A Vision for the Future
In April 2007, a group of experienced historic site professionals, representatives from related professional associations, and representatives from foundations supporting historic sites met near Tarrytown, New York as part of The Forum on Historic Site Stewardship in the 21st Century. This gathering was convened largely because of the fact that for much of the past two decades attendance at historic sites had been routinely and dramatically declining. These declines were occurring despite the fact that markets for heritage tourism, cultural tourism and eco-tourism, and attendance at children's museums, were rapidly and successful expanding. But, the focus of this gathering was not how to increase attendance or grow market shares. Quite to the contrary, the focus was:
- Now to enhance the sustainability and relevance of historic sites in America's future.
- How to ensure that our sites provide maximum value to our society and thus remain relevant and useful for future generations.
The resulting outcome of this gathering was a call for change in the historic sites community. This call for change stressed that America's historic sites offer unique opportunities for learning, reflection and for inspiration, and that at their best they can be powerful places that provide great value for their communities. To achieve these aspirations, this call for change stressed the importance of committing to the following fundamental beliefs: 1
Additionally, for years the dominant business model for historic properties has been cultural tourism, in which the organization provided a history experience for a visitor in exchange for admission fees and museum shop sales. This model worked well for some, and continues to work reasonably well for sites possessing distinctive or "one-of-a-kind" attributes (i.e. Mount Vernon because of the connection to George Washington or the St. Augustine Lighthouse because guests can climb to the top of the tower.). Colonial Williamsburg, for example, is the primary and longest tenured example of the cultural tourism model. But even Colonial Williamsburg hasn't been immune from contemporary challenges. In fact, despite millions of dollars of investments in marketing, interpretative programming, and product development over the last decade, for the first time in its long history Colonial Williamsburg recently attracted less than 1 million visitors per year. 2
These declines are in part because of increased competition (studies show entities like Disney World and casinos, and destinations like Las Vegas and Europe, consuming an ever-increasing percentage of the market share) but also because the old cultural tourism business model is no longer viable or sustainable for many if not all historic sites. Accordingly, now is the time for leaders to challenge themselves, abandon old assumptions and begin testing new approaches and creative ideas. As written by John and Anita Durel in their article, A Golden Age for Historic Properties, we are entering a "Golden Age" for historic sites. This "Golden Age" is a time during which public value and civic engagement is more important than ever, and during which the public's interest in authentic and meaningful experiences is growing (recent studies show that during turbulent times, such as the current recession and after 9-11, the public's need for stability is achieved by a re-connection with their families and history). Our ability to capitalize and enter this "Golden Age" will, however, require a new business model and a new, albeit somewhat flexible, vision for the future. 3
- Now is the Time for The Grove!:
In reading about and researching the history of the Call and the Collins families and The Grove itself, I have been captivated by several recurring and resonant themes. Specifically, these themes included a tradition of principled public service, leadership, innovation and resourcefulness, and community and family. I was equally struck by the diversity of activities and interests among family members. These activities and interests included the arts, writing, silk farming, business and industry, interior design, education, landscape architecture, and more. I believe these themes and these activities capture the essence of the family's history, life at The Grove, and the personality of place in compelling and engaging ways. I also believe that these themes and activities reflect the enduring legacy of the family and, most importantly, these themes and activities accurately represent values embodied by the Call and Collins families but that are and will continue to be relevant in contemporary society and culture.
Therefore, how can we capitalize on the themes and activities that most compellingly define The Grove in ways that people will find engaging and meaningful, and support financially?
The answer, I believe, is possible through a three-part approach to operations at The Grove.
Establish the Governor Richard Keith Call and Governor LeRoy Collins Center for Leadership and Public Service at The Grove: Drawing on models such as The Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship in Lexington, Kentucky, this Center would exist to promote the example of principled public service embodied by Governor Call and Governor Collins through focused educational programming, workshops, and seminars. The Grove's location in the state capital and proximity to the Executive Mansion would therefore be tremendous assets, not limiting accessibility (note: tight security around the Executive Mansion does, at present, hinder access) or economic factors. Equally important, partnerships with entities such as The Collins Institute, John Scott Dailey Florida Institute of Government at Florida State University (FSU), the Askew School of Public Administration at FSU, the FSU Center for Leadership and Civic Education, the Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship at FSU, the FSU Public History Program, and the Center for Florida Local Government Excellence at FSU would enhance the curriculum, programming and value of this Center. These partnerships would be complimentary, because the Center would not exist as a think-tank or degree granting entity, but rather as an open forum for facilitated learning drawing on the historic examples of the Call and Collins families and would be located in a place where these connections are obvious and unparalleled.
