Museum Association of Arizona

 

A-Courting We Will Go

 

Remember when you wanted to meet that cute boy or girl in your class? You really wanted to know them, but weren’t quite sure how to make it happen. Perhaps you threw spit wads, passed a note, bumped into them, or just went up and said, “Hi.” Getting started as an advocate for your museum may feel like déjà vu, but we highly recommend some more sophisticated but equally simple techniques. So if you tried any of these childhood methods, only the latter is something you should use as an advocate.

 

There are the basics, the easy steps in being an advocate for your museum and museums in general. Every staff member and member of your board should be encouraged to practice them daily. Simply introducing yourself to others as someone associated with the museum (employee or volunteer) provides a greater awareness of your existence. Then think about what it means to you to be a part of that museum. Be sure to tell others.

 

But how does this help you meet those people who influence policy in your local area or state region? You merely do the same thing. But in this case, you most likely need to make an appointment to meet these officials. Once they can connect a face with a name and institution, you start working on getting them to meet on your territory. Have them for coffee, invite them to take a special tour, but the goal is to get them to your museum! This may take time, but perseverance will pay off. (And be sure to get to know the staff…the gatekeepers are sometimes can be even more of your friend.) Provide the officials with information about the economic and social impact of your institution on the community. If an issue appears that your museum can provide accurate background information, be sure to provide it.

 

We Will Go Far

 

Last century, Teddy Roosevelt suggested that one should speak softly and carry a big stick in order to go far. While Roosevelt was applying this to foreign policy, we as advocates for our individual museums need to modify the saying just a bit. Rather than speak softly, we need to speak consistently and OFTEN! The big stick is just to emphasize that we mean business. Don’t hide it.

So what does it mean to speak consistently? These tips were in the previous column, but are briefly mentioned here again.

  • Always mention your affiliation with your museum in every conversation, unless it might be politically a conflict of interest
  • Make sure your board members and volunteers are doing this also
  • Highlight how your museum benefits your community and the state
  • Get some of your elected officials to visit your museum

Now comes the “harder” stuff--making your community aware of all your museum does. You want its support through thick and thin.Who wants to hear as Museum X closes, “I didn’t even know it existed”? Yes, self-promotion is part of advocacy. Get information about special programs or exhibits in your newspaper, on the local TV or radio station, and in school and church newsletters. (Some of your volunteers will have contacts to help with this venture.) Set up a booth at local events. And, remember, an activity for both young and old will draw more visitors. A crowd around your booth naturally piques the curiosity of people walking by--what’s so interesting over there?

 

The upcoming MAA annual meeting in Sedona will have a number of sessions on various aspects of advocacy. When the program listings are finalized, I urge you to consider attending one or more of them. At the conference you will have the opportunity to meet, discuss, and plan with museum colleagues on how we can Speak Consistently and Often. So we will go far! The very existence of many museums in Arizona depends

not only on your individual efforts, but, more importantly, on our collective effort. That big stick is to remind politicians that we, the museum community of this state, will not be going away. Are you ready to come out swinging, while singing your museum’s virtues?

 

Anxious or Confused About Advocacy?:

This Condition is Easy to Overcome

 

How do I advocate? Will the museum lose its non-profit status if we advocate? How do I know which people will listen to what I have to say? Arizona museums support our communities as they provide jobs either directly or indirectly. Just look at all the press over the potential closing of some of the historic Arizona state parks. Those parks are a vital part of the economic viability of their respective community. And your museum is too.

I

n 2008, the United States Conference of Mayors created a 10-point plan to grow American city economies and address domestic and international policies. Point 9 in Strong Cities...Strong Families...For a Strong America focuses on Tourism and Arts. This plan promotes travel/tourism as a driving force for America’s economy and

diplomacy. At the time, the nation’s mayors called for travel and tourism to be a national policy priority under the belief that the arts, humanities, and museums are critical to the quality of life and livability of America’s cities. As a museum professional and volunteer, I cannot find fault with this statement.

 

We certainly know how important tourism is to the state of Arizona, and, speaking up for our museums, no matter the type or size, it is our obligation to assume this challenge to make sure our public officials recognize our importance.

 

So how can YOU advocate? We have ideas/aids posted on the new MAA website that can give you a start. You also have the opportunity to ask me questions and seek advice. More importantly, this year’s annual conference’s theme is on advocacy. So come on down, or come on up (depending on where you live) to Sedona in June. There will be opportunities to exchange ideas with your peers, try some things out, share what you have been doing, and receive some coaching. Being an advocate should not cause you, your staff, your board, or your volunteers anxiety or confusion.

