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.
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?
In a blog post last year I reviewed the book Speak Up For Museums the American Alliance of Museums premier publication on museum advocacy. In the Fall Semester of 2011, students in my Museum Practices seminar at the University of Memphis completed an Advocacy Inventory from that book for area museums in Memphis. This year’s seminar followed up with those same museums to create proposals for further advocacy and community outreach work. Below is the proposal written by graduate student Ashley Dabbraccio for the Davies Manor Plantation Museum in nearby Bartlett, Tennessee. Ashley’s proposal draws from the Speak Up For Museums book that all cultural heritage professionals will find useful in the public outreach work.
Davies Manor Plantation Advocacy Proposal
by Ashley Foley Dabbraccio
The proposal below is a specific advocacy plan designed to showcase the Davies Manor Plantation. All the possible tasks proposed are covered and suggested by the American Alliance of Museums’ text Speak Up for Museums: The AAM’s Guide to Advocacy. Visit the AAM’s advocacy website at http://www.speakupmuseums.org to gain further knowledge about advocacy within the community (AAM’s #2). Also, purchasing a copy of the American Alliance of Museums’ Speak Up for Museums text is a first step in increasing the museum’s knowledge on advocacy. Keeping a copy on hand allows the museum to review completed or new suggestions under the AAM’s guidelines. The guide expresses that advocacy be planned on a week-to-week basis. The suggestions within this proposal highlight the Davies Manor Plantation’s key strengths and limitations, while acknowledging the size and type of the institution. The proposal covers efficient ways to promote advocacy on multiple levels, even with a small staff. The proposed suggestions range from immediate tasks that require little input to tasks that require an intern.
v Immediate Tasks Requiring Little Input
Take full advantage of social media sites, including Facebook, to promote the museum. “Friending” or “fanning/becoming a fan” of government officials and other area museums is a great advocacy tool on multiple levels. Friending keeps government officials aware of the daily progress, events and programs at the museum. Plus, social media gives other museums ideas and “partnering” opportunities with the Davies Manor Plantation. In advocacy, social media forms relationships on different levels. Social media demonstrates to government officials the museum’s active role within the community, which will help obtain their support if Davies Manor seeks government funding. Second, social media develops a relationship with other museums in expanding outreach and cross-promoting events with other museums. Davies Manor may also learn of other events at other museums to implement within their own setting. (AAM’s #11, #24)
Set up a LinkedIn account, if the museum does not have one already. Having a profile allows Davies Manor to link to their government officials on the site. The LinkedIn profile also enables the museum to link to high school/college/graduate students, who are looking for museum-related internships. A LinkedIn account allows the museum to review different resumes, jobs, and other activities that students are involved in; in order to see if they are a “right match” for an internship at the museum. (AAM’s #14)
Add government officials’ email addresses to the monthly newsletter. The addition of government officials at all levels to the Davies Manor Plantation newsletter keeps them informed on the museum’s progress as well as the “current happenings.” (AAM’s #2)
Join the AAM’s advocacy alerts. Signing up for the alerts is fast and easy. The alerts allow the museum to gather information on advocacy possibilities provided directly by the American Alliance of Museums, making the alerts program a great way keep informed. (AAM’s #7)
Do the AAM’s Free Advocacy Training Program. The program only takes an hour and can be done at a museum meeting or retreat. The program has different training sessions that apply to the staff and/or the museum itself. Also, the AAM archives all the previous programs for review. The program demonstrates to museums where improvements in advocacy are possible. (AAM’s #4)
Follow the museum’s profile within the news. Set up alerts on sites, such as Google News, so the online engine alerts the museum of any mention of the staff, or the museum itself, within the news. The museum can make sure all the information provided in the news is accurate or know whom to contact, if something is incorrect. The alert system also shows the museum’s standing with the community, adding to present and future community outreach. Also, add government officials, so staff members can monitor the official’s media coverage, especially if it pertains to historical or museum work. (AAM’s #43)
