Eight Questions to Consider Before Launching Your Museum’s Crowdfunding Campaign

By Maren Dougherty

Earlier this year, our team at the Autry National Center of the American West in Los Angeles launched an online crowdfunding campaign for our exhibition about Route 66. In 60 days, we raised more than $60,000 for the exhibition, including more than $40,000 through the Indiegogo platform and $20,000 in offline donations.

We were pleased with the results of the campaign, but we also learned a lot about the process and the amount of effort required. It’s similar to a Route 66 journey: there are highs and lows, landmarks and long stretches of nothing—and every trip is different. That said, we’re happy to share our experiences with the Western Museums Association community, and we’ve structured our advice in the form of questions to ask your team before embarking on a journey like ours.

Inside the finished Route 66 exhibition

Inside the finished Route 66 exhibition

Eight Questions to Ask

1. What are your goals? We launched our online crowdfunding campaign to raise additional funds for the exhibition and related programs and to generate buzz about the exhibition before the public opening. We felt the Route 66 theme was a perfect opportunity as the Mother Road has fans worldwide.

2. Are you prepared to collaborate? If you also have a two-fold goal to raise awareness and funds, your Marketing and Development departments will need to work very closely on the campaign’s messaging and execution. We divided the work fairly evenly between the departments. Marketing oversaw video production, set up the campaign, sent mass e-mails, managed press relations, and posted social media updates. Development approached individual donors, processed donor information, and fulfilled perks.

3. Are you ready to work hard? Because of the success of campaigns for projects such as the Veronica Mars movie, the Reading Rainbow app, and yes, the $50,000 potato salad, some people seem to think that you can just set up a crowdfunding campaign site, offer a few perks, and money will appear. It’s rarely that easy. According to Kickstarter, fewer than half of its projects (44%) are fully funded by their deadline. Whether you are trying to raise $10,000 or $100,000, to be successful, you have to hustle just like you would with any other fundraising effort.

Like most campaigners, we also underestimated the time it took to fulfill perks. Collecting T-shirt sizes, responding to questions from donors, compiling RSVPs for events—the time is significant, and it’s important to identify a staff member who can dedicate the hours needed to make sure the campaign is a positive experience for everyone involved.

4. How can you start this thing with a bang? As Indiegogo has noted, campaigns with momentum are far more likely to reach and exceed their goals. Prior to launching our Route 66 campaign, we discussed it with our board of trustees and presented it at an all-staff meeting. The morning of the campaign’s launch, we sent e-mails to our database (about 20,000 subscribers); sent press releases and pitches to individual reporters; posted about it to social media; and messaged various companies and associations related to Route 66. We received a lot of media attention that week. The catchy target amount of $66,000 for a Route 66 exhibition seemed to help, as did the fact that few other museums in Los Angeles have launched major crowdfunding campaigns.

Screenshot of a newspaper article about the campaign

Screenshot of a newspaper article about the campaign

5. Which platform is right for you? A lot of people ask us why we decided to use Indiegogo instead of Kickstarter or other platforms. With Kickstarter, you must raise the full goal amount in order to receive the money. We weren’t comfortable taking that risk.

6. How will you maintain the momentum? Even if you raise a quarter of the funds in your first week, you’ll still have a long way to go. What tactics will you deploy to continue to collect donations—send periodic e-mails, add new perks, add on-site signage, post funny videos? It’s also important to identify existing donors who may be able to contribute mid-campaign to give it an additional boost.

Indiegogo reports that 22% of funds are raised as a result of traffic from social media posts, that people give 20% more money when clicking through e-mails than from any other source, and that 239% more money is raised by groups who provide updates at least three times during the campaign.

Design of table tents we placed in our museum cafe

Design of table tents we placed in our museum cafe

7. Do you have a plan for accepting offline donations? Even though Indiegogo and Kickstarter make it easy for people to give online, many of our donors said they would prefer to send checks. If we had required gifts to be made online, we might have lost about $20,000. Instead, we accepted the offline donations and simply noted on our campaign page that we had received additional offline funds. It’s fun to see the online progress bar move closer to the target, but we needed to keep our primary goals in mind.

8. Is your organization ready to be bold and creative? There will only be one $50,000 potato salad, but who knows what’s next!

