What Does a Trump Presidency Mean for IMLS?

IMLS LogoPresident-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 the Institute 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).

Obama-Trump-at-911-Museum.jpg

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

Is Twitter Effectively Engaging Your Audiences?

twitter-afpWith the new year on the horizon, I’ve been evaluating my projects from the last year to determine how I can help historic places better connect to their audiences. For the past two years, I’ve used Twitter to share news about history, historic sites, historic preservation, and history museums.  Each morning I scan the New York Times and other newspapers for stories, aiming to tweet about three stories daily to my @maxvanbalgooy account so that my followers can quickly learn what’s happening.  The result? I have created 4,180 tweets and attracted nearly 500 Followers since I joined Twitter in June 2009.  This blog, on the other hand, has 1000 subscribers, so it seems my time is better spent on my blog than Twitter.  It could be very different for you, but how do we decide if Twitter is effectively engaging your audiences?

A useful place to start is with the metrics that Twitter provides: Followers and Likes.  Likes are a low level of engagement because they only require that readers support a specific tweet or find it especially useful or enjoyable—but that’s it. Followers are a mid-level form of engagement because it means that a reader wants to engage with you and read everything that you tweet (“read” is probably overstating things; “scan” is more appropriate for Twitter). Retweets engage at a high level because your Followers share your tweet to their Followers (did you follow that? it’s about the impact of the multiplier effect)—unfortunately, there’s no easy way to measure Retweets (but boy, we would have more impact if we promoted Retweeting instead of Liking).

To better understand how effectively Twitter can engage audiences, I collected statistics for a variety of major history organizations to measure Tweets, Followers, and Likes as of today (December 8, 2016) to develop the following chart: Continue reading

Stabilizing Sandy or Uneven Paths with Mobi-Mat in Cape Cod

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On a recent visit to the Cape Cod  in Massachusetts, I often encountered unpaved sandy paths down to the beach.  It can be tough slog walking up and down those sandy hills but people also trample the nearby vegetation to get a solid footing.  At the Cape Cod National Seashore, they covered these sandy paths with Mobi-Mats, a flexible woven recycled plastic mat that stabilizes the path and reduces erosion, while allowing water and sand to filter quickly. It was so much easier to walk to the shore and I immediately saw that they could be helpful at historic sites that have muddy or uneven paths to make travel easier for persons with limited mobility or in wheelchairs. Although the mat is bright blue, it feels much nicer to walk to the beach on this mat than it would on a concrete or asphalt sidewalk—you get the sense you’re walking at the beach, not in the parking lot (I suppose it’s blue because light colors would be blinding in the summer sun and dark colors would become too hot for bare feet).

Mobi-Mats are made by Deschamps, a French company with an office in New Jersey.  According to their website, these mats are also in use in New York City Parks, Traverse City State Park in Michigan, Arches National Park in Utah, and Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina. And in case you need to move vehicles or heavy equipment temporarily through landscaped areas for an event or construction project, these mats were originally designed for beach landings by the U.S. Marine Corps so they can handle the traffic (they say a 50 foot long roll can be installed by two people in ten minutes!).

EngagingPlaces.net Celebrates a Belated Five-Year Anniversary

five-candlesOn October 24, 2011, the Engaging Places blog launched with the mission to both continue and expand a blog that I established for National Trust Historic Sites in 2007 (it was so unusual, we called it a “weblog” to explain what it was).  I’ve been so busy that the five-year anniversary slipped by unnoticed.  That’s traditionally the anniversary for wooden gifts but instead I’d appreciate “likes” and “shares.” 🙂

Here are some stats that suggest what’s happened over the years:

  • 454 posts. The most popular posts are Let’s Give SWOT a Rest; The Truth About the Customer Experience; and Welcoming New Members.  What does this mean?
  • 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).

Lefferts Historic House features Monument to the Unelected

Screen Shot 2016-11-10 at 2.25.08 PM.png

“Monument to the Unelected” by Nina Katchadourian at the Lefferts Historic House. Photo by Jaap Grolleman.

The Lefferts Historic House in New York is featuring Nina Katchadourian’s Monument to the Unelected, a temporary art exhibit consisting of 58 signs bearing the names of the losing candidates from every presidential election in American history. Designed to look like modern campaign yard signs with names boldly displayed on white corrugated plastic, Katchadorian wanted to recognize that “these markers tend to crop up in the weeks leading up to an election, after which they disappear, with some of the names going on to take office and others being largely forgotten.”  The exhibit now includes Hillary Clinton and will be on view on the house’s front lawn until this Sunday, November 13, 2016.

Lefferts Historic House is owned by the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, operated by the Prospect Park Alliance, and is a member of the Historic House Trust. This project is supported by the Historic House Trust’s Contemporary Art Partnerships program and the New York State Council on the Arts.

More at the Prospect Park Alliance and Huffington Post, plus a Periscope video on Twitter.

