By Alexandra Rasic
While we might have 40-50 people visit the Homestead on a typical weekend, our festival weekends bring in close to 3,000. On October 7 and 8, we celebrated our 10th anniversary of Ticket to the Twenties, a festival featuring four astounding bands, dance demonstrations and lessons, special exhibits, silent films with live musical accompaniment, and much more. (Check out this year’s program!) A major goal of the festival is to create enthusiasm and advocates for history as we explore the stories of greater Los Angeles in the 1920s. While some come to the event because they are die-hard enthusiasts of the Roaring Twenties, others come with little-to-no knowledge of the decade, or us! Festivals are a great time for visitors to celebrate what they already know and love, and/or discover something new.
Staff at history museums like the Homestead are trying to talk less and engage visitors in more conversations. We can talk a visitor’s ear off about our collection and the periods of time we interpret (1830-1930)—but that’s not what most (if any!) people want—especially at a festival event. Visitors like free choice; they like having fun with the people they are with; they like to be surprised; they like to people-watch, and some of them like to be watched! Our staff’s job is to lay out a thoughtful spread…and then step back. Festivals give us an opportunity to do this in a big way. The entire six-acre site is theirs to explore and we’re there to engage with, and support them if they need us.
Since paid and volunteer staff are busy working at the festival, we share a lot of stories with each other after it’s over. For days we are starting conversations with “Did you hear about…” or “Did you see…” Aside from evaluations that we conduct with visitors at the event, other tools we use to learn from are photos (that both our staff and our fabulous event photographer, Gary Leonard, take for us) and social media posts made, or commented on, by visitors. These visual tools in combination with evaluations and staff observations help us understand how people are connecting with history and the past.
Here are a couple of great examples from social media posts.
toxicmarkers (her social media handle) met our Museum Director, Paul Spitzzeri, in the Tepee. She mentioned to him that when she came to the museum on a field trip as a child she was allowed to play the piano in the Music Room of La Casa Nueva. So what did Paul do? He told her to go and play it again—and she did. When she went home that night, she wrote a post about the experience on Instagram and tagged us. She explained that she felt the spirit of the young lady who played in the same room eras before her by her side while sitting on the piano bench. That young lady she refers to was Agnes Temple, whose father built La Casa Nueva during the 1920s.
Elise Kane spent some time in our “Animal Farm” on the Center Drive on Sunday. My colleague Isis Quan had a great time talking to her about the exhibits and she tagged us in a photo she posted of herself posing next to one of the exhibits. We shared the fantastic image of her seen below on our Facebook feed and she commented quickly with a very kind note of thanks. She didn’t know about this exhibit, but found a connection with her very own costume that day as she read about places like Gay’s Lion Farm in nearby El Monte, which served as a resource for early filmmakers. Numa, Gay’s biggest star, was featured as one of MGM’s signature roaring lions. (You can read more about the exhibit content here.)
Below are images captured by our staff and Gary Leonard, along with short explanations of what we learned or observed from these images. If you have not attended one of our festival events, keep an eye on the events page of our website where we will soon announce festival dates for 2018.