Money is tighter than ever at many museums today. With shrinking endowments, dried up grant monies, staff cuts and decreases in donations, doing what we do is even harder in today’s economy.
Before throwing your hands in the air and giving up on your plans, consider some of these free (or almost free) ideas as you move forward.
1. Use more volunteers. This may sound like a no-brainer, but the traditional volunteer of the past in now an endangered species. People are putting off retirement, and more women are working outside the home. So your volunteer base probably doesn’t look the same as it did even 10 years ago. Mine other resources instead of retirees and stay-at-home moms. Partner with high schools, colleges, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and community organizations like Kiwanis and Rotary to tackle projects like grounds clean-up, gardening, painting, light maintenance, or set-up and clean-up for a special event. Service groups like to be of service, but they don’t know what you need unless you tell them!
2. Use your library. Again, this may sound obvious. But you will save countless dollars using your local library and their Interlibrary Loan program to do research for education programs, exhibits and collections documentation. Take advantage of free programs and workshops too.
3. Social networking. It doesn’t cost you a thing to use blogs, Facebook and Twitter to publicize your events. Give your “fans” something special – behind-the-scenes tidbits, a historic photo of the week from your archives, advanced notice of classes and programs.
4. CVB and Chamber programs. Sign up for workshops, seminars and other free events sponsored by your local Convention and Visitors Bureau or Chamber of Commerce. Topics could include marketing your venue, creating partnerships, and attracting the bus tour market.
5. Internet resources. The internet is full of amazing free information – it’s just important to know who to trust! The National Park Service offers a free online Museum Handbook, featuring sections on Museum Collections, Museum Records and Museum Collections Use. (These are VERY large PDF files, so it might take awhile to download) The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works has a series of free guides on how to conserve artifacts of various materials, including books, furniture, textiles and more. PBS offers a wealth of free resources, including full-length episodes of The American Experience, Antiques Roadshow, and more.
6. State humanities or arts councils. Most state organizations have a Speakers Bureau that will provide world-class speakers for a nominal fee. Some even provide grant applications to cover all your expenses.
7. Listservs. Get professional advice from thousands of museum people on the Museum-L. There are lots of other lists out there for education, conservation, living history and more. Find the one that best suits you and your organization and sign up! Our best free resource is each other.