Category Archives: Training

Tackling Challenges for Historic Sites in St. Louis

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Last week, Ken Turino of Historic New England and I gave a one-day workshop on reinventing historic house museum in St. Louis, Missouri for the American Association for State and Local History.  It was a sold-out workshop with more than 50 people participating, mostly from the St. Louis region, so it was a great opportunity to meet so many of our colleagues, including a couple places who were starting new house museums (glad to have people learning about this specialized field before they open the doors!).  A big thanks to Andy Hahn at the Campbell House for hosting the workshop and to the St. Louis Public Library for allowing us to meet at the historic Central Library.

Ken and I continue to refine the workshop based on the evaluations we receive from the participants, and one of the elements we added to the beginning of the workshop is asking, “What is the biggest challenge facing your house museum?” and “What needs to be reinvented at your historic site?”  Here are some of the responses we received: Continue reading

Webinar: The Five Forces Affecting House Museums

Five Forces 2015This Friday, April 8, I’ll be discussing the five forces facing historic house museums in a free webinar hosted by the Wisconsin Historical Society.  It’s based on simple and incredibly useful framework developed by Michael Porter at the Harvard Business School more than 30 years ago but little known outside the corporate business world. I’ll not only examine how the five forces are affecting history museums and historic sites on a national level, but how we can harness those five forces to improve and enhance tours, events, and other public programs.  The webinar starts at 10:30 am Central/11:30 am Eastern for about an hour with time for questions and discussion. Registration is free and available online but limited to 100 people (and you don’t have to be from Wisconsin!).

It’s part of series of local history webinars offered every spring for staff and volunteers at local historical societies, historic preservation organizations, and museums.  In April and May they are offering nine different webinars, including an introduction to PastPerfect 5 with Sarah Kapellusch, the basics of collections care with Craig Deller, and a fresh look at walking tours with Anthony Rubano.  Hats off to the Wisconsin Historical Society for providing this service to museums and historic sites not just in their state, but the rest of the country.

Researching the Interpretation of Slavery in Louisiana

Research Trip 2015 MapJames Madison’s Montpelier is in the midst of expanding its interpretation of slavery thanks to a generous gift from David Rubenstein.  To explore potential interpretive techniques and content that could be adopted, we conducted a three-day research trip to visit a wide range of sites in Louisiana. Staff had visited most of the sites in Virginia, and so we sought a location that most of us had not visited but had a large concentration of historic sites that interpreted African American history before emancipation. Because the experience helped us question assumptions, think more deeply about outcomes, and expand our catalog of ideas, I’m sharing our itinerary with you to encourage you to visit. Our research trip started with two days to make a big loop through Baton Rouge and New Iberia to visit several historic sites and finished with a day in New Orleans. In future blog posts, I hope to discuss some of the sites in more detail.

Day 1: Whitney Plantation, Laura Plantation, and Oak Alley.  Our initial plans also included Evergreen Plantation but the timing didn’t work out, even though these sites are within ten miles of each other.

Day 2: West Baton Rouge Museum in Port Allen (near Baton Rouge) and Continue reading

Video: Keep the Smartphone, Ditch Bad Management

In this 3:42 video, Jennifer Deal, a senior research scientist at the Center for Creative Leadership in San Diego, California, discusses recent studies that suggest that staying connected to work after hours isn’t the problem, but how organizations respect their people’s time. According to her research,

We found that although a majority of our participants were connected to work for 13.5 or more hours a day, five days a week, and for about five hours total on weekends, they didn’t resent their smartphones. Instead, 60 percent said they appreciated the increased flexibility: Many explained they didn’t mind the additional hours connected with work, if that meant their work time was flexible and they could better fulfill their personal obligations. What did they resent? Having to stay connected because of bad management practices that tied their hands, forcing them to spend business hours waiting instead of working.

She provides some suggestions for improving meetings and office practices, but you’ll find more in “Stop Wasting Your Employees’ Time” at Strategy + Business.

