We recently attended the 2019 Museum Association of New York annual conference and spoke with attendees from all over New York State representing all types of museums and cultural institutions. I talked with folks from 21 different museums and cultural institutions about how they are creating inclusive environments, attracting new audiences and fitting within the tourism fabric of their community. We used these great insights to create another Museum Series (see last year’s series here) with five episodes filled with knowledge. Through this series, I hope you will find a new perspective on this important segment of the tourism industry.
In this episode, I share my conversations with:
- Michael Perekrestov, Executive Director of the Russian History Museum
- Toby Manker, Executive Director of the Phelps Mansion Museum
- Don Papson, Co-founder and Past President of the North Star Underground Railroad Museum
- Mary Riley, Park Manager of the Port Byron Old Erie Canal Heritage Park
What You Will Learn in This Episode:
- How and why the Russian History Museum came to be found in the unlikely setting of Jordanville, NY, and what valuable cultural purpose it serves
- How the Phelps Mansion, built in 1870 in Binghamton, NY, was established as a museum in 2005 in an effort to preserve the last home of its kind on what was at one time referred to as “Mansion Row”
- Why Don Papson and his wife founded the North Star Underground Railroad Museum in Ausable Chasm, NY to honor and preserve the history of the Underground Railroads after a chance conversation in a grocery store
- How the Old Erie Canal Heritage Park in Port Byron, NY is helping preserve and promote the important historic and economic impact of the New York State canals
The Russian History Museum
Michael Perekrestov discusses the 1930 founding of the Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, New York, by religious and political refugees from the Soviet Union after the Russian Revolution. Michael explains why the Monastery became a center of Russian history and culture within the United States, and he shares how the Russian History Museum came about in an effort to preserve the wealth of Russian artifacts that were kept at the Monastery. He explains how the museum is working to raise awareness and shares the initiatives the museum is taking to expand their audience through partnerships with other museums nationally and internationally. He outlines the opportunities he sees for the museum to engage with the local tourism industry in a mutually beneficial way, and he shares his plans for the future of the museum, including efforts to utilize social media as a way to bring the museum to a “virtual audience” all over the world.
The Phelps Mansion Museum
Toby Manker shares the unique history of the Phelps Mansion in Binghamton, New York, and discusses the challenge and opportunity of turning a relatively small home into a thriving museum. Toby discusses how population and income decline in Binghamton have been an obstacle in bringing in new visitors, and she shares how a wide variety of program offerings has helped work around this problem. She expresses her views on inclusivity and shares how the museum has been able to accomplish a lot on a small budget and with a staff of two. She discusses audience outreach initiatives and talks about how the museum’s primary audience is out-of-town visitors brought to the museum by way of TripAdvisor, and she shares how the museum interacts with the Path Through History Weekend to connect to other tourism drivers. Toby discusses working with university students and partnering with the university’s music department.
The North Star Underground Railroad Museum
Don Papson discusses the founding of the North Star Underground Railroad Museum in Ausable Chasm, New York, after a chance conversation in a grocery store. He shares why he believes in preserving the history of the Underground Railroad, and he discusses the importance of having a diverse organization. He shares the profound story of a six-year-old visitor from a biracial family who was deeply appreciative of her visit to the museum. He discusses the untold history of the Chinese Underground Railroad and the work his museum has done to create an exhibit telling the forgotten story and its historical significance. He shares how the historical context of the Underground Railroads is echoed in the divisive political climate of today. Don discusses the efforts his museum is taking to promote itself and reach out to young people, and he shares how the museum is coordinating efforts with the local tourism industry for cross-promotion.
The Port Byron Old Erie Canal Heritage Park
Mary Riley discusses the unique partnership with the state that is supporting the Old Erie Canal Heritage Park in Port Byron, New York, and she shares the park’s mission to help educate visitors and preserve the vital history of the Old Erie Canal and other canals throughout New York. She discusses the pilot program the park is involved in to demonstrate how states can work directly with historic sites. Mary shares how the park promotes inclusivity through making their sites handicap-accessible, designating the park as dog-friendly and providing treats and water for canine visitors, offering printed guide books for hearing-impaired people who are unable to take the audio tour and providing wheelchair-accessible picnic tables for visitors. Mary shares how roadside visitors account for many of their first-time guests, and she discusses working with local tourism destinations to be an addition to visitors’ trips. She discusses future opportunities for growth and expansion of the park.
Through each of these interviews, a common theme has been the importance of inclusivity efforts and outreach programs as a way to bring the message of these museums and historical sites to as many people as possible. 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 and local tourism hotspots can help generate new visitors and bring in new audiences. These four unique organizations have truly demonstrated that when travel and tourism destinations work together, everyone benefits.
- Russian History Museum website: www.russianhistoryfoundation.org
- Phelps Mansion Museum website: https://phelpsmansion.org/
- North Star Underground Railroad Museum website: https://northcountryundergroundrailroad.com/museum.php
- Port Byron Old Erie Canal Heritage Park Facebook page: www.facebook.com/pg/OldErieCanalHeritagePark/