v Immediate Tasks Requiring Medium Input
Create a media list, if the museum does not already have one. Knowing whom to contact for different events makes it much easier to involve the media in specific events, including events hosted by the museum or events honoring the museum. (AAM’s #55)
Check out the museum’s profile on different websites. Review, and correct any mistakes, found on sites, including Wikipedia, the museum’s personal website, etc. Currently, the museum has a Wikipedia page. As Wikipedia receives many views, especially from possible visitors, having current information available on the page is a good idea. Correcting any wrong information present there provides people with correct knowledge and prevents any “tall tales” from continuing to circulate. (AAM’s #51)
Ask government officials to write recommendations for grants. For example, ask government officials to supply a recommendation for the maintenance renovations. Asking for a letter of support not only keeps them aware of the museum’s current projects, but also works to promote future governmental advocacy. If any officials do write a letter of support, don’t forget to thank them for their generosity, letting the official(s) know the museum appreciates their time and commitment to museums. (AAM’s #25, #47)
Write an opinion piece about “something unique” for the local newspaper. Local write-ups help engage community members and demonstrate new ideas that the museum wishes to develop. For example, a profile of the “travel trunk” program makes for an excellent piece and may drum up more response for incorporating it into classrooms. Continually doing these pieces throughout the year keeps the community involved in the museum’s programs. (AAM’s #9)
v Higher Priority Tasks that Required Ten Hours or More of Effort
Involve the media in special events. For example, the Colonial Dames, an organization similar to the Daughters of the Revolution—except with more of a focus on historical preservation and historical places—will be honoring Davies Manor Plantation with a plaque for their preservation efforts. Events, such as the Colonial Dames ceremony, raise awareness for the museum. See if any of the local newspapers want to feature the event. Mailing a copy of the article to all government officials, as expressed by the AAM’s plan is a great idea. Inviting officials to the event is also a possibility to raise governmental awareness for the positive contributions the museum has made. (AAM’s #32)
Join the AAM’s Advocacy Day. The American Alliance of Museums hosts an annual two-day program in Washington, D.C. The event brings together museum professionals and museum supporters. Attending the events allows the museum to experience different programs on improving advocacy and form connections to other museums and supporters from outside their own area. Advocacy Day is a good way to form long-distance connections that may be beneficial in the future. (AAM’s #8)
Promote the “Travel Trunk” Program. Use the informational brochure to promote the program to parents and school teachers. Sending a copy of the brochure about the program to governmental officials may help to get the program off the ground. Once, the program is used within the school systems, discuss the program’s success on Facebook and other social media outlets or get reviews from teachers to add to the promotion of the program. (AAM’s #11, #46, #49)
Gather testimonials. Encourage visitors to leave testimonials after their visit, by filling out a testimonial form. The museum can use those testimonials within brochures, on the website or even when applying for different types of funding. (AAM’s #12)
Gather letters from school children. The letters show what students have learned from their time at the museum. The letters also demonstrate how the museum and school districts work together on an educational level. Send a letter from the museum, along with the children’s letters, to elected officials to demonstrate the type of work the museum is currently doing within the community. Also, use the media list to contact local newspapers about a possible article on community outreach. (AAM’s #26, #55)
v Major Tasks requiring an intern or large commitment
Set up an Advocacy Internship. Due to the limited full-time (2) and part-time (2) staff, an internship solely based on advocacy is a distinct possibility. Assigning an intern to work exclusively on advocacy allows Davies Manor to devote more time to all types of advocacy. Any of the above mentioned work could be given to an intern, who can establish steps to promoting advocacy on many levels for the museum. (AAM’s #49)
Ashley Dabbraccio is a History M.A. student at the University of Memphis. Her research interests center on gender history in the 19th century, particularly focusing on crime and vice. Her museum interests include national parks and their presentation of Civil War history.