AASLH workshop on historic house museums at the Homestead Museum in June 2018.
On June 11-12, George McDaniel and I led the AASLH workshop, “Historic House Museum Issues and Operations” at the Homestead Museum in California. This was our 18th workshop and we open every one by asking the participants to share the biggest challenge facing their museum, which we revisit at the end to ensure we adequately addressed their issue.
In the latest workshop, a dozen participants provided this list:
- Irresponsible stewardship by the city despite local community support.
- Lost connection to the local community and parent organization.
- Relationship with the parent organization. Aging volunteer base.
- Shifting priorities, finding overarching vision with changing leadership and multiple stakeholders.
- Managing growth and change; coordinating mission and vision of the site. Relevance to people 20-35 years.
- Prioritizing a lot of maintenance and repair issues. Should the site become a house museum?
- Prioritizing issues and engaging volunteers to help (one person trying to do it all).
- Connecting to interests and needs of the local communities; being a service to the community.
- Increase recognition of the site’s significance and value to the community and open site to the public as a museum; ensure the preservation of site if sold to a developer (e.g., easements).
- How to grow volunteer program (older volunteers moving out; younger volunteers have different interests and needs; engaging new or different cultures in the local community)
- How to drive traffic into the museum.
- Outreach to new audiences (currently “oldtimers”; want to add underprivileged communities who don’t know the history of the area; make relevant to all residents, have ownership).
- Overcoming preconceptions of historic house museum and negative perceptions of history.
- Connecting to the needs and interests to the community through the collection (e.g., hot issues); get people excited about history and empowering them to care for their own collections (tangible pieces of history).
I’ve anonymized and reorganized the list so the participants aren’t identified and on further reflection, I’ve come to a few conclusions: Continue reading
In this 2:01 video, Randi Korn explains how museums and historic sites can define impact and how an “impact statement” integrates personal passion, the organization’s strengths, and the audience’s interests and needs. And to measure impact you have to go beyond the usual numbers involving attendance and income and instead look at the experience that people had. This is one in the “Questions of Practice” video series produced by the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage.
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 “Vision Statement.” Businesses and nonprofit organizations have been adopting vision and mission statements for the past two decades but drafting this encyclopedia entry gave me a chance to step back to look at its evolving history and see where they might be headed. Here’s what I submitted (and remember, while books have been written about this topic, I have to condense it into a short summary):
Vision Statement. A vision statement describes a business’ or non-profit organization’s long-term major goal or desired end state and directs the planning, implementation, and evaluation of its programs and activities. There are many definitions for vision statements, some that conflict with each other, but the consensus is that they describe an ambitious but achievable long-term goal (10-30 years ahead, beyond the term of the current board or tenure of the executive director); that the statement is clear, compelling, and short (about 25-50 words); and yet is sufficiently vague and abstract to be unaffected by typical economic cycles or social fads.
An often-cited example of a vision statement is found in John F. Kennedy’s address to Congress in 1961 on urgent national needs: Continue reading
A recent visit to Museum L-A in Maine, a local history museum serving the communities of Lewiston and Auburn, revealed a clever way to keep the mission and vision visible and prominent. They were posted on large boards in the conference room above the refreshments–whenever a group met, they couldn’t miss these reminders of the organization’s purpose and direction.
Their mission and vision were developed through a community-wide facilitated process led by E. Verner Johnson and they came up with statements that go far beyond the typical “collect, preserve, and educate”:
Museum L-A strengthens community and connections between generations by documenting and celebrating the economic, social, and technological legacy of L-A and its people.
Museum L-A chronicles the history of work, industry and community in Lewiston and Auburn; serves as a community gathering place; creates engaging learning experiences; and contributes to the civic, cultural, and economic revitalization of L-A.
For more details, see their strategic plan highlights on their website. I was pretty impressed with this local history museum, so you’ll find a post or two about it in the future.