Mastering Civic Engagement: A Challenge to Museums, edited by the American Association of Museums, 2002. American Association of Museums, Washington, DC. This book is the end product of AAM’s Museums and Community Initiative aimed to transform the relationship between museums and communities. Though published over a decade ago, the seminal volume contains a series of short articles that set the stage for community engagement and museums. Well worth the read to understand the context from which the current discussions arose.
Our Go To Organizations
The American Association of State and Local History (AASLH) is of particular value to the small museum and cultural heritage professional. Their website link to Communities leads to the many affinity groups supported by the AASLH. The searchable Resources tab links to an expansive set of curated tools and discussions. For example a keyword search for “community engagement” produces audio links from AASLH conference sessions, blogs, technical leaflets, and news articles. AASLH membership or a fee is required for some site content.
The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) is the premier all-encompassing museum organization in the United States. Their website contains a range of offerings from a pdf file on how to start a museum to a robust set of links within their Resources tab. AAM Membership is required for many of the links.
The Paul Hamlyn Foundation’s Our Museum is a program based in England with a strong commitment to community and cultural heritage venue engagement. Their website includes resources that share practical applications and reflect the perspective that museums and galleries must act in partnership with their communities.
Getting Professional Help
The Museum Assessment Program (MAP)is jointly supported through the AAM and IMLS. The 30-year old program geared toward small and medium-sized venues leads museums through a year long process of peer evaluation in one of three areas: Institutional, Collections, or Community Outreach. MAP is a fee based program with a sliding scale of payment based on a museums income.
The Standards and Excellence Program for History Organizations (StEPS) is sponsored by the AASLH, and as the name implies, is geared specifically toward history venues. Like MAP, StEPS is a peer evaluation for best practice standards in six areas including: Mission, Vision, & Governance; Audience; Interpretation; Stewardship of Collections; Stewardship of Historic Structures; and Landscape Management. StEPS is a fee based program.
The AASLH’s Visitors Count ” . . . is a visitor research program that provides the answers you need to create a successful and thriving history organization. . . Successful organizations understand what people expect, need, and want when visiting―and what will bring them back.” Visitors Count is a fee based program.
Sources to obtain free advice from professionals include listservs or mailing lists. For example, thousands of professionals subscribe to Museum-L and can provide insight on questions ranging from evaluations to program development.
Archaeology, Museums & Outreach by Robert Connolly, Co-editor of Positioning Your Museum as a Critical Community Asset: A Practical Guide. Since 2008, Connolly’s blog has provided insights, interviews, and case studies on how museums and cultural heritage professionals can best engage with their communities.