Thursday, September 30, 2010

Interview with Small Museum of the Month: Dumbarton House

Dumbarton House
Earlier this month, we announced our August Museum of the Month, Dumbarton House. SMA recently conducted an interview with their director, Karen Daly. Check out what Karen had to say! (All photos courtesy of Dumbarton House/The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America.)

SMA: What is your name and position at the museum?
DH: Karen L. Daly, Executive Director 

SMA: What is the most surprising/interesting thing in your collection?
George Washington Beaker
DH: We have a copy of the first printing of the Articles of Confederation, with marginal notes from James Nourse—the father of our early resident Joseph Nourse, and a leader in colonial Virginia. We also have a silver beaker, or camp cup, used by George Washington during the Revolutionary War. Both are very exciting links to our nation’s founding over 200 years ago. 

SMA: What do you hope people take away with them after visiting your museum?
DH: I hope they leave with a better sense of the effort and determination of early Americans—the idea that our nation was a great experiment, and the building of our national capital here in Washington and our national identity overall took many years and countless patriotic Americans to make a lasting reality. 

Articles of Confederation
SMA: What are some of the programs/exhibitions/services you offer at your museum?
DH: We offer a regular calendar of temporary exhibitions, school & Scout programs, and public programs for the community.  This fall, for example, we’re hosting monthly walking tours of our historic Georgetown neighborhood, Jazz in the Garden during extended evening museum hours, theatrical performances, and Cotillion Classes for pre-teens. 

SMA: Are there any fun stories about your museum?
DH: Absolutely!  On August 24, 1814, during the War of 1812, Dumbarton House served as first point of refuge for First Lady Dolley Madison as she fled the threatened White House.  When she received word from the President about where to meet in Virginia later that day, she travelled on and escaped to safety across the Potomac.  The British only hours later would arrive in Washington, setting fire to the Capitol and then the President’s House. 

SMA: Besides your own, what is your favorite small museum and where is it located?
DH: I love Riversdale in Maryland.  Home of the Mistress of Riversdale, Rosalie Stier Calvert, the historic site has lovely grounds including a working kitchen and period-appropriate gardens. Their interior has undergone exciting restoration efforts in recent years and staff are always hosting new and interesting public programs.  To me, the site reflects exactly what is best about small museums—a real connection to the local community and a personal feel to tours and programs. 

SMA: What do you think small museums can do to become better and/or stronger?
DH: I think working with each other and collaborating is the key to our future success.  We can accomplish far more as a group than any one institution can accomplish on its own, and SMA is a great organization working to foster that kind of camaraderie.

Want to be a Small Museum of the Month? Learn more here!


Two SMAers rock out at AASLH's event at the Oklahoma History Center. Is that former board member Kristen Harbeson singing and last year's plenary speaker Kate Marks with the white guitar? Why, yes... Yes, it is!

So, how was the conference itself? SMA Board Member, John H. Verrill, gives a great report, highlighting sessions of particular relevance to small museums. Take it away, John!

"The annual meeting of the American Association for State & Local History was held in Oklahoma City last week. The meeting was really very well organized for the 900+ museum staffers that attended. Because it was held in the West a special series of programming was offered for Native American museums. The keynote speaker was NPR's own Susan Stamburg who spoke of her long association with and appreciation of museums and the work they do. Gerard Baker, a Mandan-Hidatsa indian from North Dakota also made a keynote address. As the recently retired superintendent of the Mount Rushmore National Park, he spoke of his long association with the Park Service and his fight to include Native voices in the interpretation of our National Parks. Mr. Baker's talk was the highlight of the "Tribal Track" presentations.

"All of the sessions that I attended were well organized and offered good information. I helped facilitate a session on "which history, whose history" which offered participants an opportunity to discuss what truths their visitors would like to know and whether they are the same as those that we offer in our interpretations. It was a lively and thoughtful discussion that helped participants think about what is important to their visitors. Following this same theme I attended a strategic planning session for small museums which uses survey and other forms of communication with audiences to help formulate the vision of the museum. And then attended a session on money vs mission which discussed staying true to one's mission while developing new sources of funding.

"A session called "small museums, big impact" talked about using social media, school programming and high quality public programming to increase the exposure and to improve the community support for small museums. The General Tommy Franks Museum in Hobart, Oklahoma was used as an example as they have programming that extends far beyond the doors of their small town museum and have even built a travelling trailer that visits schools around the country to introduce school children to the concepts of leadership.