Some related news articles and resources are listed below. If you have any questions about our Route 66 campaign, feel free to give me a shout on Twitter @MarenReport.

News and Resources

Maren Dougherty is the Director of Communications and Marketing for the Autry National Center of the American West in Los Angeles. Prior to joining the Autry, Maren was the Director of External Affairs for the Balboa Park Online Collaborative in San Diego.

 

What’s Happening California? An Ongoing Museum-University Co-Curation Project

By Suzanne Fischer

What does cosplay have to do with training the next generation of museum professionals? In the Oakland Museum of California’s (OMCA) What’s Happening California series college students become the heroes of the exhibit development process.

The What’s Happening California series is an ongoing collaboration between OMCA and California State University (CSU) campuses across the state. The project goal is to develop an on-going community co-curated presence in OMCA’s Gallery of California History, involve university students in exhibition and collections development, and increase the diversity of stories and artifacts from across the state that are represented in the museum. Over the course of two semesters, OMCA staff work with students to develop a 300 sq. ft. exhibit about contemporary issues in their community. Students choose the topic, conduct research, identify objects for the show, work on labels, develop multimedia, and help guide exhibit design. With the support of the Institute for Museum and Library services, the partnership has so far produced three exhibits in collaboration with public history students in Sacramento, Fullerton, and San Diego.

When OMCA engaged in a major reorganization and reinstallation project, we wanted to make sure that the history we told in the Gallery of California History went right up to yesterday, and we wanted to make sure that co-creation work would be ongoing and visible. The CSU system was a natural partner: with a diverse student body, 23 campuses across the state, and a variety of history and social science programs with exhibit practice components, we found great collaborators in the students and teachers who enthusiastically pitched in, despite some growing pains as the project developed.

The first show, What’s Happening Sacramento?, was co-curated by a public history class taught by Lee Simpson at Sacramento State. Told mainly through first-person labels from the perspective of students and community members, the show presented a selection of diverse stories related to Sacramento’s rivers. It was anchored by exceptional artifacts with compelling personal stories: frogging poles used to hunt frogs on the Sacramento River, bandanas created by women farmworkers who are survivors of abuse in the fields, a kayak owned by the founder of a famous Sacramento kayak triathlon. This show received a Leadership in History Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History.

The What's Happening Sacramento exhibit.

The “What’s Happening Sacramento?” exhibit.

The CSU Fullerton students in Benjamin Cawthra’s public history classes developed a timely, broadly relevant theme for their exhibit, Hard Times in the OC: the 2008 recession in Orange County. In cooperation with the Center for Oral and Public History at CSU Fullerton, they conducted oral histories with community members affected by the recession. They interviewed pink-slipped teachers, anti-austerity Occupy activists, short sale specialists, people who went into debt to keep up with the “OC image,” the director of a group that kept a state park open despite a non-existent state parks budget, people who kept their Disneyland memberships no matter what their financial situations, the director of a Latino/a theater group thriving despite the recession, people who were unemployed and looking for work: in short, a diverse cross-section of the Southland in the 21st century.

Fullerton student Carolina Zataray visiting "Hard Times in the OC"

Fullerton student Carolina Zataray visiting “Hard Times in the OC”

This year, graduate and undergraduate students in Sarah Elkind’s public history classes at San Diego State University developed Sunshine and Superheroes: San Diego Comic-Con, an exhibit on an important contemporary issue in their community: the enormous annual comics convention in their town. The show is about fantasies: personal and cultural fantasies of being a superhero, as well as civic fantasies of the power of a tourist economy. It explores the role of Comic-Con in the way San Diego sees itself; during the con, the city replaces trolley signs with signs in Klingon and other invented languages. We have a Klingon trolley sign in the show. Two costumes help us think about the way Comic-Con and comics represent gender: a fierce Batwoman costume and a more sexualized Harley Quinn costume. The show also explores how comics culture has become mainstream popular culture. The students also developed an interactive experience where visitors can try on costumes and take photos against different backgrounds.

SDSU students and OMCA staff pose in the "Sunshine and Superheroes" exhibit.

SDSU students and OMCA staff pose in the “Sunshine and Superheroes” exhibit.