      
 

Keep Your Eye on the Staffer

 

For those of you who attended the 2010 MAA Conference, you’ll remember that Keynote speaker Dennis Kavanaugh said we shouldn’t always be in a crisis mode when advocating for our institution. So how can you relieve that situation? By getting to know people before a crisis occurs.

When I was working on my elementary-teaching certificate, my master teacher told me that there were two people I should get to know VERY well in order to make my daily experience easier: the school secretary and the custodian. She was right. In the realm of advocacy, perhaps the key person(s) to know is the staff - the equivalent of a secretary.

You are about to increase your friends, not on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, but in person. These are going to be very valuable friends. Ones you should meet and greet every chance you get. Why? Because they are the who enable you to see your city councilperson, a legislator and even, at times, a potential funder. Start by making an appointment with your local councilperson. Just introduce yourself and mention the museum with which you are affiliated. Make it short and sweet and don’t ask for anything.

Leave some brochures if you have any. Invite this person to an upcoming function, but also send a formal invitation. Be sure to meet and greet the secretary and staff person. Memorize those faces, because you want to be sure to recognize them the next time you see them.

Now, get other members of your board and/or staff to do the same with their councilpersons. And, don’t forget the mayor’s office. When you visit, take your board president and the executive director along. Status counts with this office, but, make sure you acknowledge the mayor’s staff, too. Do the same if there is a congressional office in your town. In that case, you will probably only meet with local staff, but, remember, they are very important, too!

You have made the rounds, so now comes the more difficult part. You MUST continue to contact and speak with the staff people. Casually mention concerns, joys, events, etc., at your institution. Invite them to museum functions. If they come, be sure to introduce them to other board members, staff, and members of the museum. Do this every time you see them and remind them how much you appreciate their time (and their efforts to come).

 

 

Assessing Your Museum’s Economic Impact

 

Elections are over for this year. But no matter who won, it is now critical to start the advocacy process (remember, it’s EDUCATION) with your newly elected officials. Previous Advocacy columns have contained hints on how to create and proceed with your advocacy plan; but, after you explain who you are and what your institution is, what else will you say? This column can help you prepare for that “what else.”

 

Politicians understand money or at least they want us to believe that they do. How much do things cost and what are the revenues and taxes that bring in monies for the general fund? All this thinking is supposedly focused on making a stable governmental operation.

 

Ok, you and your staff and board understand the costs of operating your museum. But do you know what your museum’s economic impact is on the community?

There are some simple things to list, and you should do this yearly since you want to make sure you can also cite changes when advocating.

I

ndicate on your list:

•·         the number of people your museum employs (include contract employees).

•·         your annual budget (no budget is too small). And you might mention how much you spend locally to keep your museum operating.

•·         how many days/hours you are open each year.

•·         how many visitors you have each year. If possible determine the percentage who are not local.

•·         how many school children you serve each year, either on site or through outreach programs.

•·         the number of volunteers who you have. Did you know that the value of each volunteer hour as of 2009 is $20.85? (And you may be teaching some of your volunteers new skills that could translate to a paying position), and

•·         what your admission fee is.

Armed with these facts, you are now ready to educate your elected officials on how important your museum is to your community. According to the American Association of Museums, quality of life issues contribute significantly to decisions that businesses make in choosing to relocate, including access to a dynamic museum community. In addition, visitors to historic sites and cultural attractions, including museums, stay 53% longer and spend 36% more money than other kind of tourists.

 

Don’t let your elected officials forget or ignore your economic importance in the community!!

 

 

Making the Case

 

When you build a strong connection between your museum, the benefits of museum programs and services in your community, and your legislator and/or city council, you have been successful in being an advocate for your own museum and museums in general. Getting to that point is the purpose of this advocacy column, and, in this issue, we turn our attention to “Making the Case.” Much of the following information has been adapted from available AAM materials and some from the California Association of Museums.

 

While politicians know how to schmooze, or so it seems to those of us on the outside, when it comes to the discussion of how funds are distributed, they and their staff rely heavily on data to help them make tough choices.

 

Thus it is important to readily have the evidence of increased public good for your museum and museums in general.

 

Probably the best effort you can make is to create a year-round advocacy plan. Remember, advocacy must become a habit today, tomorrow, and until “the end of time.” Establish one or two actions you can achieve each month to build relationships with your legislators and local council people to raise their awareness of and the support for the work of your museum.