This approach, although in slightly different fashions, has also been employed at organizations such as the General Lew Wallace Study and Museum in Crawfordsville, Indiana and at Hancock Shaker Village in Vermont.4 At both organizations, leaders presented a new model based on the core values of the individuals or groups of individuals they were interpreting and shifted the paradigm from teaching about the individual to using the individual and the place to teach values (Lew Wallace focuses on lifelong learning, entrepreneurialism, and the importance of the arts; the Shakers focuses on principled living, community responsibility, and environmental stewardship). In both cases, the results have been tremendously successful; more awareness, participants, money and impact, largely because the niche audience (in one case for Lew Wallace in the other for Shakers) has been significantly expanded and the message is increasingly relevant and meaningful to contemporary people.
Furthermore, one significant audience for this Center would be local students (particularly in conjunction with the Applied Civics curriculum in the Leon County Public School system) and young professionals. Public service and leadership are vitally important in our society and often are not taught in traditional school settings. Leadership skills are also often hard to develop in many entry level and governmental careers. Additionally, not everyone is able to pursue a traditional academic curriculum in administration. Therefore, the opportunities this Center could provide, particularly given the family history and location in the State Capital, would be tremendous.
Finally, this Center would serve as both a fitting tribute and a powerful legacy for two of Florida's greatest leaders and their families. By helping to teach and inspire Florida's next generation of leaders, this Center would achieve a significant public value and societal impact. 5
Establish Small Affinity Groups Focusing on Key Activities Having Historically Occurred at The Grove and Open the Site to the Public for the Continued Pursuit of these Activities: In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell notes that people tend to belong to several groups comprised of people about whom they care deeply and with whom they share a common interest. As we all can attest, the need to associate with others who share our interests is basic to our human nature. Based on this reality, historic sites, and particularly a place as diverse and interesting as The Grove, can provide venues, resources and structures for small affinity groups and these groups could become a primary audience for these sites.
This can be accomplished by structuring a membership program so that special interest groups are embedded within the general membership. Each group would remain relatively small to promote close relationships and each group would plan and implement its own programs for its members and the general public. Through dues, the group would support both itself and the organization as a whole.
This model is also cost effective because the affinity groups are both site users and site interpreters. These groups will design and present programs, and use and share their expertise with other members of the group and the public. Accordingly, fewer paid staff are needed and the role of staff changes from presentation to facilitation. In this fashion, the organization would provide a structure and systems so that members could do things for themselves. Staff will provide expertise and resources. The affinity groups, the users, will do the rest.
The other benefit to this model deals with financial support and fundraising. In the cultural tourism model, guests and members had a limited attachment to the site. They would visit, receive a newsletter, and perhaps come back. But, the more active the member, the more likely that member will renew or become a donor. The goal and benefit of this model is intimacy. People who are active in an organization over time develop a sense of belonging and ownership. These individuals are therefore committed to both the organization and each other; and this is the heart of fundraising. Simply put, people give to people (83% of charitable giving in the US is from individuals.). Successful models in other business sectors of this approach include universities (giving is coordinated by class and alumni group) and hospitals (giving is coordinated by disease or doctor). In this new model for historic sites, we would gain the equivalent of alumni, and the cultivation of these individuals and small groups would have a powerful potential for future financial support. Several hundred loyal members are far more likely to provide financial support than the thousands of one-time visitors who may pass through (remembering that The Grove is only expected to attract 9,000 guests per year under the previously proposed model).
