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Breathe, Exhale, Strategize

March 27, 2020

…and resist the temptation to go whole hog in a new direction that requires new resources.

This was a much-needed message shared on Wednesday’s webinar “How to Captivate, Connect, and Communicate with Your Audience During Coronavirus” hosted by Cuseum.

COVID-19 is hitting the cultural heritage world hard. We’ve heard from many heritage organizations in Oregon that they have already had to reduce staffing and/or completely put operations on hold. If you feel the past two weeks have been confusing and hard, you’re not alone. In addition to figuring out how to keep the people in our lives safe, cultural heritage organizations are also receiving rapid-fire emails with resources on how to keep their operations afloat. It’s hard to keep up, make sense of things, and know where to focus.

If your organization is fortunate enough to have the reserve to keep staff and volunteers engaged, or if you have had to make tough staffing decisions for the long-term health of the organization, this message is for you: —“Be easy on yourself. It’s only been two weeks.”

Wonder what your heritage organization should be doing now, whether you’ve had staff changes or not? The following advice is sourced from the “How to Captivate, Connect, Communicate” webinar:

  • If it doesn’t seem obvious, don’t worry about it. Right now, you’re probably still in the reaction phase to the COVID-19 crisis. Take care of your people and do what’s absolutely needed first. If you don’t know what to do, it’s likely those unknowns aren’t that important.  
  • Don’t overstretch limited resources. Lean on what you have and bring it forward. If you have online collections, or an education project that was already in the works and can be made digital– great. If not, now is probably not the time to launch a brand-new online education program or digital interface. Look at this downtime as an opportunity for your organization to step back and strengthen your core programs.
  • Return to your mission to prioritize work. Let your mission drive the programming and staffing decisions you make now and always. No organization with collections is ever done with collections care. Is there a scanning project that got put on hold a while ago? Can front desk volunteers assist a project that never got finished?
  • Building community within an organization takes effort. There may be a tendency right now to focus all your energy on public facing programs. The public can’t come to you, and you feel you have to get to them ASAP. But remember, with staff and volunteers now physically spread-out and working from home, it takes additional effort to keep everyone focused, communicate well, and keep your organizational culture alive. Because… 
  • Reopening, when the time comes, will take effort. Things will eventually return to a new normal. What needs to be in place so your organization is ready?

Oregon Heritage staff has been fielding resources fast and furiously the past couple of weeks. We have created a COVID-19 Resource page on our website to help consolidate these resources in one place. Please, be easy on yourselves right now. We’re all navigating this together.

Mary Richardson – Ontario's Founder

March 24, 2020

By Gary Fugate, Malheur Historical Project

Four prominent local entrepreneurs recognized the future city of Ontario’s potential, when it became known that a railroad was soon to arrive following the path of the Oregon Trail.  All four owned successful businesses: two in Malheur City and two in Baker City.  William Morfitt and Mary Collins Richardson operated general merchandise stores in Malheur City and James Virtue was a gold miner and banker in Baker City.  The fourth man, Daniel Smith was a lumberman cutting timber from the mountains surrounding Baker City.

While all four of Ontario’s founders were wealthy, Mary Richardson, just prior to her death at Baker City in 1932, was known as the richest woman in Eastern Oregon.  Mary was a vibrant French woman who created a financial empire in Malheur City and Eastern Oregon.  She married another merchant, Minas Gallatin Richardson in 1877 at Malheur City.  That same year Mary told the world that she loved her husband, but she would control her own financial destiny.  Miss Collins filed a Prenuptial Agreement with the Baker County Court stating that her possessions held before the marriage would be hers after the marriage.  This daring and almost unheard of action must have created quite a stir in 1870s Oregon.

Transcribed 1877 Prenuptial Agreement from Baker County Courthouse Records:

   List of personal property owned by and in the possession of Mary Collins before her intermarriage with M. G. Richardson and which property and the proceeds arising therefrom she intends to own, hold and possess as her separate property, free from the contract of her said husband and from any liability for any claims or demands against him to wit:

The present Store House now occupied by me at Malheur City Baker County Oregon. Also four other sevrall dwelling houses situated in said Malheur City. One north of the store room now occupied by me and on the south side of Main Street and other three situated on the West side of Main Street and North of said Store room. Said buildings being situated on unsurveyed public lands of the United States.

