Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Great Reference for Small Tribal Museums

Good news, small museum friends, there is a new book on the market that is extremely useful for tribal museums and communities that are making cultural tourism plans.  Written in a practical, accessible, and realistic manner, Susan Guyette’s Sustainable Cultural Tourism: Small-Scale Solutions is a must-have reference for tribal communities working with limited resources, but are committed to inviting tourists and other visitors to engage in cultural experiences. 

From the author -

Cultural tourism of the future will foster authenticity and learning experiences through small-scale, linked enterprise networks. The interface between museums and tourism offers potential for visitor education as well as income for museum programs.

Preserving the diversity of traditions, lifeways, and cultural values is a core concern in rural and Indigenous communities. With a careful planning effort, cultural pride is inspired and resources are generated for cultural retention—with a museum as the community hub. As a community adjusts to changing economic conditions, cultural tourism holds the potential to be one of several options considered for museum resiliency.

This practical text guides planning and development efforts—addressing regional linkages, the tourism plan, visitor surveys, marketing, cultural centers and museums, job creation, enterprise development, and evaluation of sustainability. A new paradigm for a cultural value-based approach is discussed with examples throughout the book.

Susan Guyette, Ph.D. (M├ętis – Micmac and Acadian French) has 25 years of direct experience working with Indigenous and rural communities in cultural tourism, as well as cultural centers and museums. She is the author of Planning for Balanced Development: A Guide for Rural and Native American Communities, the co-author of award winning Zen Birding: Connect in Nature, 2010, and the author of several texts for American Indian Studies. She is the owner of Santa Fe Planning & Research in New Mexico (USA).

To order the book, visit (ISBN: 978-0-9858788-0-1) or follow this link.


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Supporting Small Museum Colleagues

We offer a hearty thank you to AltaMira Press/Rowman & Littlefield for donating a copy of the Small Museum Toolkit for a raffle at the AASLH Small Museum Luncheon. Your small museum colleagues contributed almost $200 towards the Small Museums Scholarship to the AASLH Annual Meeting by participating in this raffle.

The Small Museums Committee, which both of us have chaired in the past, raises over $2000 annually to bring small museum people to the conference.  For the last three years, AltaMira Press has kicked off the fundraising with a generous donation of a raffle prize. And for that, we offer our sincere appreciation. Throughout the process of creating the Toolkit, the folks at AltaMira Press worked hard to understand people who work in small museums, both as writers and readers.

Hats off to our kind publishers, especially Deborah Hudson and Charles Harmon!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Considering Small Museum Leadership

As we reflected on the publication of the Toolkit, we recognized that one of the major challenges facing small museum leaders was not addressed directly in the text. 

How do you choose where to put your time, effort and energy?

The Toolkit provides a broad view of all the work you might tackle in your museum, but it doesn't tell you where to start. That choice depends on each individual leader and museum.

So we decided to do a series of conference sessions called Small Museum Leadership Considered to provide a quick way to make choices.  (Our next session will be at the American Association for State and Local History conference, Friday, Sept. 20, 4 p.m.)

We developed a four-part prioritization tool to be used in those sessions that asks you to consider how the projects ahead of you will help you to...

When we used this tool at sessions at AAM in 2012 and 2013, we found that a majority of the audience identified developing audiences and solidifying your reputation as the key areas they needed to pursue and wanted to discuss with their colleagues. Many fewer people wanted to discuss building an internal coalition or assessment and planning.

Hmmm…why were those externally-focused priorities of greater interest that the internal ones? 
  • Did we push people to think externally by asking leaders to think about concrete projects instead of their overall organization?
  • Do small museum leaders really need to reflect more on external issues?
  • Are the internal issues just too challenging to face?

What do you think?

If the pattern holds out at AASLH, then we have an interesting conundrum. Do we give you more of what you want? Do we put you in touch with more resources to help you with your audience and your reputation? Or do we try to help you face the tough stuff – working with your volunteers, staff and board to pursue a united vision? Or do we focus on the balance among these four areas as the best way to move small museums forward?

