Summer 2013 coverAn excerpt from the Small Museum Toolkit, “Reaching and Responding to the Audience,” this article explores how museums connect with their surrounding community by becoming engaging neighbors and community advocates.

Walden discusses a number of museums who, despite limited resources and staff, are successfully collaborating with their neighbors to improve the vibrancy of life in their communities.

The article also explores the multifaceted role of the small museum in community service, political advocacy, and civic leadership.

Key Takeaways

  • Community service is at the heart of museum identity and mission
  • Museum leaders must look to an institution’s neighbors to find the intersection where the needs of the museum and the needs of the local community meet.
  • Discovering a leadership opportunity or role for the community at your museum is just as crucial as becoming an active face in the community.
  • Small museums and historic sites must learn to stretch their missions to include the interpretation of the universality of the human experience, and also to raise the importance of the distinct and unique qualities of the place and the people connected with the locally shared story.
  • Small museum administrators and volunteer staff should not be afraid to reach outside the walls of the museum to take an active role as political advocates for local preservation and education.
  • Becoming a strong advocate within the local community is not just about promoting your small museum or historic site as an engaging venue. It is about connecting the community and site in order to provide insight and inspiration to those who are seeking a deeper experience.

Questions for Readers

  • What role does your museum play in the larger community? Do your surrounding neighbors know you exist?
  • Is your museum trying to find a role within the larger community?
  • How are the staff at your museum engaged in the local community?

Additional Information

An expanded version of this article entitled, “Like a Good Neighbor: Community Advocacy and Outreach for Small Museums,” is included in the Small Museums Toolkit, Book Four: Reaching and Responding to Audience, edited by Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko and Stacy Klinger.

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