Historic House Workshops for the New Year

Historic House Museum Workshop, Charleston, South Carolina, 2015

Historic House Museum Workshop, Charleston, South Carolina, 2015

If want some time to plan and evaluate what’s happening at your historic site or house museum, one of the best ways is through a workshop. Of course, a long weekend of reflection in the Rockies or Virgin Islands might be more relaxing, but a workshop with colleagues discussing the potential solutions to the challenges facing historic sites will be more effective.

AASLH is offering two workshops this year just for house museums and historic sites, and I’ll be part of both of them:

April 4: Reinventing the Historic House Museum at the Campbell House in St. Louis, Missouri

This one-day symposium is designed to offer current thinking, practical information, and solutions to the challenges facing historic sites. The historic house museum in America is not dead nor are most of them dying. The field, however, needs to take time to reflect and renew as the world around our historic sites continues to change. The symposium will include presentations, discussion, a boxed lunch, historic site visit, and a brainstorming workshop at the historic house museum to try out the new ideas proposed during the symposium. Workshop led by Ken Turino (Historic New England) and Max van Balgooy (Engaging Places). (There may be a second Reinventing workshop offered this year.)

April 28: Historic House Museum Issues and Operations at Brucemore in Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Why are historic houses necessary to their communities? How are historic house museums unique? This workshop focuses on the special needs, management, and interpretation of historic houses. With a focus on historic house museums, topics covered include collections care, types of research appropriate for historic house museums, exhibition development, interpretive tours, volunteers, and building and landscape maintenance. Workshop led by George McDaniel (Drayton Hall) and Max van Balgooy (Engaging Places).

Can’t attend these workshops but are still looking for a shot in the arm? Join one of the quarterly Historic House Calls. Every call explores a different topic with an expert, and they’ve previously discussed deaccessioning, tours, interpreting race, and environmental sustainability.

AASLH has nearly two dozens way to sharpen your skills with some of your smartest colleagues in the history field and you’ll find a continually updated list on their calendar of events.

Reinventing Historic Houses in National Parks

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Earlier this week I led a workshop on reinventing historic house museums at two great National Parks—Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller in Vermont and Saint-Gaudens in New Hampshire—with Ken Turino of Historic New England. The National Park Service and the American Association for State and Local History co-sponsored this workshop to help their staff rethink the tours of the historic houses at these two sites, especially for visitors under 35 years of age. Using such tools as the Five Forces and a Double-Bottom Line Matrix along with a smorgasbord of ideas from other sites, we explored possible processes and projects that could improve and enhance their tours.  Our goal wasn’t to provide solutions but to raise many useful questions, including: Continue reading

Stanford Offers Webinars on Non-profit Management

Stanford Social Innovation Review Fall_2015Everyone knows that Harvard University has the Harvard Business Review, but did you know that on the opposite coast, Stanford University has an equivalent for non-profit organizations called the Stanford Social Innovation Review?  Both have been useful to me because along with the magazine, they offer webinars led by authors of their articles or who are leaders in the field.  Here are a couple coming up from the Stanford Social Innovation Review that you might find useful for your museum or historic site:

Overcoming the Overhead Myth

Presented by Jacob Harold, Ann Goggins Gregory, & Jan Masaoka
September 2, 11 a.m. – 12 noon PDT / 2 – 3 p.m. EDT

A dangerous myth prevails among funders that overhead can be used as a proxy for efficiency. In fact, research shows that under-investing in administrative overhead is often linked with poor performance by nonprofits. Ann Goggins Gregory and Don Howard dubbed this process “the nonprofit starvation cycle” in the eponymous Stanford Social Innovation Review article. In this webinar you will learn:

  • Why the nonprofit starvation cycle exists in the sector
  • How organizations that invested in administration subsequently improved their programmatic work
  • Strategies for explaining to funders the importance of overhead costs for future success
  • Tips for evaluating whether grantees are skimping on crucial investment areas in their budgeting

Price: $49, which includes access to the live webinar; unlimited access to the webinar as many times as you’d like for twelve months; and downloadable slides. Learn more about this webinar and register here.

