by Paul R. Spitzzeri
My colleague, Alexandra Rasic, our director of public programs, has long been associated with the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH), a national organization based in Memphis. For example, she has co-taught workshops on visitors and museum programming, contributed posts to the Association’s blog, read grant proposals and contributed in other ways.
Another example of her involvement with the AASLH is her submission of sidebars about the Homestead’s public programming for a chapter in the recently published second edition of The Museum Educators’ Manual, issued by Rowman & Littlefield as part of an AASLH book series.
The chapter concerns “Planning and Managing Museum Programs and Special Events” and Alex’s contributions constitute an “Institutional Snapshot of Programming” generated by the Homestead.
The two-part sidebar summarizes the museum’s public offerings by describing a document that Alex created with that chart breaking down our events by levels of intensity. As she noted in her summary, when it came to our festivals, she committed something of a Freudian slip by calling these major weekend events “high insanity.” Although it was an obvious typo, she wrote “it rang so true that I kept the heading!”
Beyond the levels of intensity/insanity, she added attendance figures and staffing as factors in how the Homestead allocates fiscal and human resources towards our menu of programs. Some programs, she points out, take more paid and volunteer staff time to plan and execute, so the use of those resources are measured against the attendance at those events.
It should be noted, too, that there is the quantifying in terms of dollars spent, hours used, and numbers of visitors served, but also the qualifying, with respect to visitor experience and educational value, that are to be considered in determining the success of any program.
Audience types were also included in the chart, so that having a good idea of the types of visitors being served is important, not just for aligning a particular program to desired audiences, but to see the bigger picture for the entire menu of offerings and determining if we are working to bring in a varied grouping of audiences.
Recording the numbers of volunteers for special events, as well as docents for the regular guided tours offered five days a week at the museum, are also important for keeping aware of how we use those amazing volunteers, without whom we could not carry out so many of the programs that we offer.
A look at the chart reveals the diversity and breadth of the Homestead’s programs, as well as providing those statistics on audience figures and staffing. As a planning and evaluative tool for our public programs staff in particular and for the institution as a whole, Alex’s overview document serves a very important function.
It shows the degree of care and consideration taken as the museum considers how best to use the resources the City of Industry generously provides so that we can serve as broad an array of audiences as we can with the goal of maximizing learning opportunities for the visitors we serve.