“Ideas and Creativity Blossom in Salt Lake City:”An SBTHP staffer’s experience of the 2012 AASLH conference.

by Brittany Avila

Downtown Salt Lake City at night. Photo by Brittany Avila.

The American Association of State and Local History conference in Salt Lake City from October 3-7, 2012 was the first conference I’ve attended… EVER… and let me begin by saying how grateful I am that I had this wonderful opportunity. As a new team member of the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation this trip was very exciting and more than I ever expected for my position. There was an abundance of information and every panel I attended provided me with something I didn’t know before or a source of inspiration for new ideas!

The interior of the McCune Mansion, an event venue featured on the conference’s opening night. Photo by Brittany Avila.

The first panel I attended, “Small Museums, Big Impact”, really set the bar for the rest of the conference. This panel showed how a single exhibit or renovation of a museum can bring the community together and have an impact that reaches beyond what they are showcasing. One of the presenters was the Executive Director of the Vacaville Museum in Solano County, CA; this museum is in a small town that covers a large county, but has difficulty finding visitors since they don’t get many tourists in the area. Because they depend on their community for support, they came up with an exhibit, “Out of Africa,” that featured the African American heritage of their community, but also extended to other members of the community by reaching out and asking for stories or pictures of peoples’ experiences in Africa that would be displayed in the exhibit. The project was a success because the community became involved, and therefore highly supportive of the project, and invited friends and family from afar to come see their work with the museum. SBTHP has always made reaching out to the community a priority. This panel gave me some new tips on how to implement community involvement further in our upcoming exhibits, including our 50th Anniversary Memories Project. Hint, hint, here’s how you can be involved in that!

The Tabernacle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Photo by Brittany Avila.

Another fantastic panel was “Are Your Docents Dwindling, Dull or Dying?” where the focus was primarily how to keep your docent program exciting and invigorating enough to keep current docents and entice new ones. Ideas mentioned that SBTHP already implements are field trips to other historic sites (we take our docents up to the Santa Inés Mission Mills and La Purísima Mission periodically) and hold docent gatherings like our annual December potluck. But a fresh idea included the initiation of breaking down docent tours to a series of 90-second sound bytes of each room for younger audiences, such as our school tours. With this new structure, we would be sure to captivate the attention of kids throughout the entire tour and our docents can be more involved in exactly what type of information they want to present for each room.

The panel also addressed docents who are highly valued and have been very involved in the past, but are no longer capable of being as involved. They presented a program called GEMS (Guide Emeritus) in which to place these individuals, where they can still be involved by mentoring new docents and being available as a source of information, but will no longer be expected to carry out the task of tours. Our Education Director Karen Anderson was highly supportive of this idea and plans to implement it at SBTHP.

Stained glass window in the Catholic Cathedral of Salt Lake City. Photo by Brittany Avila.

Amongst the many panels I attended, I also had the pleasure of attending the Director’s Luncheon in place of our Executive Director, Jerry Jackman, which proved to be more than just networking and eating. The other directors and I began discussing sources through social media to promote our sites and organizations and I became well informed that Facebook and Twitter were not the “end alls” of the social media world! SBTHP already maintains several social media accounts including Pinterest, Flickr  and History Pin, but from this luncheon we were given the idea to begin an Instagram account and how to promote our site more through Pinterest by posting pictures of our beautiful wedding facilities and incorporating Spanish colonial recipes to advertise better on the Pinterest’s two most popular categories (weddings/food). I was also notified of a few new up and coming sites that other museums are using, like Meetup.com, which is a site that posts local meet ups on various topics open to the public to go to at a specific location and Cashmob.com, which is still making its way to SB but promotes local establishments by telling viewers to go to a different local business each day.

Although there is always room for improvement, let me state that listening to the way other museums are run really showed me how many things we are already implementing and doing right at SBTHP. The conference opened my eyes to many things, but also made me EXTREMELY proud to represent El Presidio SHP, Casa de la Guerra, and our successful organization, and all of the hard work our staff puts into it!

 Brittany Avila is the office manager at the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation.

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