Museum Advocacy as a Year Round Activity
In the past week representatives for Congressmen Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker visited the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa as part of the American Alliance of Museum’s Invite Congress to Visit Your Museum Week. Advocacy with not just elected officials but the public in general, is increasingly a critical component of work for cultural heritage institutions. Gail Ravnitzky Silberglied’s book Speak Up for Museums: The AAM Guide to Advocacy is a treasure trove of ideas and insights in this process. For the past two years students in the University of Memphis Museum Practices Graduate Seminar have worked with area museums on advocacy projects. Below graduate student Jody Stokes-Casey talks about her follow-up in 2012 to the previous year’s initial advocacy discussions with the Discovery Museum of West Tennessee.
The brief excerpt below from Jody’s report points to the many possibilities for advocacy work available at limited or no cost that also draw on local volunteer resources.
Increasing advocacy efforts at the Discovery Museum of West Tennessee
by Jody Stokes-Casey
The purpose of this proposal is to make suggestions for advocacy programs that will increase awareness of elected officials and visitors from both the city of Jackson and the state of Tennessee about the contributions of the Discovery Museum of West Tennessee as an educational asset to the community.
Information about Advocacy Survey
In 2011, an advocacy inventory was completed for the Discovery Museum of West Tennessee (DMWTN) by Grace Lahneman for the Museum Practices course at the University of Memphis. The inventory was based on Gail Ravnitzky Silberglied’s book Speak Up for Museums: The AAM Guide to Advocacy.
This proposal is part of a follow up discussion with DMWTN Director, Ms. Belinda Cooper about the current advocacy efforts of the museum that include advertising, website development, and grant writing.
Suggestions for Advocacy Programs
In regards to gathering testimonials/stories, the museum currently uses a guest book where visitors leave short comments (usually a word or small phrase) about their experience at the DMWTN. Director, Belinda Cooper, reporting mailing surveys to solicit visitor feedback about their museum experience but received a very limited response. A few suggestions for gathering testimonials we discussed included:
1) Electronic surveys through Survey Monkey that can be either emailed to visitors that have left their address in the guest book or a survey that is posted on the museum’s webpage.
2) In accordance with new core standards for education, teachers who visit their students could be given a lesson plan in which the students use writing and language arts to describe their experience at the museum. The teachers would then send copies of the best student responses to the museum to be used in advocacy work.
3) We considered purchase of inexpensive flip-type cameras to interview visitors after their experience in the museum. The interviews could be used in promotional videos or postings online.
The above types of testimonials can be used in newspaper editorials or other media segments, posted on the Museum website and Facebook page, or collected and sent to elected officials when advocating for government funding or grants.
Cost: Electronic Surveys – free with potential volunteer labor; Written Testimonials – cost of postage; Video Testimonials – Video Recorders available to nonprofits at TechSoup cost as little as 50.00.
The Museum maintains a list of media marketing contacts that are used to organize the annual golf tournament which is the museum’s major source of funding. The Museum will benefit from networking with other museum professionals in the region, such as Bill Hickerson a Jackson resident and Director of the West Tennessee Regional Art Center. Bill is the type of contact who would be a great resource as he is the past president (2011-2013) of the Tennessee Association of Museums (TAM).
Advertising can be cost prohibitive on a limited budget. The Museum currently uses public service announcement type resources such as the ‘Community Calendar’ through the local television news source WBBJ ABC7. The Museum also contacts local teachers of Civil War history and invites the educators to bring their students to the museum for an educational opportunity on Civil War artifacts. The Museum Director also appeared on Jackson’s local ePlus television program Six in the City to promote the West Tennessee Discovery Museum. For additional advertising opportunities, the museum could contact the local radio station 105.3 to the ‘Frankie Lax Show’ that highlights local Jackson events and venues.
Costs: Free resources include WBBJ ABC7′s Community Calender, the Frankie Lax show on 105.3, and ePlus television’s Six in the City.
Improving the Museum’s online presence would also raise public awareness of Museum activities. The Museum currently does not employ someone with expertise in this area. Volunteers could be sought from local high schools and colleges that teach courses in graphic and web design. Such a process would provide community outreach and involve students that may not be otherwise involved in the museum.
Cost: Free with volunteer labor.
Grant writing was an area of considerable interest to the Museum and would be a great resource for any director involved in museum advocacy. I was reminded of a grant writing workshop that I took several years ago, while interning at the West Tennessee Regional Art Center. The same or similar workshops are available at no or little cost.
Cost: Typical workshops are either free or heavily subsidized through the Chamber of Commerce or other organizations. For example, the full day class I attended cost only 25.00.
Attention from Public Officials
As proposed in the week-by-week plan of the advocacy inventory, gaining attention from public officials can be done as easily as the museum ‘friending’ the official on Facebook. For a more professional online environment, consider signing up for LinkedIn and make connections with elected officials and colleagues.
Cost: Facebook Account – free; LinkedIn Account – free
The Discovery Museum of West Tennessee in Jackson is under excellent direction from Ms. Belinda Cooper. If implemented, the suggestions presented in this proposal will serve as a further resource for advocacy that will contribute to the growth of the institution.
Jody Stokes-Casey is currently a University of Memphis M.A. graduate student in Art History and the Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program. She can be contacted at jlstkscs(at)memphis.edu or visit her Tumblr blog