Ken Turino and I will once again lead our workshops on reimagining historic house museums in 2023 after taking several years off due to the pandemic. Our first workshop will be held at the Gamble House in Pasadena, California on Friday, April 1 and our second will be held at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio in Lancaster, Ohio on Thursday, June 22. AASLH is managing the workshop and registration is $325 but it’s $200 for AASLH members (and it’s $150 if you register by February 1!). Participation is limited to 25 people for the April workshop.
The workshop is closely related to the book, Reimagining Historic House Museums (2019), but we take a much deeper dive into the challenges facing house museums, assess current programs against a “double-bottom” line for a big-picture perspective, analyze the five forces that affect programs and events to find opportunities and obstacles, and highlight some of the ways that house museums have reinvented themselves. The day is packed with information and activities, but we take a good break in the middle of the day for lunch and we get to meet lots of other people who are working hard to make their historic site better. Plus it’s great fun!
Do you flip to the back of a book before you buy it? Indexes and bibliographies, more than a table of contents, provide a better glimpse into the ideas of a book. I appreciate them when they’re at my fingertips but assembling them is a tedious task that requires absolute attention to every page. But one of the benefits, as Ken Turino and I discovered while indexing Reimagining Historic House Museums, are the common ideas that cut across the chapters contributed by two dozen leaders in the field. Rising up to the top were three factors that are most essential to navigating to success at historic sites and house museums:
1. Finding a Mission and Purpose That’s Meaningful.
Mission statements have long been used in nonprofit organizations and the version of “collect, preserve, and interpret [insert your museum’s topic here]” has now become a cliché. Better mission statements are an overlap of the site’s historical significance and the visitors’ needs, interests, and motivations. In our book, President Lincoln’s Cottage, the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, and the Trustees demonstrate how meaningful mission statements permeate decision-making at every level of the organization. Indeed, as my thinking continues to evolve on mission statements, they should not simply describe the work of the organization but address a major problem or issue in the community—that’s what makes them meaningful to a broader segment of the public. Why do museums collect, preserve, and interpret? To what end?