Tag Archives: American Alliance of Museums

Analyzing Visitor Engagement Through Mapping

The July/August 2017 issue of Museum, the magazine of the American Alliance of Museums, features articles on engaging families, veterans, and LGBTQ audiences and my general article, “A Visitor’s Perspective on Visitor Engagement”. It introduces three major factors that influence visitor engagement at museums: convenience, novelty, and values. I had a limited space so I’d like to share a bit more information about the influence of convenience, the idea that the more convenient it is to visit a museum, the more likely that people will visit. It’s not just about living close by but also other effects, such as traffic, roadway patterns, museum hours of operation, finding a place to park, and ease of purchasing tickets. Nevertheless, distance is a major factor and you can see it through mapping.

In my article I referenced a couple of my clients—Cliveden (Philadelphia) and Caramoor (Katonah, New York)—and described the differences in their program participants or supporters.  Below I’m showing these differences through maps created in ArcGIS. Each red dot represents a household and for Cliveden, the map shows that the majority of their supporters live within a 30-minute drive of the site. For Caramoor, the map shows that the majority also live within 30 minutes but there is a significant number who live within 45 minutes to the south (and very few to the north). As you can see, the distance of the audience varies (in other words, the meaning of “convenience” varies). Every place is different and you have to analyze your own data to fully understand it.  As I mention in my article, convenience is also affected by novelty and values, which might explain the clustering.

Drive times from Cliveden (left) and Caramoor (right) are shown in graduated drivetimes of 30, 45, and 60 minutes.

This type of mapping also pokes a big hole in one of the most common refrains I hear at museums: “we get visitors from every state in the nation.” Unless that’s your engagement goal, it’s a nonsensical recognition of success. First of all, it’s more likely that a site’s visitors are local, not national, so they’re overlooking the obvious audience for repeat visitation and support. By mapping your visitors and supporters, you can make better decisions about promotion, programming, and fundraising. Secondly, this statement creates a false sense of success. It’s been said numerous times that attendance shouldn’t be the only measure of success and yet it often is. More important is the impact that the history of your site has had on the people who visit. If the significance of your site is insignificant to the people who visit, perhaps it’s time to rethink your purpose and goals.

Professional Development is Taking on New Forms This Month

Historic Annapolis logoProfessional development (aka staff training) is one of the key elements for developing capacity at house museums and historic sites, but it’s often considered a luxury because of the cost.  This month, for example, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Preservation Maryland, and Historic Annapolis are hosting a two-day workshop, “Preservation Leadership Training: Invitation to Evolve” on September 8-9, 2016 in Annapolis, Maryland and next week, the American Association for State and Local History and Michigan Museums Association are hosting their conference, “The Spirit of Rebirth” in Detroit, Michigan.  Both demonstrate the continuing trend of partnerships among organizations to provide professional development to increase attendance, reduce expenses, and improve the quality.  I’m not sure if others do this, but I can only commit to two conferences per year: one is always AASLH and the other rotates among one of the other organizations where I’m a member.

But lately, I’ve noticed new forms of training popping Continue reading

Values of History: Encyclopedia Edition

The Encyclopedia of Local History will issue its third edition in 2017.

The Encyclopedia of Local History will issue its third edition in 2017.

Carol Kammen and Amy Wilson are preparing the third edition of the Encyclopedia of Local History for publication in early 2017 and invited me to update my entry on “Historic House Museums in the 21st Century” as well as contribute a couple new entries, including “Values of History.”  Businesses and nonprofit organizations have been adopting values along with mission and vision statements for the past two decades but drafting this encyclopedia entry gave me a chance to step back to look at its evolving history as well as include the work of the History Relevance Campaign.  Here’s what I submitted (and remember, while books have been written about this topic, I have to condense it into a short summary):

Values of History. Values are beliefs shared by an individual or a community about what is important or valuable. Although values and ethics are terms used interchangeably at times, ethics are the action and manifestation of values. In addition to a mission and vision, some history organizations have adopted a statement of values or a code of ethics to clarify their identity and guide decisions. For example, Society for Historical Archaeology includes in its code of ethics that members “shall not sell, buy, trade, or barter items from archaeological contexts,” an action based in part from their belief that “historical and underwater cultural resources” are a “valued resource for knowledge exchange.” The importance of values was underscored nearly a generation ago in Museums for a New Century (1984): “An effective museum leader—whether scholar or M.B.A. or both—must first understand, believe in, and speak for the values of the institution.”

A common challenge for state and local history organizations is explaining Continue reading

Mission Statements: Encyclopedia Edition

The Encyclopedia of Local History will issue its third edition in 2017.

The Encyclopedia of Local History will issue its third edition in 2017.

