Tag Archives: Colonial Williamsburg

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

Are There Cultural Connections Between North and South?

Newport Symposium Banner 2015On April 26-29, 2015, the Preservation Society of Newport County (aka the Newport Mansions) is hosting a symposium on the cultural connections between the North and South from the Colonial Period to the Gilded Age as seen through furnishings, silver, textiles, painting, architecture, and interiors.  Scholars include:

  • Daniel Kurt Ackerman, Associate Curator, Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts
  • Brandy Culp, Curator, Historic Charleston Foundation
  • Caryne Eskridge, Project Manager & Research Coordinator, The Classical Institute of the South
  • Stephen Harrison, Curator of Decorative Art & Design, Cleveland Museum of Art
  • Brock Jobe, Professor of American Decorative Arts, Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
  • Alexandra Kirtley, The Montgomery Garvan Associate Curator of American Decorative Arts, Philadelphia Museum of Art
  • Jefferson Mansell, Historian, Natchez National Historical Park
  • George McDaniel, Executive Director, Drayton Hall
  • George H. McNeely IV, Vice President, Strategic & International Affairs, World Monuments Fund
  • Richard Nylander, Curator Emeritus, Historic New England
  • Tom Savage, Director of Museum Affairs, Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
  • Susan P. Schoelwer, Robert H. Smith Senior Curator, George Washington’s Mount Vernon
  • Arlene Palmer Schwind, Curator, Victoria Mansion
  • Carolyn Weekley, Juli Grainger Curator, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
  • Martha Willoughby, Senior Specialist, Christie’s

Registration is $600 and includes an opening reception at Rosecliff (1902) and dinner in the Great Hall at the Breakers (1895).  Scholarships are available to undergraduate and graduate students, as well as arts and humanities professionals.  To register or for more information, contact symposium@NewportMansions.org or call 401-847-1000 x 160.  Tell them that you heard about it from Engaging Places and you’ll receive a 10% discount!

Financial Management at America’s Billion-Dollar Museums

Big 5 Museums Assets 2012

The Smithsonian Institution has more than $3 billion in assets and had more than $168 million in income for its 2012 fiscal year, making it the biggest and strongest museum in America.  It’s also the leader of the handful of American museums that have more than a billion dollars in net assets, according to the latest financial reports available through GuideStar.  At the top of the list of America’s wealthiest museums are:

  • Smithsonian Institution (Washington, DC)
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York)
  • Museum of Fine Arts Houston (Texas)
  • Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (Virginia)
  • Museum of Modern Art (New York)

This is a nice trivia question for the next museum reception but what does it mean?  First of all, the size of the museum isn’t based on Continue reading

Cleaning Out My Cabinet of Curious Stories

Like all good museologists, I have a small cabinet of curiosities where I collect things of wonder, inspiration, and imagination.  Mine is virtual and sits in Evernote.  It’s time for a year-end clean-up, so here are a few that didn’t develop into full blog posts but even in their unrefined state, seem sufficiently interesting to share:

Google Maps Historical Society 2013

Google is continually looking for ways to get information to us as quickly and easily as possible. The last couple years it’s been creating quick descriptions of places using five keywords–but I’m not sure how they’re derived. A recent search for “historical society near Maryland” in Google Maps associated the American Historical Association with “symbol” and the Historical Society of Washington DC with “celebrities.” Who doesn’t like attention like that? The most surprising, though, is the description of the DAR National Headquarters with Continue reading

Put Your Organization to the Rorschach Test

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

If you’re finding that your organization is in a rut and you no longer feel as inspired about its work, it might be useful to look at it in a new way by creating a “word cloud” of key documents, such as a strategic plan, mission and vision statements, interpretive themes, or visitor evaluation.  A word cloud is a visual presentation of the most frequently used words, sized by frequency.  For example, if you use the word “history” ten times more than “preservation” in your strategic plan, “history” shows up much larger than “preservation” in the word cloud.  The word cloud allows you to look at your organization from a different perspective: words jump out at you and prompt questions about what’s being emphasized (and what’s not).

As examples, in the slide show above I’ve assembled word clouds from the first few paragraphs of the About section of the websites (which often includes the mission or vision statements) of the following historic sites:

I’ve used word clouds in strategic planning sessions to Continue reading

HBR: To Engage Your Visitors, Keep it Simple

"To Keep Your Customers, Keep it Simple" by Patrick Spenner and Karen Freeman (Harvard Business Review, May 2012)

The May 2012 issue of Harvard Business Review arrived a little early to my mailbox, but I couldn’t stop from sharing a great article on engaging customers in business world that can easily be translated to engaging visitors and building support for historic sites and museums.  In “To Keep Your Customers, Keep It Simple,” Patrick Spenner and Karen Freeman note the paradox of today’s promotional techniques:

Companies have ramped up their messaging, expecting that the more interaction and information they provide, the better the chances of holding on to these increasingly distracted and disloyal customers.  But for many consumers, the rising volume of marketing messages isn’t empowering–it’s overwhelming.  Rather than pulling customers into the fold, marketers are pushing them away with relentless and ill-conceived efforts to engage.

This conclusion is based on multiple surveys of more than 7,000 consumers which were then compared to interviews with 200 marketing executives representing 125 brands.  Their pointed out that what consumers what and what companies think consumers want didn’t correspond to each other, or in biz speak, it’s a Continue reading