With each collaborative project with CSU students and their local communities, OMCA learns more. We look forward to learning even more while working with our new partners, an anthropology class at San Jose State University, on a new exhibit this fall. Each project has introduced students to museum work and to the practice of contemporary history. Each project has helped the museum become the “museum of California,” a place where diverse visitors from across the state can see themselves represented in exhibits and programs. Each project is a laboratory for deepening our practice of collaborative work. In this year’s show, it was a laboratory with capes and masks.

Suzanne Fischer is Associate Curator of Contemporary History and Trends at the Oakland Museum of California.

Program Perspective: Diversifying Your Donor Base—Beyond Trustees and Members!

By: Suzanne Hilser-Wiles

So many museums suffer what some might consider a “happy problem”—generous support from board members and a robust membership program, but very little philanthropic activity between the two. While board support and a broad-based membership effort are important for the current financial stability of your organization, success in these areas might, in fact, be masking a serious future problem: lack of a true pipeline.

It isn’t difficult to see how this situation arises. Most museums have very small fundraising staffs, so focusing on your most generous donors, very often your trustees, makes perfect sense. At the same time, visible and generous support from a handful of prominent local philanthropists can make some donors feel like their smaller gifts are not as necessary or not as valued by the institution. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the size of a museum’s membership base is often an institutional focus because it tends to drive visitorship and is, itself, an important marker of an institution’s health—the all important “are we growing?” question!

By figuring out ways to grow the pool of donors between membership and board leadership, we are creating not only a pipeline of future prospects for our largest gifts, but also increasing operational support today. So what do we mean when we talk about those donors “in the middle”?

  • For some museums, it means Leadership Annual Giving—donors whose annual gift moves beyond the transactional relationship associated with general membership to an investment in the museum and its programs.
  • For some museums, it means a major gifts program that allows donors to help off-set the costs of exhibitions and programs with targeted gifts that are smaller than those from lead sponsors.
  • For some museums, it means both!

Developing a program for these donors that is manageable for your institution requires thoughtful planning and disciplined execution. Before you get started, here are some things to consider:

  • Do we have annual giving levels that inspire people to “move up” from membership?
  • Are we using messages about philanthropy, not just about benefits, as we talk to these prospects?
  • Have we made these programs simple enough for our staff to manage effectively, but diverse enough to engage a broad spectrum of people?
  • Have we designed donor programs that will attract prospects who are likely to stick with us?
  • Do we have opportunities for program support that are attractive to prospects?
  • Do we have a clearly defined program for recognizing and stewarding these donors?
  • Do we have the support of our institutional partners (in the curatorial departments, finance, and marketing and communications) in these efforts?
  • Have we developed fundraising opportunities that are budget-relieving?
  • Once we identify and engage some of these donors “in the middle,” how will we manage them?

WMA2014_GeneralBannerFor a museum fundraising staff that is small, moving beyond managing the board and membership, not to mention an often heavy events schedule (events—that is a topic for another blog post!), can be daunting. Most importantly, I would suggest the need for a thoughtful plan that begins with the goal—what are we trying to accomplish by focusing on these donors—and reflects institutional resources, focus and financial goals. Many museums have done this well (some of which we will hear from at the Western Museums Association 2014 Annual Meeting in Las Vegas), but most would tell you they still see untapped potential in this prospect pool. However, with a careful plan in place, even the smallest staff can grow and diversify its donor base, moving beyond the board and membership to engage donors at all levels.

View the full session description for Building out Your Mid-Level Donor Base

Registration is open for the WMA 2014 Annual Meeting. Register today and join your Western museum colleagues in Las Vegas!

Suzanne Hilser-Wiles is a Vice President at GG+A, where she oversees the firm’s practice area for Arts & Cultural clients and serves on its senior leadership committee. Before joining GG+A, Suzanne served as the Vice Chancellor for Advancement at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, a free standing, public conservatory. She has held senior fundraising positions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and CancerCare, a national organization serving people with cancer and their loved ones.

