Nothing but Possibilities

As randy said “Economic thinking can provide great insight into heritage conservation”, economic factor takes an increasing important position in contemporary preservation projects. Recently, I read some articles about the destiny of historic house museums, which I think thoroughly address this topic.

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”― William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

It is historic house museums, spread all over the country, like countless stars in the night sky, that lighted the heaven of American history. Local history relies heavily on historic house museums to carry forward, which might otherwise be forgotten. For example, Rowan Oak, Faulkner’s house, located near the center of Oxford, Mississippi, in which he lived for 32 years. With old pictures of Faulkner hang on the wall and typewriter on a desk in the writer’s study, original arrangements provide visitors an intimate scenario as if they could touch the thoughts of Faulkner when he wrote those brilliant words.

However, many historic house museums are struggling with maintaining their operation, it seems that the “past” will go away forever. Although some well-known house museums are thriving, many smaller fall into drastic plight: securing sufficient funds become tough for them. First of all, the support from government declined. For instance, Save America’s Treasures, the only house museum funding scheme run by the federal government was stopped by the congress in 2011. This hurts house museums badly. In addition, it is said in the latest National Trust survey in 1988: “70 percent of all house museums are in rural locations or in places with populations under 50,000”, which means it is very difficult for them to collect money by attracting visitors. Plus, the online distraction also makes it’s so hard to survive for house museums. As a result, some critics including Stephanie Meeks, the president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, suggest closing most of the struggling historic house museums.

“I say money has no value, it’s just the way you spend it.”― Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury

Nonetheless, the tradition inherited from Ann Pamela Cunningham never go away. Fierce reality stimulates preservationists who bear sturdy determination on defending the history they cherished. Creative strategies are created to save imperilled house museums immediately. To draw more visitors, some of them raised the intimate domestic stories of women and family life, which are usually ignored by formal museums; some prepared vivid historical drama by volunteers, visitors could also participate, which adds fun to mundane history. Others engaged in building partnerships with restaurants and shops as a way to improve their service and find more financial supports. Based on local identity, some museums convert to serve local communities. Various activities such as opening reading club, holding parties, make great contribution to frame a vibrant social union, in which house museums could receive highly recognition as well as strong support.

Admittedly, it is a long journey for house museums to achieve economic freedom completely and there are lots of problems in their new strategies, such as homogeneity, crudeness. As David Throsby suggest in his book economic and culture, culture has become a promising industry. If house museums could find out and take advantage of their own cultural identities, it might be helpful to avoid competition with each other and boost their attraction for private philanthropists.

For those who are interested this issue could check out these articles for more information:

http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21635026-when-federal-money-runs-out-ingenuity-called-keeping-up-appearances

https://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2014/08/09/the-great-historic-house-museum-debate/jzFwE9tvJdHDCXehIWqK4O/story.html

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