Carol Kammen and Amy Wilson are preparing the third edition of the Encyclopedia of Local History for publication in early 2017 and invited me to update my entry on “Historic House Museums in the 21st Century” as well as contribute a couple new entries, including “Mission Statement.”  I’ve long been familiar with mission statements (who isn’t nowadays) but drafting this encyclopedia entry gave me a chance to step back to look at its evolving history as well as a today’s context to see what’s happening.  Here’s what I submitted (and remember, while books have been written about this topic, I have to condense it into a short summary):

Mission Statement. A mission statement describes the purpose of an organization and directs the planning, implementation, and evaluation of its programs and activities. These statements can vary as seen in these two historic sites that are adjacent to each other in Hartford, Connecticut:

  • Mark Twain House and Museum: to foster an appreciation of the legacy of Mark Twain as one of our nation’s defining cultural figures, and to demonstrate the continuing relevance of his work, life, and times.
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe Center: to preserve and interpret Stowe’s Hartford home and the Center’s historic collections, promote vibrant discussion of her life and work, and inspire commitment to social justice and positive change.

Had Twain or Stowe heard the term “mission statement” in their lifetimes, they probably would have regarded it as Continue reading

Report from the Field: AAM Annual Meeting 2016

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The American Alliance of Museums held its 2016 meeting in Washington, DC last week, which was incredibly convenient for me because I could easily take Metro from my home in Maryland and incredibly inconvenient because it was far too easy for me to stay in my office and say, “I’ll go later” and skip sessions.  I managed to attend two days along with 6000 other people and came back with an assortment of observations:

  1.  AAM allowed a track of sessions that were focused on one museum or site, which can vary from an indepth examination of a single project to a general show-and-tell of everything they do.  Both have benefits and disadvantages (I tend to find the show-and-tells incredibly dull) but it also reminds me how difficult it is to learn what’s happening in the field, especially if you work at historic sites.  Subscriptions, conferences, and travel to other sites have all been victims to tightening budgets, hence my ongoing commitment to a blog that shares a variety of news and information.
  2. The exhibit hall was packed, primarily with exhibit designers and exhibit lenders, and a couple booths introduced virtual reality.  Lots to see from books to dinosaurs but most handy was the Museums Change Lives brochure from the Museums Association in Great Britain. It provides some useful language on the value of museums that can be easily adapted to public speeches, newsletters, fundraising, and membership renewal letters.
  3. Museums of all types are doing pretty cool programming using games or tranforming mundane topics like agriculture.  And yet, very few provided any evidence that their activities were making any impact on visitors.  Yes, attendance and revenue may have increased, but what did visitor learn? how did it change their attitudes? did they apply what they learned to their lives?
  4. Although there were sessions for historic sites and house museums, I regret to say that there aren’t enough to justify the expense. As a result, I only attend every 3-5 years to check up on things.  Next year, the AAM annual meeting will be in St. Louis, Missouri.

If you attended AAM last week and found some particularly useful information or a new resource, please share them in the comments below.

A Wet but Successful Museums Advocacy Day

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Washington DC was cold and grim yesterday as hundreds of museum advocates visited the offices of senators and congressmen to encourage their support for the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the charitable tax deduction.  I had a short but very productive meeting with the staff in Congressman Van Hollen’s office, who has been a long-standing supporter of museums, libraries, and historic preservation, so despite the wet weather, my day felt great. I was also reminded how many other people are also promoting their causes and how easy it is for the value of museums and historic sites to get drowned out by others.

On Monday, we prepared for our visits with several solid briefings on IMLS and education policy, hearing some good news (the American Institute for Conservation will manage the Conservation Assessment Program, following the dissolution of Heritage Preservation) and some frustrating news (the recently adopted Every Student Succeeds Act restores history and civics to the curriculum but President Obama’s recently submitted budget eliminated the funding).  Of course, it was really fun seeing colleagues from around the country and hearing about the interesting work they’re doing (l discovered Building Public Will for Arts and Culture, which is surprisingly similar to the History Relevance Campaign).

Thanks to the American Alliance of Museums for coordinating this event!

Unconference in DC Poised to Transform Museums


Openlab is convening an unconference, talks, and a planning workshop in Washington, DC on December 1-2 to “to accelerate the speed and impact of transformational change in the GLAM (gallery, library, archive, and museum) sector” in order to “to increase and disseminate knowledge; to encourage civic dialogue and engagement; and to support individuals in their right to access and participate in culture.”  The brain child of Michael Peter Edson of the Smithsonian, much of OpenLab’s work seems to be focused on using digital technologies to solve age-old questions, such as “what needs to change in galleries, libraries, archives, and museums?” and “what is missing in the current funding and support landscape for GLAMs and the humanities?”  It’s all a bit nebulous and unclear, but that’s the core nature of an unconference. Nevertheless, it’s one of many concurrent efforts to increase the impact of museums in society (and yes, we’re still in the fragmented stage).