Program Perspectives: Playing the Numbers—Learning the New Tools of Museum Finance

By Marjorie Schwarzer

A first glance at the Western Museums Association 2014 Annual Meeting Program

Marjorie Schwarzer

Marjorie Schwarzer

My husband and I put it off as long as we could. But after our beloved house’s gutters leaked a greenish slime that was seeping into the wooden supporting beams, we bit the bullet, canceled plans, tightened our belts and ponied up for a new roof. Although the sudden financial bite was large; the cost of not re-roofing would’ve been far greater. And it could have all been avoided if we had just paid a bit more attention over the years to the roof over our heads, strategically replacing it at the rate of a few shingles per season instead of enduring the mightily expensive one-time punch of a sudden major construction job. The silver lining is that we saw a warning sign before our entire home was in danger of succumbing to dry rot. And luckily, we had set aside a rainy day fund that could cover the cost of re-covering our nest. We have resurfaced, safe and sound.

Unfortunately, arts and cultural organizations have not been so lucky. Many do not know how to recognize the warning signs of potential financial danger. Even more do not have a sufficient rainy day fund to cover unforeseen messes. This was true even before the Great Recession. A report titled Getting Beyond Breakeven, commissioned by the Pew Trust in 2007, found almost 40% of nonprofit cultural organizations were slowly oozing resources. Their operating expenses over the years were flat, but income was falling, meaning that “green stuff” was slowing leaking away. If this trend continued, they risked collapse. Working with outmoded tools for measuring and assessing warning signs, they were continuing to patch up crumbling budgets with layoffs and shortsighted cost-cutting rather than making over-arching changes to their operations. Obviously an already shaky situation took a turn for the worse during the Great Recession. Many arts organizations emerged with less working capital and resources than ever to cover basic infrastructural needs.

The consequences of not recognizing and responding to financial and other kinds of organizational warning signs are dire. They go beyond the short-term pain of layoffs, and canceled programs. By not continually assessing where they stand and making adjustments as well as bold moves when necessary, non-profits risk for-profit corporate takeover, compromised missions and the loss of a precious community resource.

A desire to help empower everyone who works in museums to get in front of financial and structural challenges was the motivation behind Playing the Numbers: Learning the New Rules of Museum Finance, a session I will be co-presenting with Dr. Robyn Raschke and Deborah Frieden at the WMA 2014 Annual Meeting this October 5-8, 2014. The purpose of the session is to review and explain simple techniques of financial analysis that you can use to gain a coherent and clear picture of your museum’s financial and administrative underpinnings.

Robyn Raschke, an innovative accounting professor at the Lee Business School at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is a passionate museum visitor who is excited to meet those of us who work behind-the-scenes in institutions that she loves to spend time in. An inspiring teacher (yes, financial accounting can be inspiring!), she will focus on how museums might adapt the Balanced Scorecard approach to financial planning. More comprehensive than the familiar SWOT method of diagnosing an organization, Balanced Scorecard was developed in 1992 at the Harvard Business School for identifying, measuring and, most important, integrating your organization’s key attributes and goals. The technique has since evolved from an attractive but passive document into the “daily marching orders” for an organization’s staff and board. Its framework not only provides performance measurements, but also helps organizations identify what should be done and measured.

Since one common strategy for improving and upgrading an organization’s infrastructure is a capital campaign, it seemed wise to invite an expert who has seen it all! Deborah Frieden is well known in our field for her rigorous work leading complex capital improvement projects for museums and other community resources. She will review techniques for determining whether and how to take on a responsible capital improvement plan for your museum.

I’ll add to the Monday morning session by leading you through some ways to measure your organization’s fiscal strength with a few deceptively simple calculations that are part of the re-tooled graduate financial and cultural management course I teach at University of San Francisco.

So: load up on coffee, charge up your calculator and get ready to count some beans with us in Las Vegas at the Playing the Numbers session. We hope you’ll leave with some useful tools for staying on top of your museum’s finances and planning for a safe and sound future.

WMA2014_NumbersPersp2

To register for the 2014 Annual Meeting attend this session, please click here. ‪

Marjorie Schwarzer is Administrative Director at the Graduate Museum Studies program at University of San Francisco and a former WMA board member and program committee co-chair. She holds an MBA in non-profit finance from the University of California, Berkeley, has a roof over her head, enjoys crunching numbers (sometimes).

Program Perspectives: A Changing Las Vegas

Jerry Schefcik

Jerry Schefcik

Dear Colleagues,

I am excited to welcome you to my home city of Las Vegas for the Western Museums Association (WMA) 2014 Annual Meeting. Nevada is celebrating its Sesquicentennial anniversary this year, and as I reflect upon where we’ve been, it brings to mind all that is new here in Las Vegas. This year’s theme, “Expect the Unexpected,” is certainly apropos!