"I attended two other sessions that dealt with cyberspace, one talked about the use of cell phone technology to provide interpretive information to visitors via their cell phone and the other was on the usablity of web sites. Technology was talked about quite a bit among the participants and it is generally accepted that a web site is or should be a priority for all museums as the first line of introduction to one's mission.

"As a graduate of the Seminar for Historical Administration, I attended a reception for graduates and those interested in participating in this 3 week intensive museum training program sponsored by AASLH, AAM, the National Park Service and others which is held at the Indiana Historical Society each fall. It's new director, John Durel, was introduced and it was a great time for graduates to enthusiatically inform those interested in the program all of the merits of this "museum boot camp."

"I have worked on the AASLH Mentor Committee for the last year, the program had faded away and our committee sought to revive the program which is so helpful, especially for those new to the field who need a "leg up." The program was reintroduced at the meeting and information about it is available on the AASLH website (

"There were programs to fit every need, but as you can see I tended to seek out those programs most important to small museums. I was impressed by their content and the fact that the presenters were small museum workers who are in the trenches every day producing quality programming  and great interpretation with small staffs of both paid and unpaid workers. Next year the annual conference will be held in Richmond, Virginia, I would recommend attending both for the quality of programming but also for the networking opportunities."

Any other SMAers at AASLH and want to share? Email us at

Monday, September 27, 2010

Museum Advocacy 101

Today, I had the privilege of attending AAM’s free webinar on Museum Advocacy, which was led by outside consultant, Stephanie Vance. There were many useful tips for how to get started with advocacy, and I’ve consolidated some of them that were particularly useful to smaller institutions. Let me know what you think!

Why Is Advocacy Important?
I already knew that over a quarter of many small museums’ funding comes from the government – especially from the local level. (See Museum Financial Information 2009, Elizabeth E. Merritt and Philip M. Katz, Eds., The AAM Press, 2009) To retain and possibly increase that funding and to remain relevant to elected officials, we need to let them know that we’re important.
  • Do they know how you’re enriching students’ educational experiences?
  • Do they know about the rich treasure trove of programming you provide?
  • Do they understand the importance of the cultural heritage you are preserving?
  • Do they know what will happen if your museum ceases to exist?!
As one of my colleagues says, “Museums have great show and tell.” So – get out there, museums, and strut your stuff!

The Rules: What You Can Do
As a non-profit/501c3, your museum can promote advocacy and lobby candidates and elected officials. Your museum can also encourage voter registration.

As a private citizen, you can do whatever you want within the scope of the law, including promoting a particular candidate. Just make sure it’s separate from your museum persona!

The Rules: What You Can’t Do
No electioneering! Do not single out candidates or officials.
Remain non-partisan at all times.

Simple Ideas for Local Advocacy
  • Add legislative officials to mailing and email lists. Invite them to your events on a regular basis.
  • Conduct candidate surveys. Use free survey software, like or, to send short surveys to candidates about their work with and views upon museums. Share those results. Just make sure you share everyone’s results, so as not to appear to be singling people out.
  • Remind your visitors, members, volunteers, trustees, and other stakeholders to vote! Make voter registration information available at your museum (and maybe on your website).
  • While you’re at it, let your visitors, members, volunteers, trustees, and other stakeholders know about issues that are important to your museum (e.g. funding concerns). This can also be spearheaded by your trustees and/or volunteers.
  • Create a free online petition at According to Ms. Vance, a recent petition helped raise over 10,000 signatures towards a monument in Las Vegas. Is there an issue regarding your museum you’d like to see supported?
  • Volunteer. You’ll learn even more about the electoral process by volunteering on election day as a judge.
  • Host a reception for elected officials. Your museum can host events for candidates, if the museum’s officials stay out of it, but that can be tricky waters to navigate. But you can invite people to the museum for an event learning more about your site and the issues that are important to you.
  • Attend AAM’s Museum Advocacy Day! Check out for more information. You can also attend their webinars – for FREE! – learn more here.


