Monday, March 5, 2012

We Gotta Do What????

You have a new facility to hold your community museum’s collection. Well, it’s “new,” in a way. It’s an old house with some meaningful and teachable connections to the community’s evolution. Its five-acre lot also has potential for outdoor entertainment and fundraising events.

Studies have shown that a visitor’s (and potential donor’s) first impressions are often the most lasting. And those impressions, more often than not, are of how well we maintain our structures and landscapes. Look at them as artifacts in their own right. A leaky roof, broken window panes, cracked sidewalks, and poor drainage are as great a threat as dust, molds, excess humidity, and unfiltered light. They are, in fact, often the root causes of those conditions.

What do you need to do first? Time’s a wastin’! You need to apply for a Museum Assessment Program ( MAP ). Then prepare for those eventual meetings with structural and landscape consultants. The priorities you establish may change as these folks reveal unique possibilities, unforeseen realities, and likely costs. These initial steps will prepare you to answer the questions they will ask as you evaluate your museum’s significance.

-Inspect the condition of the entire property, inside and out - from the roof and chimney, to the basement, yard and beyond.

-Inventory the existing plants and trees.

-Read up on the latest in conservation literature.

-Research the building’s history, its owners, and its past use.

-See how the property’s relationship with the surrounding neighborhood changed over time.

-Write down any questions you will want to ask the structural and landscape consultants.

-Ask yourself what story, lessons, and environmentally sustainable practices you're including in your mission statement.

For a detailed, step-by-step discussion of these processes, please check out Chapter Two, “Straight Talk About Structures and Landscapes,” in Volume Six of the Small Museum Toolkit, published by AltaMira Press.

Bruce Teeple is a freelance writer, editor, local historian, speaker, gardener, chicken farmer, and columnist for the Centre Daily Times in State College. Pennsylvania. A graduate of Penn State in history and political science, he served for nineteen years as curator of the Aaronsburg Historical Museum before joining AASLH’s Small Museums Committee. He is currently researching and writing As Good as a Handshake: the Farringtons and the Political Culture of Moonshine in Central Pennsylvania. His latest work is “Slavery In Post-Abolition Pennsylvania….And How They Got Away With It.”

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