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Summertime Museum Advocacy

April 29, 2013

toy museum

As we head into the summer months archaeological sites and museums will see an increase in the number of visitors.  Typically, the April to October period is the high visitation season for cultural heritage venues.  Family visitation at regional cultural heritage institutions will increase as staycations remain popular.  During this busy season the last thing on the mind of most cultural heritage professionals is advocacy.  After  all, the American Alliance of Museum (AAM) celebrates Advocacy Day in February and the Archaeological Institute of America‘s International Archaeology Day is not until late October.

However, perhaps the best time to gain public support for cultural heritage venues is during the time of greatest visitation.  Consider the following:

  • The families whose children take part in museum day camps and visit the summer field school excavations are the same people who will be voting in the November elections for officials who will decide the public funding for these institutions.  Why should we not take advantage of telling the public about how their current and future tax dollars are needed to continue the services they are experiencing during their visit?  
  • Elected officials spend a good bit of August in their home district on summer recess.  Last year the AAM promoted “Invite Your Representative to Your Museum Day.”  We have four months remaining to plan for these events this year!
  • As we all know advocacy works best as a year-long process institutionalized into our everyday operations.  Our elected officials and the public need to know about the importance of our institutions, not just when we are in need of funds, but by building long-term relationships that extend throughout the year.

So how can we insert advocacy into our already packed summer schedules.  Here are a few ideas:

  • The AAM website has a great fact sheet on the importance of cultural heritage venues as integral components of today’s economic, educational, and entertainment engines.  Consider inserting relevant information from this sheet or link the entire document to your newsletter, website, or Facebook page.
  • Create an Economic Impact Statement and Educational Impact Statement that highlights the role your cultural heritage institution plays in your local economy.  Here are some samples provided by the AAM including our own from the C.H. Nash Museum.
  • Speak Up For Museums by Gail Ravnitzky Siberglied is the best single source I have found on advocacy for a broad range of cultural heritage applications.  The book is loaded with effective projects from simple five-minute tasks to complex programs on advocacy.  I use this text to create projects for graduate students in my Museum Practices seminar.  For example, here is an advocacy inventory that Ashley Foley Dabbraccio completed for a Memphis area museum.
  • Today we understand that advocacy is not just for the marketing, government affairs or public relations departments.  Rather, advocacy is also the responsibility of the exhibit designer, field director, docent, and field school student.  Nearly 30 years ago during my first field school experience the late Dr. Patricia Essenpreis told her students that “If you cannot explain to the visitor why their tax dollars should go to support these excavations or keep the Fort Ancient site open, you might as well go home.”  Sound advice then and today.

How do you make advocacy a part of your everyday operation?

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