July 30, 2013

Museums: Are We Putting Ourselves Out of Business?

We keep hearing the cries from museums and historical sites. We have no money! The economy is terrible! We are getting no donations! But is it us who are putting ourselves out of business?

It sounds ridiculous. Every historical site staff member or volunteer I have ever met worked very hard and was dedicated to their site. So what is the problem?

There are many historical sites trying to be saved today and more and more each year and in this economy, pleas for funding are coming from charities, schools and clubs.  Our historical sites and museums have long relied on the gracious donations. While this has worked in the past, in this economy, people are watching their money and trying to get the best value for their dollar. Your site needs to offer something to the public in exchange for their money.

Many sites tout their tours, their displays and their historical interpreters. I no longer think that this is enough. With so many sites in competition with each other and so much "historical exchange" between sites. Something must be done to set yourself apart.

Many sites agree and have tried to "update" their museums with multimedia displays and movies. These are great for the younger generations, but honestly can't compete with anything the kids are carrying around in their pockets. If anything, multimedia belongs on your website where your guest can get excited for a trip to your site and a little bit extra if they want some more after they visit.

Tours and historical interpreters are great but they are not the draw they used to be. Almost every historical sites offers these services. Just ask a reenactor or living historians how many more events there are compared to only a few years ago! Also, the fact that many site workers work at multiple sites and the historical community fosters an exchange of knowledge that can lead to all sites having similar offerings for guests.

So what can sites do to stay above water?

-Specialize: Is there anything special about your site? Is there something that could be done there that couldn't be done somewhere else? Don't avoid the "exchange" but think if there is a way you could offer something differently than other sites do. It's hard to think outside the box when we are all trying to teach similar things.

-Collaborate: Instead of fighting the competition, is there anyway to join forces? Can you have guests grind mill at a local site and have them bake it at yours? Can you give them a discount for visiting more than one site? Sites in my area have a special booklet and individualized stamps that visitors can "collect" by visiting all of the sites in the area.

-Invest in yourself: I know, there's no money, but if you run bare bones and never put any money back into your site, you will eventually burn out as well as give your site a bad reputation.

-Listen to your visitors: Try to collect as much feedback as possible and use it to get better. Also analyze trends and use them to offer more of what your visitors want and less of what they don't. Some of your offerings may not be worth the money you spend on them. 

-Use your staff and volunteers. I think this is the biggest mistake that many sites make. You may think you are using your staff but there is probably a multitude of things you don't know about each member. You probably have someone collecting tickets or serving food who actually has a hobby that people would pay to learn or see. You might have a worker who loves gardening and would love to create a new gardening program or someone who collects period beer recipes and likes to make them. Your staff can help you differentiate your offerings. Not every site can let visitors smell a variety of period beverages.  

We all want all sites to prosper. Do you have any experiences with this or any tips to help museums or historical sites?

July 26, 2013

It's Summer: Take some time to slow down and enjoy it.

After all of that very hot weather, it finally feels like fall. I've spent some time minding the garden as well as harvesting some raspberries and black walnuts. I'm still looking around every day to collect the newly fallen walnuts that appear in the night. 

Andy and I have been taking a break from being busy and doing a lot of the things we've been meaning to get around to and many more things that involve being lazy, slowing down and actually enjoying every day. Even if it's only for an hour. So far it's been some relaxing strolls and more time reading. I encourage you all to try it.

A few days ago we took a stroll through these cornfields before lunch. Corn is not something I have ever grown before but these corn fields have made me ambitious for next year's garden. This year my herbs died from that alternating frost and scorching at the beginning of the summer. I have 5 or 6 tomato plants, a few plants of basil, parsley that is just peaking out now and green onions that probably won't be big enough until next year. I still have some strawberries but they only produce a few strawberries a year and Chinese chives but haven't really thought of what I want to use them for.

I'm making progress on my list of things I want to do by the end of this year. I intend to tackle "The Battle Cry of Freedom" as well as get a move on finishing my cook book which has been moving forward very slowly. Unfortunately, a lot of this "me" time has come at the cost of spending time with others. I'm sorry if I have disappeared lately, and haven't been the best about keeping up with phone calls and emails. I haven't forgotten about everyone I just need a little quiet time for now. Hope to catch up with everyone soon.

