In May, I attended the 2019 Museum Association of New York annual conference and interviewed attendees from 21 different museums and cultural institutions. I asked them about how they are creating inclusive environments, attracting new audiences and fitting within the tourism fabric of their community. Their insights became the 2019 Museum Series for Destination on the Left – five podcast episodes filled with knowledge, ideas and inspiration. Each of these museums has found a remarkable and stand-out way to promote inclusivity, attract diverse new audiences, and further integrate their work with other tourism and cultural efforts of their communities.
Reaching New Audiences
For smaller or more out-of-the-way locations, social media and the internet can be an especially valuable way to get the word out. Likewise, partnerships with other destinations, museums, and local tourism hotspots can help generate new visitors and bring in new audiences.
Michael Perekrestov, Executive Director of the Russian History Museum is working to raise awareness for his organization through partnerships with other museums nationally and internationally. The partnerships have helped expand the reach of the museum, which is located in a rural community in Upstate NY. With this increased awareness, the museum plans to use social media to further expand its reach by bringing the museum’s collections to a “virtual audience” all over the world. (2019 MANY Series Ep. 1)
Toby Manker, Executive Director of the Phelps Mansion Museum talked about audience outreach initiatives and pointed out that the museum’s primary audience is out-of-town visitors brought to the museum because of TripAdvisor. In addition to the power of TripAdvisor, participating in the annual programs that I Love NY promotes through the Path Through History Weekends helps connect the museum with the greater tourism product of the State and attract a broader audience. (2019 MANY Series Ep. 1)
How museums fit into the tourism fabric
A prevailing theme from each of these conversations was that travel and tourism sites such as museums, historical and cultural organizations can only benefit from working together. The region-wide travel and economic impact these partnerships can create are dramatic and beneficial for everyone.
Beth Hill, President and CEO of Fort Ticonderoga, shared how the museum is a major tourism anchor for the region, delivering a high economic impact to the community. In this role, the museum supports the local community’s infrastructure development and seeks partnership opportunities that will help expand the economy for the entire region. (2019 MANY Series Ep. 2)
For each of the organizations I spoke with, thinking outside the box and leaning into the distinctive characteristics and offerings that make their locations unique has been instrumental.
Recognizing the need to offer a more interactive experience for visitors to a historic home, Jonathan Maney, Executive Director of Hyde Hall, explained how his organization is working to restore its kitchens. Ultimately, they will offer cooking classes there to expand on the visitor experience. The museum also partners with other museums, festivals, restaurants and historic hotels in the area to enhance the tourism product. (2019 MANY Series Ep. 3)
The importance of inclusivity efforts and outreach programs was a strong theme throughout my interviews, as it is a hot topic within the museum community. Developing and promoting inclusive programs and reaching out to different groups of people from all backgrounds have been equally important. We learned how truly committed each of these organizations are to tackling inclusivity issues in their own unique and innovative way. From the Roberson Museum and Science Center’s use of non-gendered pronouns and offering of non-binary restroom facilities, to the Waterford Historical Museum and Cultural Center’s partnership to highlight the artistic contributions of mentally and physically disabled artists. (2019 MANY Series Ep. 4)
When it comes to inclusivity, Joshua Voda, Public Affairs Officer of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, explained that one of their most important missions is to remind people that, while the history of Native Americans is a rich one, Native American life continues today and isn’t entirely represented by the history we know. The museum strives to help people understand the culture from a modern perspective and not just a historical one. Joshua said that the museum works to dispel stereotypes and steer people toward a better understanding of the impact Native Americans have had on all aspects of American history. (2019 MANY Series Ep. 2)
Natalie Shoemaker, Marketing and Events Coordinator of the Roberson Museum and Science Center, talked about the economic depression that is common in the area where her museum is located. She described a program called “pay it forward” based on donations. It covers admission fees to help improve access for struggling community members. (2019 MANY Series Ep. 4)
One common thread in each of these conversations was the critical role outreach plays for these organizations. From field trips and school visits to community engagement and business partnerships. Each of these cultural and historical centers has found that reaching out to people of all cultures, age groups, and interests bolsters their audience and engages their communities. These organizations have also found value in cross-promoting other key historic and cultural sites in their communities and beyond.
Courtney Kasper, Visitor Experience Manager at the NYS Equal Rights Heritage Center in Auburn, New York, explained how her organization serves to educate visitors on the history of equality in the state. And they work to promote local and statewide equality sites and programs on human rights, abolition, and women’s rights. For the heritage center, inclusivity is a two-fold issue, being inclusive of the community they are serving as well as promoting and improving accessibility. (2019 MANY Series Ep. 5)
By connecting the important lessons of the past with the need for inclusivity and accessibility as we understand them today, these 21 museums from our podcast series are already looking forward to a bright and thriving future.