Stacy Klingler currently serves local history organizations as the Assistant Director of Local History Services at the Indiana Historical Society. She began her career in museums as the assistant director of two small museums, before becoming director of the Putnam County Museum in Greencastle, Ind. She was chair of the AASLH Small Museums Committee (2008-2012) and attended the Seminar for Historical Administration in 2006. While she lives in the history field, her passion is encouraging a love of learning in any environment.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Toolkit Talks at AASLH in Birmingham

Will you be attending the AASLH annual conference in Birmingham next week?

Meet with five contributors to the Small Museum Toolkit at The Toolkit Talks: Sharing Resources for Small Museums on Thursday, Sept. 19, 4 to 5:15 p.m., chaired by Janice Klein.

After a brief overview of the series, each contributor will share tips or next steps in 5 minute presentations: 
  • Collections Management with Pat Miller
  • Developing Exhibits with Janice Klein
  • Museum Legal Issues with Allyn Lord
  • Project Management with Rebecca Martin
  • Visitor Studies with Stacy Klingler

After these quick presentations, you'll be able to choose a roundtable discussion lead by a presenters about one of the topics for 25 minutes. Then you can change areas during for the final 25 minutes of the session and interact with a different presenter and group of colleagues.

Through the discussions with the Toolkit contributors and your colleagues, we intend for you to travel home with practical information and further develop your personal  network and resource base.

We hope to see you there!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Is Small a Misnomer?

Whenever I am in the Napa Valley, I visit my favorite winery. As I drive through the valley, I admire all of the large, well-known wineries with their broad impressive gateways and interesting architecture. Tour buses fill their parking lots, and tourists photograph themselves in front of the buildings. Finally, I turn onto a gravel lane and drive through a vineyard to an unimpressive metal building. When I walk in the door, I see wine barrels stacked from floor to ceiling. In front of me is the tasting area—several upended wine barrels with polished wooden planks laid across them. It is the beginning of a deeply personalized experience, with conversations about weather and wine, food and fashion. The members of the small staff at the winery enjoy their craft, and it shows, even though they are probably not paid as well as the staffs at the larger wineries. Sometimes the owner is wandering about taking care of business and stops to chat. Unlike larger wineries, this place usually produces only six different wines a year. But those often take top prizes in wine competitions, beating out much larger wineries. As a consumer, I am also pleased because the prices are reasonable, and there is no charge for tasting. While I enjoy visiting the large wineries on occasion, I truly enjoy the Napa Valley experience here.
That is the way the ideal small museum can and should operate. It is personalized to the visitor and provides an accessible experience. The building may not be impressive, but the collections are. The exhibits are limited, but they are good. The staff is often underpaid in comparison to larger museums, but theirs is a labor of love. Visitation numbers are not necessarily high, but the constituencies are loyal. Returning to my favorite winery, I like it not just because it is small but because of what its smallness enables it to do. I like it because of the more intimate experience it offers. The same applies to museums.
The AASLH definition of a small museum establishes a budget of $250,000 and a “small staff” as its criteria. But there is so much more to small museums than a measurement of quantity or statistics. A big problem with applying only numerical criteria, such as budget or staff size, to small museums is the unspoken message that they are somehow less or inadequate. Many people have the idea that “small” is not confined just to size but also describes quality or ability. When it comes to staff, there is the belief that big museums can afford to pay for the best. This assumption implies that those who work in small museums are less than the cream of the crop. When it comes to collections, the best collections are at those museums that can afford to acquire them—in other words, the big museums. When it comes to exhibits, big museums put on the blockbusters that everyone wants to see, whereas small museum exhibits are forgettable. When it comes to trends, big museums set the pace in our field, and small museums simply follow their lead. These, however, are all mistaken assumptions
I will admit that some of them hold a bit of truth. Big museums can hire more staff and pay higher salaries. They can send staff for training at conferences and meetings. They can allow staff to take on leadership roles in the museum community. They can pay for fancier graphics and electronics, hire better-known entertainers for programs, and attract more donations. But as tempting as it might be to do so, we cannot assume that large budgets and staffs equal better museums. More resources enable quality but do not guarantee it.
If small museums lack anything, it is the big ego that is necessary to transcend the hurdles that encourage small thinking. Usually all that prevents small museums from thinking big are self-imposed limits. But small museums can and should think big. A small museum is a place where the public has the chance to feel completely engaged, encouraged by an enthusiastic and accessible staff. It is a very personal experience that is unimpaired by budget and often enhanced by staff size. A visitor’s question about an exhibit will frequently be answered by the person who installed it, and the director might stop for a chat. In a small museum, excellence is not measured by size but by the ability to provide a meaningful product.
Perhaps “small” is a misnomer; borrowing from the world of wines, cheese, and breads, many small museums could be instead regarded as artisanal. They are carefully crafted to meet a particular mission and provide a particular service. They are different from larger museums not so much because of their subject matter but because of how their size enables them to present the subject matter. And, like my favorite winery, they concentrate on limited production appealing to a certain taste.
Steve Friesen is director of the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave near Denver, Colorado. He has worked in small museums since beginning his career in 1976 and, for twenty-seven of those years, has served as administrator for small muse- ums in Kansas, Colorado, and Pennsylvania. Friesen has a master’s in American folk culture and is the author of two books, A Modest Mennonite Home and Buf- falo Bill: Scout, Showman, Visionary. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Sector 4: Assessment and Planning