The first day on December 1 (today) is the unconference and a series of Ignite talks from 2-7 pm in Arlington, Virginia that’s free and open to the public.  The second day, however, Continue reading

AAM Provides Update on the Direct Care Debate, but no Solution

Direct Care“Direct Care” is the most troubling word in the museum lexicon but it doesn’t look like the specially-charged task force at the American Alliance of Museums will be able to resolve it, according to their recent update:

The Direct Care Task Force met during the Alliance annual meeting in Atlanta to discuss the results of the opinion survey conducted in February and to frame the forthcoming White Paper. Their lively and thoughtful discussions covered discipline-specific issues, philosophies and viewpoints, and frequently went back to the topic of financially motivated deaccessioning.

Representatives from New Knowledge, the non-profit think tank and planning group that conducted the survey for AAM, presented their findings and analysis of the data.A very broad range of museum types and job functions were represented by the survey’s 1258 respondents.

• Nearly three quarters of the respondents identified their primary role in the museumindustry as responsible for Collections (74.1%) while a quarter (24.4%) hold executive office. Nearly all the remaining respondents hold primary roles that are either executive or managerial; a handful are in other roles.

• The types of museum participating broke down as: History 32%; Art 28%; Specialized, Multi-disciplinary or visitor center 17%; Natural History 11%; Science/Technology 5%; Arboretum/ Botanical or Public Garden 4%; Children’s / Youth 2%; Aquarium/Zoo 1%.

Before seeing the results, the Task Force hypothesized that a respondent’s position in an organization and the discipline of participating institutions would influence the outcome of the survey. However, the analysis found no statistical differences. In examining both the open-ended responses and general ratings, it appears that respondents were most likely considering their audience, the Alliance, and answering altruistically as professionals in the field rather than as representatives of a particular disciplinary viewpoint.

Survey results showed 1) a few areas of consensus from a statistical perspective and 2) a vast gray area. The most common of the open-ended final comments expressed appreciation for the timeliness of the survey and the need for resolving the parameters for direct care. As a result, the Task Force focused on identifying guiding principles and criteria for decision-making, not creating a definitive yes/no list or a singular definition of “direct care.”

The survey results provided the Task Force with a useful scan of the attitudes on the issue of direct care and acquisition costs, from a wide variety of viewpoints. They will inform the White Paper to be released in the spring of 2016. The Task Force agreed that the White Paper should not be prescriptive but should clarify the ethical issues surrounding the topic of direct care and provide guidance for museums in their decision-making.

Looks like they’re agreeing to disagree and won’t be Continue reading

IMHO: The National Trust’s Collections Management Policy is Not Ready to Eat

Last year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation adopted a new Collections Management Policy (CMP) and widely promoted it at professional conferences and in national publications as a model to house museums and historic sites to resolve some of their stewardship challenges. At its heart is,

“a new approach—one that treats the historic structures and landscapes, and the object collections, as being the same type of resource. This approach places the historic buildings and landscapes on a par with objects and documents, strengthening the interconnected stewardship and interpretation of these historic resources.”

It’s a good idea but it’s not a new approach.

American Wing at the Met featuring the 1822 Branch Bank of the US.

American Wing at the Met featuring the facade of the 1822 Branch Bank of the United States.

Early in the twentieth century, museums of various types began collecting buildings. Henry Ford moved Edison’s laboratory and the Wright Brothers bicycle shop to his Greenfield Village, John D. Rockefeller quietly bought dozens of buildings to create Colonial Williamsburg, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art installed the facade of the Branch Bank of the United States as the featured object of its 1924 American Wing. Much later, landscapes were considered worthy of preservation and now most historic estates, such as Casa del Herrero, Miller House and Garden, and Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, treat their gardens and landscapes with the same respect as the furniture and art works at their sites.

The National Trust’s rationale for their new approach is that, “conflicts between Continue reading

AAM’s Education Committee revives its Web Page

AAM EdCom web pageEdCom, the Education Professional Network of the American Alliance of Museums, recently revived its web page after a few months on hiatus.  You’ll not only find basic information about EdCom, the group that’s focused on education and interpretation in all types of museums (including historic sites), but resources, such as “Excellence in Practice: Museum Education Principles and Standards,” and a suggested bibliography.  If you want to keep on news, you’ll want to join them on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

With the recent restructuring of membership at AAM, you can join any one of the 22 professional networks (there’s even one for Historic House Museums) for free if you’re an individual professional member.