July 22, 2013

Help a Historic House Museum!

Historic Cherry Hill  in Albany New York is in danger of foreclosing if they don't raise $152,000 by the end of July.

The historic house was built in 1789 and was home to 5 generations of hoarding Van Rensselaers. The collection if items collected by the family over time include over 3,000 photographs, 7,000 textiles, 20,000 objects, 30,000 manuscript among other things. It is a naturally accumulated time capsule of the family and the time periods in which they lived. In 1963, the last remaining member of the family died and the house became a museum.

The family members have interesting stories of their own. Besides the fact that they rarely threw anything out over 5 generations, two of the early family members living in the house were missionaries in China and brought back souvenirs that are still in the house and in 1827, there was also a murder in the house when the wife of John Whipple, conspired with Jesse Strang to murder her husband. After the deed, Strang was convicted but his wife was not charged. 

The house holds mundane objects like toothbrushes but also very expensive, rare items too. There is also cross documentation of articles such as photos of the certain pieces of furniture throughout the years and diaries that mention some of the pieces. It is interesting to note that in the Colonial Revival style in the early 1900s, the house re-purposed some of the early furniture kept in the house from the colonial period. 

Please donate to help save this historic house and collection. If you can not donate, please share the link with your friends to get the word out.

July 17, 2013

Wild Raspberry Picking: Imagination is a terrible thing to waste.

Raspberry Preserve
"It's a lot nicer than going round by the road; that is so dusty and hot," said Diana practically, peeping into her dinner basket and mentally calculating if the three juicy, toothsome, raspberry tarts reposing there were divided among ten girls how many bites each girl would have.

The little girls of Avonlea school always pooled their lunches, and to eat three raspberry tarts all alone or even to share them only with one's best chum would have forever and ever branded as "awful mean" the girl who did it. And yet, when the tarts were divided among ten girls you just got enough to tantalize you.

The way Anne and Diana went to school was a pretty one. Anne thought those walks to and from school with Diana couldn't be improved upon even by imagination. Going around by the main road would have been so unromantic; but to go by Lover's Lane and Willowmere and Violet Vale and the Birch Path was romantic, if ever anything was. - Anne of Green Gables 

Today the girls at summer camp spent their day in the woods picking wild berries. One for the basket, and a juicy one for their mouths. There was a group of young ladies who stuck by me in the kitchen, filling up buckets of water, sweeping, and helping cook the meals, even though there were numerous fun activities going on.

These girls already reminded me of me in my childhood. I was a constant dreamer. But unlike Anne Shirley my wild imaginings almost never involved queens or beautiful women with frozen cream skin and raven hair. I was more often a servant doing her daily chores, a colonial girl on the way to a one-room schoolhouse or a slave escaping to freedom than anything else. 

"Older sister," the girls said "We found a new patch of berries on Berry Hill!"

Knowing I would be confused, they introduced me to the "imaginative new names" of the places around the farm.  

Slapjacks to share.
It was extremely fun today to get to be the "older sister" of a bunch of dreaming Anne-girls. I would have loved to have spent a day collecting berries in the "Colonial times." It was fun to finally be a Josephine Barry, kindred spirits with the adventurous dreamers. I also realized how impossibly hard it would for me to be a Marilla Cuthbert. :)

July 8, 2013

150th Gettysburg Reenactment, GAC Event

The oft told story of Gettysburg, has impassioned millions. An army in tatters with low supplies, inferior numbers and miles away from home who consistently prevailed against an army of greater numbers, with ample supplies. Once the two armies meet at Gettysburg, the war and the little town changed forever.

I don't know anyone who doesn't get chills standing on the battlefield. It is beautiful and sorrowful, and the hills pull you in. The meandering roads loop through the rocky farmland and forest and the tragedies were so widespread and the battlefield so eerily quiet you almost expect to come across a scene of suffering every hill you ascend and every rock you walk past. It is a feeling like none ever.