   Also the following list of goods, wares and merchandise owned by me and now in said Store room in said Malheur City Baker Co. Oregon. Also all notes, accounts, claims and demands due me and growing out of said business to wit:

250 rolls of wall paper 3 dozen mens shoes
1-1/2 gross cards 4 dozen mens shoes
½ dozen ladagoes 4-1/2 dozen cashemere shirts
½ dozen lines 5-1/2 dozen chevet shirts
1 dozen bridles 4-1/2 dozen flannel drawers & u. shirts
1 dozen belts 6 dozen cotton drawers & u. shirts
1 dozen croopers 8 dozen knit drawers & u. shirts
2 saddles 2 dozen suspenders
1 case tacks 12 dozen pair socks
6 dozen files 7 dozen pair overalls
2 dozen locks 3 dozen boys boots
2 dozen shovels 4 pieces towling
30 dozen carro fruit 3 dozen towels
12 dozen tumblers ½ dozen wool table covers
7 dozen pocket knives 1 dozen balworal skirts
3 dozen cases liquors 10 pieces Oregon flannel
3 bbls liquor 15 pieces woolen fancy goods
8 dozen pipes 6 pieces gingham
5 li ? hatchets 26 pieces calico
1 case sardines 18 pieces bleach brown muslin
3 cases mustard 8 pieces cashemere cloth
3 cases spice 3 pieces water proof
100 lbs nuts 3 pieces mesquito bos
200 lbs beans 2 pieces drilling
550 lbs tobacco 50 pieces velvet ribbon
6000 lbs flour 4 pieces Swiss muslin
1 gross yeast powders 1 dozen corsets
6 cases saleratus 2 pieces linners
3 cases lye 26 pieces lace
3 cases washing powders 3 pieces embroidery
10 cases candles 35 pieces battin
20 cases soap 20 pieces woolen yarn
800 cases coffee 14 dozen childrens woolen stockings
20 bbls sugar 12 dozen ladies cotton hose
2 bbls peaches 6 dozen buckskin gloves
3 bbls plums 12 gross fancy buttons
800 lbs salt 24 dozen Brooks thread
3 bbls apples 6 dozen linen thread
150 lbs lard 12 dozen linen hdkfs
1000 lbs bacon 1 dozen ladies fancy chemise
13 mats rice 24 dozen alpaca braid
3 cases ground coffee 6 dozen serving silk
8 chest tea 8 dozen port monies
4 boxes candy 6 dozen led pencils
500 # rope 2 dozen razors
500 # iron 4 dozen cowls
12 kegs nails 4 dozen memorandum books
4 kegs molasses 6 ream legal corp paper
26 cashemere suits 6 ledgers
1 dozen cashemere vests 2 dozen spectacles
72 pair cashemere pants 12 dozen perfumery
17 cashemere coats 6 dozen ladies shoes
10 over cashmere coats 4 dozen misses & childrens shoes
10 dozen mens boots 3 dozen slippers
2 dozen mens shoes 1 lot crockery
  1 lot tinware

State of Oregon

County of Baker

I Mary Collins being first duly sworn depose and say that the property contained in the foregoing list was owned and possessed by me before my marriage with M. G. Richardson my present husband and that it is my intentions to own and possess said described property as my separate property free from any debts or liabilities of my said husband.

Subscribed and sworn before me this 7th day of May 1877, W. J. Leatherwood Justice of the Peace.     Mary Richardson

The year 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the Women’s Vote. For the Centennial, Oregon Heritage is sharing stories of notable women in Oregon’s history. For ideas on how to research women’s history in your community, visit and refer to our Centennial Vote Planning Guide.

Main Streets Coming Together

March 18, 2020

By Sheri Stuart, Oregon Main Street Coordinator

In Heritage Programs, we have invested a lot of time and energy building our network of Main Street communities to support not only their own local downtown and traditional commercial neighborhoods, but each other as well. I sat in on a conference call this week with the staff and volunteers of Main Street programs coordinated by Kevin Teater, executive director of the Beaverton Downtown Association. It was an incredible example of how our communities are encouraging each other as we navigate through this time of uncertainty. And, as the state coordinator of Oregon Main Street, I was so proud of the leadership our executive directors and board members are demonstrating and the nimbleness of their programs to shift focus to assist their people.

One of the things that impressed me the most was the sharing of proactive and positive ways our communities are identifying ways to help the businesses and staff people in their downtowns. The call could easily have gone in a negative direction. But it didn’t. Instead, folks walked away with some specific ideas they could take back and implement in their communities. Perhaps this was due to Kevin leading off the call with people sharing something good or positive in their life right now. Some of the things are main street communities are putting in place include:

Ideas to support businesses:

  • Albany and Coos Bay will have loading zones for take-out food and delivery to support local restaurants.
  • City of Redmond is working on a Virtual First Friday where community members can support local businesses through on-line sales, gift card purchases, and delivery/door dash.
  • Downtown Oregon City Association has a 5-minute challenge encouraging folks to take 5 minutes to order from a local business rather than Amazon. They are already receiving positive comments.
  • Pendleton Downtown Association is working on a promotion for people getting take-out; take a photo and tag to be entered for a prize.
  • McMinnville Downtown Association is working on getting information on restaurant take-out and food delivery options especially geared to folks staying at hotels up on their website.
  • City of Redmond is creating a Friends of the Flock Facebook group – if you need help ask; if you can help, respond.