We all know Las Vegas as an entertainment and tourist capital, but more recently it has been going through a cultural renaissance. Many new museums have opened with more in store for the coming years. Downtown Las Vegas is undergoing a transformation with many new small businesses, a designated Arts District, a monthly First Friday, the Container Park, the Smith Center, and a renewed sense of community. The emergence of new museums that are uniquely Las Vegan is helping to define who we are. Of particular interest this year are specific conference sessions that focus on Las Vegas’ unexpected art venues and our uniquely Vegas collections.

We Las Vegas museum professionals certainly look forward to illuminating our cultural institutions for you, our peers. The Evening Events—Vintage Vegas: The Mob Museum & the Neon Museum, and Atomic City: The National Atomic Testing Museum—promise to give attendees a special insight into my city’s museums. Pre-Conference Tours can also show you the richness of southern Nevada, from the Hoover Dam and Michael Heizer’s Double Negative, to the Clark County Museum, Lost City Museum, Wetlands Park, Valley of Fire State Park, and two amazing studios that are becoming house museums. I particularly look forward to the final afternoon of the 2014 Annual Meeting as the entire conference moves to the Springs Preserve. This is truly a free-choice programming aspect, as attendees will have the opportunity to learn and connect with one another during regular sessions, in the galleries, on special tours, and at WestMusings | Ten Minute Museum Talks.

A view of the Las Vegas skyline from the Springs Preserve

A view of the Las Vegas skyline from the Springs Preserve

I was honored to serve on the 2014 Program Committee, and while it was an intense experience, it was also very rewarding. This year, our focus is on training, networking, and specific professional tracks that include Business, Leadership/ Careerpath, Collections, Technology, Visitor Experience, and Community Engagement. I can speak on behalf of the Program Committee by saying we gave careful consideration to each session proposal and the programmatic flow. I am pleased with the over 50 sessions and workshops that we selected. These sessions and their panelists represent the most thought-provoking topics facing museum professionals today.

The keynote speaker this year, Mark Hall-Patton, will be a highlight of the conference. Don’t miss it! He brings years of museum experience, astute observations, a disarming sense of humor, and a spot-on evaluation of the relevance of museums.

I am looking forward to the 2014 Annual Meeting in October as my colleagues and I welcome you to Las Vegas. There is 1 week left for the Member Early Bird Registration rates! Non-members can still save if they become members and register!

Register today and save!

Jerry Schefcik
Director of Galleries
University of Nevada Las Vegas

The WMA 2014 Scholarship Fund Needs You!

The Western Museums Association (WMA) supports museum professionals around the Western region (and beyond!). One way we strengthen the field is providing scholarships, a vital component of WMA’s mission, and we need your help! The Wanda Chin Scholarship program funds participation and travel to the Annual Meeting by professionals who might otherwise not be able to attend. Support learning and professional growth by donating an item to the Wanda Chin Scholarship Fund auction.

Thank you to those that donated auction items at WMA 2013. Your generosity allowed us to provide 14 scholarships to attend WMA 2014 in Las Vegas. Here are the 2014 Wanda Chin Scholarship recipients who you have helped:

Congrats to the recipients of the 2014 Wanda Chin Scholarship!
Katharine Baldwin-Corriveau, John F. Kennedy University
Alexa Beaman, University of San Francisco
Molly Fierer-Donaldson, Lost City Museum
Tim Glenn, The John Wesley Powell River History Museum
Shannon Kraichy, University of British Columbia
Crystal Mason, Hi-Desert Nature Museum
Barbara Mumby, John F. Kennedy University
Leilani Lewis, Northwest African American Museum
Rachel Luni, Wilbur D. May Museum
Ryan Pinter, University of San Francisco
Cho Rao, University of San Francisco
Eleanor Sandys, John F. Kennedy University
Molly Wilmoth, Washington State Historical Society
Katherine Yee, San Diego Museum of Man

Since 1997, the WMA Annual Meeting has featured a Silent Auction in the Exhibit Hall, as well as a spirited Live Auction during an Evening Event. The proceeds from these auctions directly fund the Wanda Chin Scholarship program, which helps to subsidize travel and participation in the Annual Meeting for professionals who might otherwise not be able to attend.