Gettysburg is in everyone's hearts.

It is not always easy to separate personal, group or regimental issues from events themselves. Many times an event can be awesome but the "reenactor stuff" can get in the way. This is why you can ask 1,000 reenactors how an event was and get 1,000 responses. A big part of my enjoyment of events is getting to take great photos.

I love events where reenactors can watch the battle from a different place and viewpoint from the spectators. My friends are out there on the field and I'd love to get some nice photos of them in action. An event can be completely terrible, but if it results in me having a string of phenomenal photos, I will think the event was worth it.

That being said, the Gettysburg reenactment was a well run event. They had shuttles come through the camps and multiple stops set up around the event exclusively for reenactors to get around and avoid walking too far in the heat. There was ample ice delivered and tons of firewood left over after the event. For an event this size, I was impressed by how well the logistics were managed.  

I didn't get to take many photos at this event. I wouldn't say I had a bad weekend. For all that was happening, my group kept high spirits. But, this was one event where too much "reenactor stuff" was beating us down. Our group had a huge number of real casualties at this event, including a hospital visit. I didn't get to see any of the far traveling reenactors that I had hoped to but met a lot of new ones as many had come from overseas to attend.

I did not get to see any of the battles. I tried to see one on Saturday but was so hot after 5 minutes, I felt that I was about to pass out and had to leave. Issues in our battalion caused my, and many others lack of attendance in and at the next battle. I heard that the battles were fun and the photos I have seen from them look fantastic. The event was hot all weekend, except on Sunday when we had torrential rain right as Pickett's Charge was finishing up.

Since I didn't get to leave camp much and knew that this event was going to be photographed to death by spectator and reenactor alike, I decided I wouldn't worry and took some photos to show the little less seen parts of the reenacting experience.

Tents at Twilight
Lazy Mid-day
The little bit of the battle I saw.
Tearing down camp in the rain. :)
 Sorry for the lack of battle photos but I'm sure they will be all over the internet soon! If you went to this event, how did you like it?

July 4, 2013

Did the 20th Maine Win Gettysburg?

Here's an interesting, short article about the 20th Maine and how they are portrayed in current history and fiction from The Guardian: The Maine Lesson of Gettysburg.

Historians have long known the effects of fiction and public opinion on the interpretation of history.  This is one I've been wondering about for the past few years but didn't do much research into it.

Hope everyone has a fun and safe holiday whether you are at Gettysburg, home or doing something else fun!

July 2, 2013

Packing For GAC Gettysburg

I'll be attending GAC Gettysburg. Years ago, when I first started reenacting, my group decided Gettysburg as an event wasn't worth it. Gettysburg was expensive, treated the reenactors like paid performers and expected a little too much from people who were paying to participate. The event seemed intended to wow the crowds of high paying spectators and the money wasn't being used to fund any sort of preservation or educational goal.

But, they promised we could do the 150th event just so we could see waves of soldiers and the sounds of thousands of guns echoing. I was looking forward to getting to see reenactors from all over the world, reportedly 48 countries represented. So this year, we were all excited to see the event of the century.

Except, what we found was that it was two events. I had heard of the other event in the past but it didn't really seem like a huge reenacting destination. But this year reenacting groups were asking the question "Which Gettysburg?"

Great, now all of our friends will be torn between two events and we won't get to see everyone unless everyone does both events. But we all knew that would never happen as not everyone has that kind of vacation time or money. These events are expensive, costing nearly $100 a couple, not including gas and food.

With the BGA Gettysburg event last weekend, the reviews seem mixed. But I don't think we can expect the same things of mega events as we do normal ones. It seems that a lot of people are still going to the GAC Gettysburg as well.  

I have never been to an event this big but am pretty sure what to expect. Overcrowding, mile walks to bathrooms, lack of wood, water and ice. Not to forget the multiple battles with ridiculously boring scenery, fighting in the parking lots, fighting in traffic, etc. I know what I'm in for. But I am still looking forward to seeing people going to this event. Is anyone going?     

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