Okay, now it’s your turn! Tell us what you’re doing in advocacy and how it’s worked out for your museum.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Free Advocacy Webinar on Monday

Monday, September 27, at 2pm EDT
Advocating During an Election Season
Election day is fast approaching, and this session will provide practical advice on how to get involved before and after the November 2 election without jeopardizing your nonprofit status. Learn how to familiarize yourself with the candidates, encourage voter registration, and promote museum awareness through the electoral process.

More information at  

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Important Article for Any Small Museum: Are County Historical Societies Dinosaurs?

Linda Norris at The Uncatalogued Museum has written a truly provocative and informative article on county historical societies, but it is really practical for any small museum. Lots of great tips.

Access the article here!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Also this Week: Step by Step Collections Acquisition

Also happening this week on Wednesday at 2pm will be a webinar by AAM entitled Step by Step Collections Acquisition. You can learn more about it here.

AASLH In Person and Online Conference

I know many of you will be attending AASLH's Annual Meeting this week in Oklahoma. If anyone would like to report on the meeting for the blog, please email us at If you're not able to attend the meeting, consider taking part in their online conference, which includes six sessions and a bonus podcast. We'd also love your post on the blog for the online conference as well! Have a great time learning and networking, small museumers :)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tips from Reach Advisors on Scoring that IMLS Grant

To be honest, most of these tips are good for any grant proposal a museum might write. Don't be turned off by applying for an IMLS grant, a surprising number of recipients are from small and mid-sized museums. I'm beginning to crunch the numbers and will report later when I have them available. Let us know if your museum has received any exciting grants lately!

Link to article here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

NY About to Allow Museums to Sell Collections

I know this article from Wall Street Journal is already being passed around the museum blogosphere, but I think it warrants being mentioned here as well, especially since it raises questions about both the financial stability of small museums versus the desires of larger ones as well as the duty of all museums to their collections and the public. In a surprise turn of events, New York's Board of Regents "will allow emergency regulations that prohibited cash-strapped museums from selling their artworks to cover expenses to expire next month." Read the full article here. I'll be curious to see your thoughts on the subject.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Behind the Scenes at SMA: People Profiles

Lauren Silberman

Position with SMA:
Board and Conference Committee Member

Position Elsewhere and Where:
Museum Assessment Program Coordinator, American Association of Museums, Washington, DC

When did you first become involved with SMA?
I became involved with SMA by attending one of the conferences. It was one of the first museum related conferences I had attended, and it was fantastic. There was so much to learn, so many people to meet, and so much music to dance to at the gala! I came back charged up and ready to go at my old stomping grounds, The Jewish Museum of Maryland.

What is the best thing about SMA?
Has everyone said the people, because it's definitely the people! Everyone is so enthusiastic and excited. I couldn't believe when I found out later that SMA is entirely volunteer run because of how professional the experience was. It reflects on the great volunteer work happening at so many museums out there.

What do you hope to see SMA do in the future?
I hope to see not only more great conferences but to see SMA connect with museum folks in new ways - maybe a more comprehensive website, maybe more resources for those who can't attend the conference, maybe something else entirely. I can't wait to find out!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Small Museums Survey

In partnership with the American Association of Museums, Blackbaud, Inc. is researching the needs of smaller cultural organizations. We are interested in learning about how you run your programs and business activities in order to achieve your mission. To help us do so, we ask that you complete a short survey.

Please go to the survey by clicking on the link, or cut and paste the link in to your browser.

We ask that you complete this survey by October 1st, 2010. The responses will be analyzed in aggregate and no information about your institution will be released.

All those who fully complete the survey will be entered in to a random drawing for a $50 gift card redeemable at the American Association of Museums' bookstore.

In addition, we are recruiting participants for a “Cultural Organization Advisory Network”. This group will help Blackbaud by responding to research questions and testing various activities over the next year. The goal is to develop software and training tools appropriate for smaller organizations to more efficiently and effectively manage their operations, communications, programs, and membership.

So, at the end of this survey, please indicate if you are interested in being considered for this leadership role. Blackbaud will be offering a complementary wealth screening service to each organization that is selected to participate in the Advisory Network.

Thank you in advance for your time in completing this survey.


Kathryn Matthew, PhD, MBA
Product Manager - Arts and Cultural
Blackbaud, Inc.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

SMA Website Temporarily Down UPDATE

The main SMA website is temporarily down. We will update you when functionality has been restored. Thank you for your patience.