2013 Wanda Chin Scholarship recipients

2013 Wanda Chin Scholarship recipients

Below are suggestions for contributions that work well for the WMA Silent and Live auction purposes. Please read through these ideas and get inspired, and do not be afraid to ask colleagues, gift shops, favorite merchants, or friends to donate to these fun events.

  • Items representing Las Vegas or San Jose (the location of the 2014 and 2015 Annual Meetings, respectively) generate enthusiasm for the host-city, and give incentive to extend stays to include visits to the area’s resorts, restaurants, and tourist destinations.
  • Items that highlight a specific locale can help frame auction items. In the past we have received items from: a wine-growing region provides opportunities for wine tastings, cases of wine, tours of several wineries; a ski area donates passes to a ski lodge, overnight accommodations, lift tickets; Native American tribes have donated hotel and recreational packages.
  • Members of all regions are encouraged to consider offering vacation homes.
  • Museums’ gift shop items have also shown good results at the auctions, often with jewelry or other decorative items.
  • Museums are encouraged to consider offering behind-the-scenes tours, a tour of collections with the registrar or collections manager, a tour with the curator of a special exhibition, or a meal in the museum’s café.
  • Consultants can offer to extend their services to a museum for a day or specified period, or could reduce their fees if hired for given period.
  • Donations of frequent flier miles are a great compliment a vacation package, add value, and give incentive to bid.
  • Museum exhibition catalogs and memberships are great donation items for the auction.
  • Theme baskets are great donations for the Silent Auction. They can showcase a particular museum with items from its gift shop, or can have other focuses such as regional wines, foods, crafts, arts, flora or fauna, special toiletries, or children.
  • Art and collectibles from private collections is often attractive to bidders.
  • The best auction items are generally experiences and opportunities that cannot be purchased, are not commonly available, and are truly “priceless.” These types of items allow auctioneers to generate enthusiasm for, and bring in high returns from bidders.

Personal connections to shop owners, resort managers, vintners, etc. are invaluable when soliciting successful donations. However, even with an existing relationship, the solicitation may require a formal Letter of Request to the potential donor that explains the mission of the WMA and how the revenue from the sale of the item will be used. Please note that donations are tax deductible. Many establishments also require several weeks of advance notice with a formal appeal to process the request.

Please consider donating to this special cause. The WMA relies on you, its friends, fans, family and followers, to make attendance to the Annual Meetings available for all museum professionals.

If you are interested in donating, please contact Program Coordinator Lauren Valone.

Donation forms can be found here.

Program Perspectives: Building the Soul of Las Vegas

Dear Colleagues,

Dawn Barraclough

Dawn Barraclough

It is no secret that Las Vegas has experienced some pretty extreme growing pains. The population exploded from 45,000 to 2 million in an unprecedented rate of growth over the last 60 years. Since the economic slowdown in 2008, the population has been holding steady bringing Las Vegas out of an infancy fueled by the motto bigger, newer, faster to a more contemplative, adolescent phase. The prosperity experienced in the early 2000’s prompted the beginning of a cultural renaissance in Las Vegas as buildings were built and institutions established. Locals and visitors wanted to know how did all of this come about, how did this oasis in the desert affectionately known as sin city come to be a traveler’s mecca drawing 40 million tourists every year? Then in 2008 the growth stopped, abruptly, everywhere, and survival became the focus. As the economic recovery has since taken hold in Las Vegas, the city is re-engaging with the cultural renaissance that started more than ten years ago and is flourishing once again.

As an urban dweller I have been fortunate to live in some of the most beautiful cities in the U.S.—Denver, Washington D.C. and San Francisco—each with a very developed, traditional, cultural climate and immediately discernable sense of place. The landscapes, architecture and museums in these cities almost instantly provide a feeling of the “soul” of each city and connection to the people who came before. Here in Las Vegas you are hard pressed to find a building over 50 years old, the landscape is an unyielding desert and until very recently, unless you knew where to look, finding a museum to learn about this place was difficult at best. In a town dedicated to the latest and the greatest in excess and indulgence, constantly evolving to meet the needs of visitors here for only a short while, how do we find the soul of this bright light and, now, big city?