Interpreting African American History Workshop offered in January 2017

nmaahcThe National Museum of African American History and Culture, in partnership with the Association of African American Museums, the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission at James Island County Park – Charleston, SC, and the National Association for Interpretation are offering a week-long workshop on the interpretation of African American history and culture from January 15-22, 2017 in Charleston, South Carolina.

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.

IMHO: Trump’s Election Reflects Trends in History Museums and Historic Preservation

change-sameDonald J. Trump’s election to the U. S. presidency is a shock to many pundits and career politicians because he never held elected office and didn’t seem to care about politics or government, except as it might benefit his businesses. His interest is business, following his father into real estate and receiving his bachelor’s degree in economics from the Wharton School, and then pursuing real estate development, professional sports, beauty pageants, for-profit education, branding and licensing, and entertainment. While the 2016 campaign will be heavily analyzed for years to understand its unfolding, my sense is that it’s not just about “change,” but a change in the skills and qualifications required for effective leadership.  It’s no longer about mission, vision, or values, but the expertise and perspective of independent business entrepreneurs.  And it’s a trend I’ve been witnessing in house museums and historic sites as well.

In the last decade, several major history and preservation organizations have selected CEOs who have little passion for or experience with the mission of the organization but instead offer outsider perspectives, often informed exclusively by an MBA: Continue reading

Video: History is Essential

The Indiana Historical Society recently produced History is Essential, a 5:08 video that explains the value of history through interviews with teachers, business CEOs, and community leaders intercut with historic photos and films.  Thanks to John Herbst, President and CEO at the Indiana Historical Society, for sharing this at the recent History Relevance Campaign workshop in Washington, DC.

Video: Performing Art at Swan House

"When I Whistle..." by Bill Orisich and Benita Carr shot at Swan House, Atlanta History Center.

“When I Whistle…” by Bill Orisich and Benita Carr shot at Swan House, Atlanta History Center.

Swan House, the 1928 mansion at the Atlanta History Center, served as a canvas for When I Whistle…,” a site-specific performance artwork for video by Bill Orisich and Benita Carr.  The History Center partnered with the two artists on a Swan Coach House Art Gallery show called Print or Projection. They used the house as inspiration and shot everything over the course of eight nights, featuring local performance artists, original music and text. The final product, When I Whistle…, premiered at the show opening, and was projected in triptych onto three panels inside the house. Most readers may find the video strange and confusing (and there is some nudity, too) but an art critic called it “intelligent, thought-provoking, and brand new.” It’s another example of historic sites being used as a way of engaging new audiences or interpreting them in new ways. It’s not appropriate for all sites, but it’s something to keep in your toolbox of ideas.

Thanks to Jessica Rast VanLanduyt, Director of 20th Century Historic Houses (what a great title!) at the Atlanta History Center, for sharing this with us.

AASLH/MMA Meeting Recovery and Recap

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It took me several days to recover from my conference hop in Detroit last week.  I’m not sure why I ended each day exhausted. Was a joint meeting of the Michigan Museums Association and the American Association for State and Local History too rich for my brain cells? Was it the non-stop activities from 7 am to 9 pm? Was it the Cobo Conference Center, so large that I had walk two city blocks to a session after entering the building? No matter the cause, I was a mindless zombie for a couple days afterward but I did have a great time.  I’ll definitely be at AASLH next year in Austin, Texas.

The use of Twitter grew tremendously at the conference.  I heard that more than 1,500 tweets went out from sessions, so many that AASLH created a summary via Storify (and further proof that Twitter isn’t just for the young digerati).  I experimented with Periscope, which provides a live video feed on Twitter. I’m still getting the hang of it (first rule: be sure you’re pointing the phone camera at the scene, not looking down at your feet, when you’re fussing with the phone to start recording).  I was skeptical about its ability to attract an audience but surprisingly lots of people watched it immediately (Periscope provides statistics both during and after recordings; 96 people watched my video of the exhibit hall). You definitely will want to see how you might want to use this smartphone application for promoting events, lectures, and programs at your museum or site. Everywhere on the web a Tweet can go, a Periscope can go, too.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Tom Segrue’s plenary presentation about Detroit’s history also included observations about the impact of racial segregation, manufacturing, and economic redevelopment has had on its successes and failures, which is a cautionary example to other cities around the country.  My hometown of Rockville, Maryland is much smaller than Detroit, but I immediately saw the parallels around segregation and redevelopment for the last 50 years. His book, The Origins of the Urban Crisis, has mostly attracted the attention of academic historians (and a couple prestigious awards), but preservationists and public historians should learn about him as well because of his analysis of downtown revitalization efforts and gentrification. His presentation is now available free from AASLH via SoundCloud and iTunes.  AASLH has provided another dozen audio recordings of sessions from this meeting, many that relate to house museums and historic sites, and in a month the webinars of selected sessions will be available. Thanks, AASLH!

I was involved with a couple sessions during the conference and in case you missed them, I’m sharing the handouts of resources and contact information that we distributed:

I also learned a lot, both in the sessions and in the hallways chatting with friends, so I’ll be sharing those in future posts so this annual meeting will continue to live on for a few more weeks.