Better Serving Its Public – National Museum of the Marine Corps

In our first year at CGP, I think we were well-trained to be critical about the size and scope of museum collections. The more we talked about it, the more I started to personally resent collections. As much as I love encountering authentic artifacts in museum displays, I felt relieved to be an exhibits person, unconcerned with accessioning, deaccessioning, inventorying… or being responsible for freezing and picking carpet beetle moltings out of infested collection objects.

Still, as cautious as I am about collections, I participated in one of many revelatory brain-storming sessions this morning at the National Museum of the Marine Corps. You see, every year, representatives from Marine museums across the country gather for a conference addressing museum matters and the telling of Marine history. NMMC was the host of the “Command Museums” meeting this year, showcasing its three new galleries that opened on June 5. Staff from San Diego’s Marine Corps Recruit Depot Museum Historical Society, the Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation and Aviation Museum, San Diego, and the Parris Island Museum, Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina converged on Triangle, VA. So I had the great fortune to participate in a number of discussions in line with the current museum issues and social media themes reflected in our class conversations and at the 2009 MAAM conference.

Today’s first morning session? “Artifact donor relationship building.” The by-line: “What should we be doing (and not) to recognize, thank, and keep the dialogue alive with our artifact donors?”

I never really thought about it, but my rigid attitude toward collections and donations prevented me from realizing how important the act of donation is to the donors. This exchange can be special at any museum, but it’s especially critical for a Marine museum; veterans and their families feel a particular sense of ownership at NMMC, and by donating, they are contributing to the telling of their own story in a concrete way.

NMMC director Lin Ezell leads an all-hands brainstorming session with NMMC and Command Museum staff.

NMMC’s director, Lin Ezell, very correctly pointed out that museums treat monetary donors differently than artifact donors. If nothing else, the museum’s response to a successful donation is an opportunity to build a stronger relationship with the donor, the donor’s family and friends, and the Marine community.

Here’s the list of ideas for improving the museum’s relationship with its donors, generated by this morning’s brainstorm. I think it’s useful to keep these ideas (even as ideals) in mind, no matter the institution.

  • Inform donors when their donations are on display.
  • Be more personal – not federal and bureaucratic.
  • Write personal thank you notes; even let the donor know what hole in the collection their donation may fill.
  • Make a website with a list of new acquisitions and credits to their donors.
  • Treat the artifact donors more like financial donors, for example, by sending them cards or branded goodies (i.e. calendars).
  • Have a reception for artifact donors, giving them the opportunity to meet people of like minds.
  • Send them photos of their objects on installation.
  • Issue them attractive certificates of receipt.
  • Talk about new acquisitions on the blog!

I found this philosophical realignment too interesting not to share, and I think the donor relationship discussion is one that most museums don’t have. Stay tuned… I’ll be posting again soon to share my projects in the National Museum of the Marine Corps’ exhibits department!

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2 Responses to Better Serving Its Public – National Museum of the Marine Corps

  1. mariapmuses says:

    Thanks for posting this Emilie! This has so much to do with my current internship project, it’s not even funny. I’ve been busy contacting artifact donors who have their donated objects going into the upcoming exhibition. For some, my contacting them for their Woodstock stories is the first attempt at establishing a relationship with them post donation. I’ll definitely be keeping this in mind!

  2. Gretchen Sorin says:

    Museum work is about people as much as it is about artifacts. Even those of us who work in the exhibition end of the museum have to enjoy working with the public, afterall they are the audience for our work. Without donors there would be no great collections or exhibitions. Emilie, your internship has really taught you a valuable lesson. The suggestions you offer for dealing with donors are important for all of us to remember.

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