Tag Archives: Brucemore

Challenges Facing Historic House Museums: A Report from the Field

AASLH Historic House Management Workshop at Brucemore in 2016.

AASLH Historic House Management Workshop at Brucemore in 2016.

At the annual AASLH workshop on historic house museum management, we always start by asking participants about the biggest or most important challenge they are facing at their historic site.  For the participants, the exercise allows them to get to know each other beyond a name by recognizing the issues they may have in common.  As the instructors, It’s an opportunity for George McDaniel and me to ensure we address their concerns.  For AASLH, it’s a way of keeping a finger on the pulse on what’s happening in the field.  At the end of the workshop, we review the list and provide some time for participants to develop a plan to address their issue.  As a reminder, they also fill out self-addressed postcards with a message to themselves, which I’ll mail to them in six months.

So that you can keep your finger on the pulse of the field, here’s the list of issues and challenges from the Cedar Rapids workshop at Brucemore, which included participants from Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Illinois: Continue reading

Brucemore Encouraging Membership with Members

Detail from Brucemore's membership brochure.

Detail from Brucemore’s membership brochure.

At last week’s workshop on historic house management in Iowa, I discovered that Brucemore, a historic house museum in Cedar Rapids, is encouraging membership with testimonials from members.  Inside a tri-fold brochure (pdf), three members—an artist, volunteer tour guide, and a neighbor—share what they like about Brucemore and how it’s made a difference in their lives and the community.

Angela Billman, Actress, Brucemore Member

When I was 14 years old, my family took me to the Classics at Brucemore to see Romeo and Juliet. The experience introduced me to Shakespeare, outdoor theater, and inspired me to become an actress. The estate enriches the community in so many ways and inspires people every day.

It’s a clever idea because it shifts from the site promoting itself to members promoting the site.  It’s people connecting with people, not a faceless organization talking to the general public, which is the most effective way to raise funds and build membership.

Notice, too, the contemporary graphic design that uses sans serif typefaces, photos placed at an angle, tint blocks, textures, and three-dimensional elements (such as the paperclips).  This moves it away from the Times Roman typeface, fixed grid of photos, and goldenrod paper that’s far too common at house museums.

If you’re revising your membership brochure, you might want to consider these techniques to make your content and design more attractive and engaging.

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.