 

These actions could include:

•·         Connecting with local conference and visitors’ bureaus or other local tourism groups. Their purpose is to bring visitors to your area, so you want to make sure your museum is on their radar and part of their common knowledge. This demonstrates your economic value.

•·         Get other museums in your community to join forces for advocacy. Meet to compare notes about issues facing your museum and strategies for working with your elected officials. Then plan a group visit to meet district staff for your legislator and/or directly with city council members. This excellent method shows strength in numbers and firmly establishes a collaborative voice.

A relatively easy “habit” to develop is to send a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. This letter should contain certain key points such as how your museum offers engaging, affordable, and education opportunities for families, adults, and schools. Furthermore, don’t forget to mention that museums provide experiences that open minds, expose visitors to new information and ideas, and stimulate creativity and curiosity. These are especially necessary considering the difficult economic times we continue to face.

 

Be sure to research your newspaper’s guidelines for submitting such a letter. Generally those instructions are either in the Op Ed section or on their website.

•·         Be brief. Make sure your opening sentence catches the reader’s attention (remember your English teacher mentioning that technique??).

•·         Have a personal, friendly tone. Of course, make sure to include one to two sentences about your museum’s programs and perhaps list other museums in your community. When you sign the letter, include your title, name of your museum, address and phone number. Sometimes the newspaper staff may contact you to confirm that you sent the letter.

•·         And don’t forget to keep track of any letters that are published. You can share them with your board, and then suggest that they join the letter campaign, refer to them when speaking with elected officials, and “bask” in the glory that you and your museum’s name is associated with some positive information about your public value.

 

 

Have You Contacted Your (fill in the blank) Yet?

 

The Arizona State Legislative session is over. The summer doldrums or the time you may leave the area is just around the corner. But have you contacted your state or national government representatives or your local city council? For those who attended the recent CAMA Advocacy meeting, you know that there’s no time like the present to decide how you can use your new elevator speech on some official.

 

The AAM Sponsored Museum Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C. happens once a year. But your job really requires that you advocate for your museum on a daily basis.

 

Review some of the tips that have been in previous advocacy columns. Make up your to-do list now! If you have not already done so, identify one or two actions you can do each month throughout the year to build relationships with your legislators and local officials in order to raise their awareness of and support for the work of your museum.

 

If you followed actions taken by our state legislature, you must know that the cuts to organizations that assist museums in any number of ways will impact all of us very soon. And at the national level, the news is not any better.

 

It takes a village to raise a child, and it will take an outcry from the whole museum community to make sure that our value is recognized. We are not frivolous or only meant for the few. What museums have to offer to our visitors and communities is worthwhile. So it is up to you, as individual institutions, and collectively, to make our voice heard. So, have you contacted your (fill in the blank) yet? This is not the time to be silent or let someone else speak for museums.

 

 

Are You Frozen in Place?

 

“I don’t know how you expect that I can do this? We have no track record. This is not reasonable to ask.”

 

Have you heard those types of statements in board or committee meetings when talking about advocacy.

 

Or perhaps anything else that might be new that comes up in your museum? If you have, then you should recognize that that person is frozen in place. Trying new things or pushing beyond one’s comfort zone can stymie many people. If this is happening in your organization when you ask for people to go out and speak with officials and/or the community about the importance and value of your museum, then you might want to consider different people to ask or ask for HELP!

 

So where can you get help in leaping over these hurdles, getting started, or re-energizing yourself? As MAA’s Director of Advocacy, that’s part of my job. Call or email me (laydeescholar@hotmail.com) . I want to help. I might be able to point you towards some people in your community or region who can help you, too. I might even be able to come to do a brief training. If I, MAA, or anyone else does not know that you desperately, or not so desperately, would like some help with advocacy or any other museum-related issues, we can not share our wealth of information and resources.

 

Remember the ad with the lonely Maytag service man? I would love to think that you are all self-sufficient, doing great in advocating about your museum, but, in case you are frozen in place, let me help you thaw out.

 

It takes a village to raise a child, and it will take an outcry from the whole museum community to make sure that our value is recognized. We are not frivolous or only meant for the few. What museums have to offer to our visitors and communities is worthwhile. So it is up to you, as individual institutions, and collectively, to make our voice heard. So, have you contacted your (fill in the blank) yet? This is not the time to be silent or let someone else speak for museums.

MUSEUM ASSOCIATION OF ARIZONA --  Building a Vital Museum Community

Museum Association of Arizona

P.O. Box 63902, Phoenix, Arizona 85082

 

azmuseums@gmail.com

 

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