UPDATED 9/10/10
The website should be back up. If it is not working for you, please email us at Thank you.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

What does the BLS think of Museum Work?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has compiled a booklet about museum employment, which can be downloaded here, using data primarily from May 2008. Did you know that 200,000 people worked in the museum field? Or that the median average wage was $27,456, which is less than the annual median of $32,390 for all U.S. workers? Still, they (as do I) believe that competition for paid positions in museum work remains strong due to the rewarding nature of the work.

This all leaves me to wonder... Why did you choose to work in museums?

P.S. You can check out the Occupational Outlook for various museum jobs here.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Unexpected Museum: Umbrella Cover Museum

Thanks to Beth Merritt of the Center for the Future of Museums for pointing out this gem of a small museum, The Umbrella Cover Museum. It feels like I'm always learning about a new small museum for something fascinating. Do you have a favorite unexpected museum? Share! If we get enough entries, we can make it a regular feature.

Image: Nancy Hoffman, director of the Umbrella Cover Museum, holding the book, Uncovered And Exposed!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Small Museum of the Month: Dumbarton House

The Dumbarton House is a Federal period historic house museum, ca. 1800, residence of Joseph Nourse, first register of the U.S. Treasury, a post he held 48 consecutive years through six presidencies. Located in Georgetown , a popular Washington , DC shopping and dining destination for locals and visitors, the museum rests in a non-commercial, residential quarter. Off the beaten path, behind a high brick wall, often unnoticed by passersby, decreasing attendance at public programs, and fewer rentals -- extra challenges for us in the 2009 economic downturn. What to do? Recognize opportunities for creative, unconventional partnerships with other sites and membership organizations. Develop cooperative programs and events. Be open to new audiences. Add front signage. Success? Expand tour days/hours. We are proud to report that our visitation increased 30% in 2009, a new standard maintained in 2010 – to be surpassed by year’s end! The hidden “Jewel of Georgetown” is re-discovered. Huzzah!

Contact Info

The Dumbarton House

Headquarters, The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America

2715 Q Street NW ■ Washington, DC 20007

202-337-2288 ■ fax: 202-337-0348

Tour Hours

Between Mid-March and Mid-December: Tuesday-Friday, 10AM to 4PM (last museum entry is 3:45PM); Sat.-Sun, 11AM to 3PM (last museum entry is 2:45PM). Guided Tours also offered Tuesday-Sunday at 11AM, 12PM, & 1PM.

Between Mid-December and Mid-March: Tuesday-Sunday, 11AM to 3:00PM (last museum entry is 2:45PM), OR by prior appointment, 202-337-2288

Dumbarton House is closed on many Federal holidays; check for updates as the schedule is variable.

Dumbarton House is fully ADA accessible. Handicapped parking is available in our parking lot, located behind the garden at Q/27th Streets.

Admission: $5.00 per adult. Children, youth, and students-with-ID, receive free admission.

· Discount available to AAA members plus 3 guests when AAA discount card is presented.

· Admission is free to: The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America members, Museum Members, children with a paying adult, students with valid ID, AAM members, ICOM members, Historic House Museums Consortium of DC, and Treasury Department staff. There is no discount for seniors. Dumbarton House accepts the DC Power Pass.

· Dumbarton House is a Blue Star Museums partner, offering free tour admission for active duty military and their families (presenting military IDs) now through Sun., Sept. 5th.

Other info: Dumbarton House is the headquarters of The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America, a 501(c)(3) organization that promotes our national heritage through historic preservation, patriotic service and educational projects. The National Society purchased the home in 1928 as their headquarters, and opened it as a public museum in 1932. There are 45 societies of 16,000 members across the nation that own or operate 80 properties of historic and architectural significance, as well as contribute to patriotic projects and educational opportunities within their states.

Submitted by/Contact:

Missy Hoggan Groppel

Marketing & Events Manager

The Dumbarton House

Headquarters, The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America

2715 Q Street NW ■ Washington, DC 20007

phone: 202-337-2288 x230 ■ fax: 202-337-0348

Find, follow Dumbarton House at, or!

Want to be a Small Museum of the Month? Learn more here!

Photo of Museum of the Month will be added to the front page of the SMA website shortly. Photo of Dumbarton House from the Dumbarton House website.