (sorry for offending pet owners, but calling them “dogs” probably won’t make it any easier).

During the past 40 years, the BCG matrix has become a classic tool for business strategy and Harvard Business Review recently named it one of the frameworks that changed the world.  Yet it is rarely used by museums and historic sites, who seem to favor the much more limited SWOT exercise.  It may be because non-profits are unaware of the matrix but it’s more likely that “market share” and “market growth” are unfamiliar or impracticable concepts.  I do like the idea of assessing our work in ways other than attendance and income, so I’ve revised the framework to make it more useful to museums and historic sites.

Mission-Sustainability Matrix
In this “mission-sustainability matrix,” Continue reading

Delaware’s Strategic Plan Meets AAM Standards

AAM's "Continuum of Excellence."

AAM’s “Continuum of Excellence.”

A couple years ago, the American Alliance of Museums introduced the Continuum of Excellence, a “multi-program structure [that] offers opportunities for various levels of assessment, feedback, and recognition that build on one another.”  It’s a significant expansion of the Museum Assessment Program and Accreditation process because it now includes additional intermediate steps, including verification of five core documents, including a strategic plan.

Delaware Strategic Plan FY15-FY19 coverLast year I worked with the Historical and Cultural Affairs Division of the State of Delaware to prepare a strategic plan that would meet or exceed AAM’s standards for professional museums.  The planning process was more complex than usual because it involved a state government agency that is responsible for over forty historic properties, five museums, a conference center, welcome center, historic preservation, and archaeology and has numerous local partners and affiliates. They also wanted a strong emphasis on team work and a heavy reliance on staff expertise, so the process included large and small group meetings, staff surveys, and community research to create a vision, core values, major audiences, goals, implementation, evaluation, and a budget within eight months.  Whew!

I facilitated the meetings and provided general direction, but the staff wrote, revised, and developed the strategic plan from beginning to end while still working their regular jobs.  I’m incredibly proud Continue reading

Video: Happy 4th from Philadelphia

In this 1:39 video, Historic Philadelphia features Benjamin Franklin and a dozen living history actors dancing to Pharrel William’s “Happy” on the streets of the City of Brotherly Love. Dozens of ongoing and special events will take place on and around Independence Mall over Independence Week and the summer and this video shows the fun and lively side of its history.  It was produced by Historic Philadelphia, Inc. (@HistoricPhilly), Independence Visitor Center (@PHLVisitorCntr), National Constitution Center (@ConstitutionCtr), Visit Philadelphia (@VisitPhilly), and Independence National Historical Park (@INDEPENDENCENHP). More information is available at www.historicphillysummer.com.   Thanks to Sandy Lloyd for sharing this video.

Is Planning Giving You the Creeps?

Scope CreepThis afternoon at the annual meeting of the American Alliance of Museums in Seattle, Washington, I’ll be part of “Strategic Planning Made Simple,” a panel session discussing approaches to designing and implementing strategic plans with Liz Maurer (National Women’s Museum), Laurie Baty (National Capital Radio and Television Museum), and Steve Shwarzman (Institute of Library and Museum Services).  I’ll be highlighting four ways to overcome “planning creep,” the seemingly inevitable and invisible force that pulls you away from your goals:

1.  Adopting a Meaningful Purpose and Vision.  Strategic plans have been with us for nearly a century, first for military purposes and then adopted by businesses in the 1970s.  It’s now pretty clear that planning without a purpose is a wasted effort and now you’ll find both businesses and non-profit organizations adopting “mission statements.”  While mission statements are needed, not all mission statements are helpful.  I’ll be outlining the six elements of a Continue reading

Ten Answers to Eleven Questions of Museum Bloggers

On March 19, the Berlin Museum of Natural History launched a series of eleven questions for museum bloggers on Museum Blogger Day, which is slowly making its way around the blogosphere.   I received the list of questions from Gretchen Jennings of Museum Commons, who received it from Linda Norris at the Uncatalogued Museum, who received it from Jamie Glavic at Museum Minute, who received it from Jenni at Museum Diary, who received it from the Museum Things blog at Natureskundemuseum.   I suppose this might be a new version of the old “chain letter,” but more fun and with no dire consequences if you fail to participate (and of course, the questions were modified along the way, just like a telephone tree).   It’s also introduced me to another neighborhood of bloggers!

1. Who are you and what do you like about blogging?

I’m the president of Engaging Places, LLC, a design and strategy firm that connects people to historic places.  I love visiting and working with museums and historic sites, so the blog allows me to Continue reading

Corcoran Dismantlement Offers Lessons for Museums and Sites

Corcoran 2014The recent news that the Corcoran in Washington, DC, will be mostly dissolved and its parts distributed to the National Gallery of Art (NGA) and George Washington University (GWU) is generating lots of discussion on whether this is a good thing or not, and who should take the credit or blame.  For those unfamiliar with the Corcoran, it’s an unusual museum because it’s a combination of art gallery and art college.  Students use the art collection for study and inspiration, and the art gallery exhibits student and faculty artworks along with historic American paintings and sculpture, connecting past and present.  It’s a great approach for providing a rich environment for the study and appreciation of art for both students and the public.  Other museums have followed similar paths to create deeper places of learning, including the Henry Ford Museum with its charter school, the Academy of Natural Sciences in its merger with Drexel University, and the American Museum of Natural History offering a Masters of Arts in Teaching.  Yes, museums and historic sites can offer more than just an hour-long tour or a morning field trip.

The Corcoran was created in the Gilded Age, the era of the first major public museums.  Unlike its contemporaries such as the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Corcoran seems to have gone asleep in the mid-twentieth century and like Rip Van Winkle, it couldn’t wake up.  It made attempts to move out of its slumber, including Continue reading