I joined the Heurich House Museum (HHM) team in January as a public programs consultant evaluating all programming from the past 10 years, determining what to keep and what had run its course. By the end of Spring 2023, I would deliver a program plan with clear outlined goals and launch two pilot programs. For me, joining HHM was an opportunity to engage within the DC community and really make an impact. I was excited for this challenge!
Over the first two months, I interviewed current and former staff as well as community partners. I pored over binders, scoured Google Drive, and read every piece of paper related to a past program that I could find. I spent a lot of time listening, asking questions, and peppering people to share their goals and their dreams for their work; constantly asking questions like “What do you wish people understood about your work?” and “Where do you see opportunities for us to deepen our reach within the community?” as well as “What didn’t work and you absolutely would not recommend trying again?” After evaluating interviews and surveys, the amazing thing was that there was a clear throughline from the staff. While they had their own opinions and hopes for their work, there was a consistent message from everyone: “We want to be a welcoming place that supports local, encourages questions, and hosts unique experiences, and we want to better utilize the collections and the house in a relatable way.” So with that in mind, I started developing a plan that I hope will do just that.
With the infinite amount of possibilities, I really zoomed in on “the why” of our work. I created specific goals and indicators across departments, always wondering, Why is this important, and how can it be better? Historic sites have the benefit of a strong sense of place, but with that also comes the challenge of expanding and diversifying story and themes. I knew that in order to achieve what the staff wanted, we needed to focus on partnership building in addition to program planning. I found ways to connect our preservation and collections goals to education goals and education goals to small business development goals. I selected a handful of program ideas and a list of possible partners to plan pilot programs with.
It was important to use these pilots as an opportunity to think about how we could layer programs on top of the museum’s existing structure. I wanted to try an informal drop-in program called a Preservation Pop-Up; this would feature some students from GWU who had previously done projects with HHM, open the house in a small capacity, and focus on our preservation collection and architecture. I also tested out a formal program with required registration and tickets focused on our new exhibit, Working Title. We partnered with a local small business, Zenit, for a Journaling Workshop (which was the first dip into regular maker workshops in the garden, and I can’t wait to have more people join us soon!).
After each program we debriefed and reflected on the successes and challenges so we can keep improving our work. In the next month, we’ll create a new strategic program plan for the year based on these experiences. As always, the future is full of possibilities, and we’re going to keep questioning ourselves and encouraging visitors to ask questions too.