Getting the answer to this question is
goal of the fourth sector.
Recognizing that the prioritization strategy Stacy Klingler and I have laid out over the past four weeks is technically an assessment process, there is still much more that can be done to assess your situation and plan future goals.  And, much has been written about strategic planning, including my chapter in the Small Museum Toolkit.  But in short, to move a museum forward, you need to know what assets you have, understand the gaps, identify what you want to accomplish, and outline the steps to get you there. 

Lucky for small museum folks, there are three organizations who want to help you in this effort and propel you to meet best practices.  The American Association for State and Local History, the American Alliance of Museums, and Heritage Preservation have developed assessment tools that help you put work in perspective, educate board and staff, kick start planning, and provide funding leverage. 

The Standards and Excellence Program for History Organization (StEPs) “is a voluntary assessment program for small- and mid-sized history organizations. The program, created by AASLH with funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), encourages awareness and achievement of national standards.” This self-directed assessment process is a great way to get the ball rolling.

If you feel like the opinions of an outside professional and a more intensive self assessment process is what your organization needs, then you should look at MAP and CAP.

The Museum Assessment Program (MAP) “helps small and mid-sized museums strengthen operations, plan for the future and meet national standards through self-study and a site visit from a peer reviewer. IMLS-funded MAP grants are non-competitive and provide $4,000 of consultative resources and services to participating museums.”

Heritage Preservation’s Conservation Assessment Program (CAP) “provides a general conservation assessment of your museum's collection, environmental conditions, and site. Conservation priorities are identified by professionals who spend two days on-site and three days writing a report. The report can help your museum develop strategies for improved collections care and provide a tool for long-range planning and fundraising.”  CAP provides over $7,000 in consultative resources and services, sending a conservator and historic preservation professional (if applicable) on site. 

Ultimately, with an assessment in hand and an organizational commitment to keep moving forward, you will have board, staff, and volunteers on the “same page” which promotes efficiency and strengthens your chances for successful implementation of goals.  You also have a good benchmark to help you see when you’ve arrived at a goal.  You can look back and demonstrate for others where you’ve been which will fuel the new momentum you have.

And, you have a case to make to funders.  Do you need collections storage shelving? A new computer?  Funding for a museum educator?  Any one of these formal assessments offers excellent justification in a grant application, foundation proposal, or case statement for a potential donor.

With just one of these formal assessments in hand, you will know what kind of institutional planning you need – strategic or operational – and you will have a sense of what planning time frame you need.  To take the next planning steps, read “DIY Strategic Planning” in the Small Museum Toolkit, or tap the rich library of planning publications.  Here are a few to get you started. Good luck!

