One of the big ideas confirmed in Reimagining Historic House Museums is the significant role of a strong mission statement. They’ve been in active use in museums since the 1980s and yet, there are still plenty that are uninspiring, convoluted, or superficial slogans.
Because mission statements are so essential to the management of museums, I spend two classes of my museum management course at George Washington University discussing them using the AAM Standards along with articles by Willard Boyd, Stephen Weil, Peter Drucker, Philip Kennicott, and Sebastian Desmidt, and a chapter from Museums in Motion. Through several small group activities, the students develop a list of characteristics for strong mission statements and then test them against the mission statements for the eighteen museums they are using as case studies. Although these are graduate students with very little experience in museums, they do a terrific job identifying mission statements that can inform decisions and guide actions. For the museums they are studying this semester, these are ones with the strongest mission statements (in alphabetical order):
In the last decade, Americans for the Arts has become a national powerhouse for the value of the arts through their research, advocacy, and programs. Take a look at just a few of the tools and resources they offer (but beware of rabbit holes!):
Arts + Social Impact Explorer (quick summaries on the impact of the arts on dozens of topics such as education, social justice, tourism, and culture and heritage; these straight-forward explanations of the value of arts can be re-used in your presentations or newsletters).
Americans for the Arts provides a possible model for the history field to help us better explain our value to society. You can find similar resources in part at History Relevance, American Association for State and Local History, American Alliance of Museums, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Institute of Museum and Library Services, and other organizations, but there’s no comparable single source like Americans for the Arts. I suspect this will improve as the history field recognizes the need to go beyond the usual “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it” and towards a fuller explanation for the value of history (see AASLH’s Framing History project). But don’t wait for others—make it happen in your organization. A house museum or a historical society can research, summarize, and prepare information for their board, staff, and members to make the case for the value of their mission and the history of their community (unless you believe your organization is just a social club and history is a personal hobby). Once developed, it can be reused and easily adjusted in the years that follow. Here are some examples of possibilities taken from the History Relevance Toolkit:
In their year-end fundraising letter, the Tennessee Historical Society emphasized the role of history in providing a “sense of place that builds community” and helps us to “understand the issues we face today.”
Naper Settlement consolidated their research into a colorful illustrated impact report for elected officials and donors.
The Indiana Historical Society produced a video that shares how community leaders perceive the value of history to Indiana.
Not only does this reveal some of the major interests, but also their longevity. As you may have noticed, membership and mission seem to be undergoing some fundamental rethinking and Continue reading →
I’m in back-to-back conferences—AASLH last week, SEMC this week—because I’m moderating sessions at both. The Southeastern Museums Conference is in New Orleans, which is enjoying incredibly beautiful weather, making it easy to wander the streets to find the many museums that are in walking distance. In the two days I’ve been here so far, I’ve visited the Southern Food and Wine Museum (which includes the Museum of the American Cocktail) and Historic New Orleans Collection, taken a guided tour of St. Louis Cemetery #1, and tonight I’ll be at the evening reception at the National World War II Museum. New Orleans has some unusual museums tackling such unusual topics as tattoos, Mardi Gras, and death but I’m not sure I’ll have time to visit them as well. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share what I’ve learned from the sessions that stood out for me but in the meantime, I’ll post my notes and observations on Twitter during the conference using #SEMC17.
George McDaniel, Sandra Smith, and me at dinner at the LBJ Library.
This week I’m at the AASLH Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas where both the weather and friendships are warm. We’re about halfway through the conference and I’ll have further postings about specific topics and sessions soon, but for now I wanted to share a few photos from my experiences at a couple workshops, a session I moderated on community engagement (also presented later as a webinar), the exhibit hall, dinner at the LBJ Presidential Library and the Briscoe Center on American History, and a reception for the Seminar for Historical Administration.
168,516 views. Most visitors are from the United States, followed by Canada, United Kingdom, and Australia (and a surprising number from India, Germany, Brazil, and France).
Google is the search engine that overwhelmingly brings most people to the blog and “community engagement” is the most popular topic.
719 comments. Thanks!—the discussions have always been helpful.
nearly 1,000 subscribers.
Thanks to all of the house museums and historic sites that were willing to share their experiences and activities through this blog with others around the world. Thanks to my readers for your kind words and ideas when I meet you at conferences and workshops. More posts are coming (although it’s hard to keep up with so much happening).
Charleston is an ideal place to study historic sites and African American history because of the diversity of interpretive methods used in the region (plus it’s a wonderful place to be in January). The 32-hour workshop includes:
The history of the interpretation profession
The principles of interpretation
The thematic approach to developing and delivering interpretation that connects audiences to historical resources in meaningful ways
Current literature in the field of interpretation
In addition to the training course, the workshop will include 18 hours visiting and analyzing the interpretation of African American history and culture, including methodology, at a variety of historic sites in Charleston. Upon completion, participants receive Interpretive Guide Certification from the National Association for Interpretation.
Registration is $300 and includes tuition, most meals, lodging, and local travel. Applications must be received by Monday, November 21, 2016 by 5 pm EST and applicants must be members of the Association of African American Museums (not a member? It’s easy to join for $55 as individuals). Note: the application process is competitive and extensive, so this is not a last-minute process.
My work has always involved a lot of writing, whether it’s historical research, a grant application, a project proposal, a newsletter article, or a report to the board. But writing is hard work, especially if it has to be a good product, which means several revisions. I’m rereading On Writing Well (the 30th Anniversary Edition–yikes! have that many years passed) and William Zinnser reminds us that, “the professional writer [that’s nearly anyone in our business] must establish a daily schedule and stick to it.” Over the years, I’ve kept track of the habits of prolific writers and they seem to write in the mornings, which is the schedule I’ve adopted. Nevertheless, I’m still challenged by “sticking to it.”
The kitchen timer that’s on my office desk.
To my rescue came the “Pomodoro Technique“ developed by Francesco Cirillo, a time-management method that relies on an ordinary kitchen timer (which are sometimes designed to look like a tomato or pomodoro in Italian). Set the timer for 25 minutes and while the clock is ticking, stay focused on your work. When the time is up, take a five-minute break and then return for another 25-minute session. It’s designed so that the sessions are short enough to encourage you to stay at the task at hand (“I can write for 25 minutes!”) while including routine breaks to be sure you don’t burn out (and really get discouraged). It’s been the primary way that I stay productive and thought it might be useful for others who are also trying to stay disciplined.
Focus Time app for OS and iOS.
And while the kitchen timer is still on my office desk, I now use Focus Time, an app on my iPad, because it allows me to categorize my work as well as provide a timer that’s visual, not just auditory (plus I can choose the sounds for the ticking and ending). This year I’m also expanding my writing toolbox by using Evernote and a Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 along with Scrivener, all unusual tools that take time to learn but once mastered, can be immensely helpful. I’ll share my experiences in future posts.
As the Engaging Places blog enters its fourth year, it’s a chance to take a look back to see what’s attracted and intrigued our readers. It’s now grown to about 350 posts and is viewed about 3,000 times each month. This year, the most popular posts were (starting with the highest):
In this 16:01 video, Kristen Gwinn-Becker asserts that there is a necessary—indeed, urgent—need to build easily accessible digital archives of our primary sources. She says that,
As an historian, I understand there is a vast amount of historically valuable information to be processed, but I believe it is worth the effort to make that heritage digital and discoverable to the public. As a technologist, I know that it is possible to make this happen.
Her presentation was given at TEDxDirigo and you may have met her at the AASLH annual meeting where she was discussing her company, HistoryIT.