Finally, the list of possible affinity groups directly related to the history of The Grove is tremendous. These could include the arts, writing, silk farming, business and industry, interior design, education, landscape architecture, decorative arts, archaeology, botany, book clubs, government, photography, and more. Possibilities for indirectly related groups, those without a direct historical attachment but that could occur on-site, could include such topics as astronomy. Equally important, the only determining factor for participation is interest, not age or stage in life, so families and children are also encouraged and welcome. This opportunity would also increase cross-generational interaction, an essential and valued occurrence for all involved, and represent the important family values and connections so evident in the site's history.
Through the use of affinity groups, therefore, we are changing from a reliance on visiting guests and tourists (studies show that the vast majority of out-of-town visitors to Tallahassee come for football or because the legislature is in session, and neither group is likely to visit a historic site or museum), which is already a small demographic in Tallahassee, to an engagement with the community that is based on interest and place. This is sustainable and this would produce a renewal of the connection between the people of Tallahassee and The Grove in significant and far-reaching ways. 6
Creation and Placement of Exhibits and Signage Throughout the House and Property: Even with a commitment to the Center and to affinity groups, traditional site interpretation remains appropriate and is recommended. With the other two core program components, however, the future of The Grove would not be as reliant upon furnishings and collections, although retaining or acquiring select, appropriate collections is desirable. These exhibits should provide an overview of the family, house, and site's history while articulating a clear connection to the key themes identified above. These exhibits can be enhanced by published site guides.
The key philosophical focus for these exhibits should be on interactive, immersive, and collaborative family learning. Successful models for this approach in traditional and non-traditional settings include The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York and the USS Constitution Museum in Boston, Massachusetts. This focus is essential because as attendance at historic sites has declined, attendance at children's museums has skyrocketed. A key element to this approach builds upon the previous two goals and is to view families and children as users and not solely as visitors. Innovative design and fabrication planning can facilitate these types of interpretative activities in ways that have a low impact on the resource and that require little or no staff presence.
In this fashion, walk-up guests and scheduled tours are embraced and welcomed, provided with a quality and engaging experience, and given the opportunity to pursue their interest further should they so desire through a return visit or by joining an affinity group. In so doing, we are fulfilling our role as an educational enterprise, utilizing the distinctive assets found at The Grove in innovative ways, and continuing to maintain and promote a vital, energetic, inclusive and community based presence on the property.
The successful realization of this approach, in whatever particular forms it takes, is achievable. It was achieved at the Glessner House in Chicago by leadership who focused on establishing a community presence by looking outward at their community and not inward at their institution. It was achieved at Cliveden in Philadelphia by leadership who took an active interest in the lives of their community members, including offering the historic house as a neutral location for meetings between parents of at-risk youth and local law enforcement. It was achieved at the Maine Maritime Museum where leadership focused on the most pressing issue in their stateâ€”jobsâ€”and in so doing established the museum as the focal point for community forums on the past, present, and future of maritime trades. In each example, although characterized by specifics to each area and situation, the message is the same. Connectivity, engagement, impact and sustainability are possible, and this success is most readily achievable by thinking creatively about those you serve and represent, by asking "what can we do for you?", and by redefining purpose. 7
Finally, the history of The Grove is characterized by innovation and resourcefulness. Each time the economy faltered, tragedy struck, or challenge occurred, the family rose to the occasion. In so doing they demonstrated strength of character and a creative discipline that was central to their survival. Each time they survived, and The Grove continued to be a communal and familial hub of activity and enterprise. Our charge is to continue this tradition.
Prepared by Scott Muir Stroh III
Director, Division of Historical Resources
December 2009, Updated October 20101 James Vaughan, "Introduction: The Call for a National Conversation," Forum Journal, Spring 2008.
2 John Durel and Anita Nowery Durel, "A Golden Age for Historic Properties," History News, Summer 2007.
4 Another potential programmatic model is the symposium series in place at the Harry S. Truman Little White House in Key West, Florida. These annual symposiums feature topics relating to Truman's life and legacy and are very successful. Past symposiums have focused on Truman's Far East, national security, civil rights, Middle East, and environmental legacy.
5 This section was in part informed by conversations with colleagues, insights gleaned from professional conferences and workshops, and personal experience and research.
6 Durel and Durel, "A Golden Age for Historic Properties."
7 Anita Nowery Durel, "Broadening the Relevance and Reputation of Museums and Historic Sites," Forum Journal, Summer 2009.