About The Author

David Grabitske

David Grabitske is the manager of outreach services at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The American Association of Museums chair, Carl Nold, has led Historic New England‘s 36 museums to reconsider how each adds value to the community the museum serves. As a result, usership and membership have steadily increased. In the summer 2008 edition of “Historic New England Magazine,” Nold concludes that “it is not the nineteenth-century model of preserving a historic place and its contents that is outmoded” but rather “the way we have standardized the historic site experience, boxed it into a rigid tour, excluded the public from direct involvement with the collections, and tried to impose a single model on what are really diverse places and constituencies.”

Have we been using the right model all along? Is it just our methods that need to be revised? How do you connect with your individual community and walk the fine line between catering to specific needs and not re-inventing the wheel?

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2 Responses to Right All Along?

  1. Well, I would certainly save stuff just for its own sake–I love artifacts! However, I also know that practically no one else would visit this place, or be interested in our work if that was my attitude.

    I think Carl is on to something, and certainly the statistics on visitation at historic house museums seems to bear this out (isn’t attendance and support declining?). For all of us, we have to promote the unique–what we have that no one else does.

    Together, we tell the larger story, but none of us can do it all.

    For my part, I try to focus on the local stories (well, regional), and show and tell the bits that are ABSOLUTELY UNIQUE. Everyone knows the basic story of Boy Scouting and Girl Scouting–but not everyone knows what happened in either organization around here.

    I can’t see doing it any other way.


  2. Mary Warner says:

    I second Claudia’s comments. There are several museums/historic sites in Morrison County. Each of us has a different focus as far as collections, mission, and how we serve the public. If we know that a site is having a particular event, we won’t duplicate it, partially because we don’t want to take away from that site, partially because we want to offer something unique.

    Before our museum was built, board members toured a bunch of museums around the state to see what was available. The trend at the time was to have museums that were maze-like (i.e. start here, follow this path, end here), with no alternate route or obvious way out of the maze. Our board decided it wanted a different arrangement for our museum.

    This philosophy of doing things contrary to how things are normally done continues to this day.


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