Recommended Resources

Bryson, John M. and Farnum K. Alston. Creating and Implementing Your Strategic Plan: A Workbook for Public and Nonprofit Organizations, 2nd Edition. San Francisco: Josey-Bass, 2005.

How To Do Traditional Brainstorming

Lord, Gail Dexter and Kate Markert. The Manual of Strategic Planning for Museums. Lanham, MD: Altamira Press, 2007.

Merritt, Elizabeth E. and Victoria Garvin, editors. Secrets of Institutional Planning. Washington, DC: American Association of Museums, 2007.

McNamara, Carter. Field Guide to Nonprofit Strategic Planning and Facilitation. Minneapolis: Authenticity Consulting, LLC, 2003.

Skramstad, Harold and Susan Skramstad.  Handbook for Museum Trustees. Washington, DC: American Association of Museums, 2003.

Working in museums for nearly 20 years, Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko has been a museum director since 2001. Cinnamon became CEO of the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, Maine in 2009. Before that, she was the director of the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum in Crawfordsville, Indiana, where she led the organization to the National Medal for Museum Service.  

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Sector 3: Solidifying Your Reputation

People will always talk so do what you
can to control the message.
As you consider the relationships you have built or are building, take a moment and consider how people in the community describe your organization.  What kind of reputation does it have?  Is the museum considered quiet and sleepy?  Mysterious?  Stagnant?  Or is it known as innovative and active in the community?  I think all of us prefer the latter description, but not all of us can be assured of it. 

When considering the work before you, knowing your reputation and improving or enhancing it is critical to your success.  There are four strategic ways you can solidify your reputation:

Start taking steps for future fundraising campaigns and annual appeals by establishing or reconnecting with a donor base.  Set up coffee chats, special visits or tours of the museum, attend public events and programs to be seen and meet people, or simply network through friends and family and connect with your base of donors, e.g. members.  Make sure donors know who you are and what the museum’s mission is and be sure to stay in contact.  People give to people and when your donors know who the face of the organization is, their giving comfort improves.

Once you’ve had some “face time” with donors and feel like you understand why people give to the museum, consider a membership drive or a small capital campaign to test the waters.  You, of course, have sizeable funding needs, but instead of tackling them all at once, carve out a smaller campaign that matches your staffing, board, and volunteer capacity.  Establish a goal for members acquired or funds raised and don’t let up until the goal is met.  Then, thank the donors, steward the relationships, and keep them primed and ready for future giving opportunities. 

Separate from the fundraising strategies but critical to your success is your relationship to the local media.  Pay close attention to the messages used to describe the museum and the topics local media focus on when reporting about museums/your museum.  Get in the habit of crafting regular press releases with consistent messaging.  Get to know local journalists and editors – make sure they know they can call you directly when news relates to your organization.  And, never lose sight of how the museum is described in social media circles.  Respond to negative comments with positive language that invites the author to return again.  Develop some kind of regular posting schedule that pushes interesting information about the museum to social media audiences.  A united, consistent messaging process will influence your reputation in lasting ways.

And lastly, and by far the most important way to solidify your reputation is to be kind to everyone.  It sounds ridiculously simple, but one or two bad days and you’ve created a ripple effect among community members who may think you’re inaccessible, disinterested, or worse, rude, and they will make decisions about supporting the museum based on their interactions with you.  If you live in a small town, this extends to the grocery aisle, the day care drop off point, and so much more.  This visibility can be a drag, but it’s also an easy way to draw positive attention to your museum that will ultimately attract support for all of those amazing projects you have lined up.

Next week, you’ll read about the fourth and final sector, assessment and planning, and we’ll see you at the American Alliance of Museums annual meeting in Baltimore!

Working in museums for nearly 20 years, Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko has been a museum director since 2001. Cinnamon became CEO of the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, Maine in 2009. Before that, she was the director of the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum in Crawfordsville, Indiana, where she led the organization to the National Medal for Museum Service.