Valuing Frontline Work

Presented by Lehn Benjamin, Katya Fels Smyth, Maria Peña, & Jesús Gerena
September 23, 11 a.m. – 12 noon PDT / 2 – 3 p.m. EDT

An increasing focus in the social sector on performance-driven frameworks can make it difficult for direct-service organizations to measure their impact. Some nonprofits are using creative strategies to measure and communicate their work’s value to funders. This webinar will:

  • Explain how some of the most popular performance models used in the nonprofit sector fail to measure the true impact of what nonprofit professionals do
  • Examine the reasons why it can be so difficult—yet so important—to recognize the value that on-the-ground work delivers to beneficiaries and their communities
  • Explore examples of nonprofits that have succeeded in capturing and conveying the full value of frontline work

Price: $49, which includes access to the live webinar; unlimited access to the webinar as many times as you’d like for twelve months; and downloadable slides. Learn more about this webinar and register here.

International Museum Management Conference Coming to US

Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 10.56.44 AM The International Committee of Museum Management (InterCom) of the the International Council of Museums (ICOM) with be holding its annual meeting in Washington, DC from October 28-31, 2015, the first time it has held its meeting in the United States. InterCom works toward the development of sound museum management throughout the world, including the managerial aspects of policy formulation, legislation, and resource management.  Registration is $350 ($150 for students) and early bird registration for $295 ends today (July 31).

This year’s conference focuses on three themes–The Sustainable Leader, The Enduring
Organization, and the Essential Museum–and plenary speakers include Lonnie Bunch, Founding Director, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and CultureElaine Heumann Gurian, author and museum consultant; and Richard C. Harwood, Harwood Institute for Public Innovation. Sessions involve diverse topics from around the world and several caught my eye. I wonder what someone from Columbia has to say about museums as tourist attractions; how violence or civil unrest are affecting museums in Mexico, Denmark, and Minnesota (Minnesota??); or how the Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations in Turkey tackles the value of history and heritage in the contemporary world (how do you make thousands of years of history relevant?).

I’ll be there to expand my horizons and reporting out when I get a chance. It also looks like we’ll be having special tours of several museums in DC (it’s the behind-the-scenes experience at museums that lured me into this field) so that will be great fun. Hope to see you there!

What Historic Sites Have Learned After 25 Years with ADA

ADA logoThis month marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which ensured equal access to persons with limited mobility, limited vision, limited hearing, and other disabilities. Shortly after this law was enacted in 1990, museums and historic sites were scrambling to figure out the consequences, especially the cost of installing ramps or hiring sign-language interpreters.

Much of it also revolved thinking bigger and realizing that improving access for the disabled would improve the experience for everyone.  For example, lever handles replaced doorknobs, which makes it easier to open a door when you’re carrying a package; enlarging type and increasing contrast on exhibit labels makes them easier to read (which I really appreciated as I grew older); and integrating ramps and removing thresholds is nice for visitors in wheelchairs and for staff who are always hauling tables and chairs for events.  For several years, professional associations hosted sessions and printed books to explain ADA to help museums figure out how to respond in an effective and thoughtful manner.

Little discussed, however, is that the US Department of Justice (DOJ) also investigated several museums and historic sites for Continue reading

Interpretive Planning Workshop coming to Tennessee

AASLH Historic House Museum workshop at the Oaklands Museum, 2013.

AASLH Historic House Museum workshop at the Oaklands Museum, 2013.

On Monday, August 17, I’ll be leading a one-day workshop on interpretive planning for history museums and historic sites in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  Sponsored by the American Association for State and Local History, Humanities Tennessee, and the Tennessee Association of Museums, the workshop will layout effective strategies for interpreting history and the humanities at museums and historic sites, explain how to use StEPs as a model for standards and best practices, and show how to conduct a self-evaluation of interpretation in order to prioritize activities.  It’ll be hot in Middle Tennessee but the workshop will be held in the comfortable and cool visitor center at the Oaklands Museum.  Registration is $75 and $15 for members (you read that correctly–$15!) and includes lunch.  To register or for more details, visit AASLH.org.