Fremont Street, 1950s — Cliff Segerbloom, Nevada State Museum, Las VegasJay Florian Mitchell Collection

Fremont Street, 1950s — Cliff Segerbloom; Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas, Jay Florian Mitchell Collection

Although I was skeptical upon first arriving in Las Vegas over 10 years ago that I could find a sense of “soul” here, I have grown to love this desert city. In addition to and beyond the bright, flashy, fast paced Strip that is quintessential Vegas, I have found all the elements that can create the soul of a place for current and future generations exist. Make no mistake—this is not a city for the meek; grit, determination and perhaps a little bit of luck are requirements for survival here. From the harsh desert summers to the accessibility of just about any indulgence you can imagine 24/7, Las Vegas has been fashioned to fulfill every human whim, regardless of the consequences. However, we have a great opportunity at this point in Las Vegas’ development to tell the story; the good, the bad and the ugly of our strange and fantastic history. We can learn about Las Vegas architecture through the preserved signs at the Neon Museum. The Mob Museum shows us how the wise guys and peacekeepers of the past shaped and perhaps still continue to influence our present. We can learn all about water and natural resources in the Mojave, and early settlers at the Springs Preserve. At the museums on the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) campus we can see how this unique city is shaping the artists of the future. The National Atomic Testing Museum chronicles the historic desert test site, the popular (possible) mythology of aliens, and reveals that even nuclear testing was turned into entertainment here. And we have our own museum celebrity Mark Hall-Patton, keynote speaker for the upcoming WMA 2014 Annual Meeting, longtime Las Vegas history expert, and national television personality who’s recognition has greatly increased visitation for his three museums.

I am so grateful for the interactions I’ve had with the museum professionals I’ve met locally, statewide and regionally, and have been privileged to work with over the past few years. I am new to this; my background prior to working at the Springs Preserve was in the technology industry, and although I’ve always loved museums I couldn’t until recently put into words why I am so passionate about helping with the cause of culture in Las Vegas. We have to know where we’ve come from to help to steer our future. Cultural institutions ensure that new generations of Las Vegas residents feel connected to and will preserve their desert home. Las Vegas will survive for the tourists but for the people who live here a cultural experience is the key to experiencing the soul of this place, while having connections, community, and ultimately a fulfilling life.

The recharged cultural movement in Las Vegas, exploring the many facets of the story of how this city came to be and what it is today, is fueled by storytellers from many diverse cultural institutions who have joined forces. The Las Vegas Museum Alliance (LVMA) founded in 2013 was the direct result of non-profit cultural institutions, museums and nature centers in Las Vegas coming together to put in a bid to host the Western Museum Association (WMA) 2014 Annual Meeting. As LVMA prepares for the WMA meeting in October we are also working together as a cohesive self-help organization, pooling our resources and sharing our experiences.

LVMA_LogoThe LVMA membership is varied and eclectic; the 27 member institutions of the LVMA have joined forces creatively rising to the challenge of making the voice of culture heard in a very competitive and saturated marketing arena. Since forming the Alliance, brochures containing information about all of the institutions in two formats have been distributed throughout the city and region. A website was created—www.vegasmuseums.org—as a central portal to member museum’s individual websites and as an online resource for specials, events and activities throughout Las Vegas. A Facebook page and twitter account for LVMA are in the works. We are getting the word out with the help of community partners such as CBS affiliate KLAS-TV Channel 8’s “GR8 Museums” promotional campaign for locals in 2014, and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority is gearing up to launch their first “Las Vegas Museum Month” in October 2014, exposing the cultural opportunities in Las Vegas to tourists on a national level.

There is a pioneering tenacity and deep generosity of the people in the LVMA and community partners who dedicate their time, energy and expertise to exposing the soul of this unusual city and it is an honor to be included in this quest. We are excited to be hosting the WMA 2014 Annual Meeting in Las Vegas and hope you will take full advantage of all our home has to offer. Enjoy the unexpected as well as the expected!

The deadline for Member Early Bird Registration is July 31, 2014. Register today and save! Non-members can still save on registration by becoming a member. Learn more about membership here.

Dawn Barraclough
Public Relations
Springs Preserve
WMA 2014 Host Committee Member