Supporting local workers:

  • Lebanon Downtown Association: coordinating servers who are out of work to volunteer to serve as food runners; able to capture the tips
  • Downtown Oregon City Association: working on a list of workers who are laid off; connect with people who can hire them for specific jobs/tasks; will be posting on their website

What businesses are doing:

  • Bookstores are hosting video chats.
  • Mimosa Paint Your Own Pottery in the Alberta District is putting together “to go” art kits.
  • Crossfit is offering on-line Zumba.
  • Senior Support Group in Hillsboro is offering themed group calls like “joke day” to help keep people from feeling isolated and spread a little happiness.

Organizational actions:

  • Canceling some fundraisers; delaying requests for sponsorships for activities happening later in the year
  • Pushing back membership drives and reaching out to let business owners know that this is a deliberate action
  • Private FaceBook groups where members can share one message which is then re-posted as a blog

We are sharing information on available resources and will continue updating ideas on our website.

Our communities have invested a lot of time, energy, and plain hard work in creating even more vibrant downtowns and traditional neighborhood districts that maintain the historic character and sense of place. This is a time we all need to come together to continue to support our historic downtowns and neighborhood districts in whatever way, and in whatever capacity, you are able.

Heritage Conference Attendee Spotlight

March 6, 2020

The Oregon Heritage Conference April 22-24 in Corvallis, is fast approaching! The conference is an opportunity for those involved in preserving Oregon’s heritage to gather together for three days of workshops, sessions, conversations, and more to help support their efforts and provide opportunities for conversation about larger heritage related issues. The conference also includes the annual Oregon Heritage Excellence Awards.

For a real-life example of how the Heritage Conference impacts individuals and organizations, we reached out to Kelly Cannon-Miller, executive director of the Deschutes Historical Museum and a regular Heritage Conference attendee, to get her take on previous conferences and why she plans to attend this one.

Q: Why do you attend the Oregon Heritage Conference?

A: I attend OHC to stay up to date on all the amazing heritage work happening around our state, as well as what challenges our profession is facing. I never cease to be amazed and inspired at the range of heritage projects happening at any given time, from preservation and cutting-edge research to exhibits and education. Not to mention, heritage professionals are fun to hang around with.

Q: Generally, what do you find most valuable about the conference?

A: Networking and learning who is who around the state. I’ve made connections at OHC that resulted in new partnerships as well as learning who to call when a unique problem or question comes up for the historical society that is outside our area of expertise. It’s good to be able to say “I don’t have the answer, but I know who does.” I also walk away with new ideas from the sessions, too.

Q: What advice would you give to someone considering attending for the first time?

A: Don’t be afraid of the work sessions and sit with someone from across the state from you. My natural inclination is to be an introvert and stick with someone I know. But you don’t know what great tip, life hack, contact, fundraising idea, or shared experience you’ll gain from a fellow history nerd you’ve only just met.

The Oregon Heritage Conference works closely with the host community to reflect the authenticity of the place and highlight local projects, successes, challenges, and issues. Conference content covers a variety of theories, techniques, and experiences used by practitioners working to preserve and develop Oregon’s history. To learn more about the schedule and registration, visit the conference webpage.

Not Just Another Staircase

February 24, 2020

Written by: Marcia Loney, Friends of the Grand Staircase

The Grand Staircase in La Grande just might be one of Oregon’s best kept secrets.  With five tiers and 178 steps, it rises some 40 feet up the hill on the north side of the Eastern Oregon University campus.  It was completed in 1929, just after Eastern Oregon Normal School opened its doors. Architect John V. Bennes found the Italian Renaissance Revival style a fitting choice for the area, as the dry climate reminded him of northern Italy.

Photo courtesy of EOU Pierce Library

Today you can find the Grand Staircase listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  One renowned architectural historian recently wrote that “No other place in the country can boast a monumental exterior staircase of its scale, complexity, and beauty.”  

From 1932 to 1971 graduating seniors and underclassmen gathered on the steps each spring for Evensong, a pageant inspired by a story from Greek mythology. The Queen of Knowledge and her court presided. They were chosen because of their academic performance and involvement in campus life. It is worth noting that, although the school has always been co-ed, it was women and only women who were honored for their achievements in this way. Pictured below are photos courtesy of EOU Pierce Library. The left photo is the 1952 Evensong Court, and the right photo is from the 1970 Evensong pageant.

The Grand Staircase is one of La Grande’s most cherished landmarks.  For decades it served as the pedestrian link between the town and campus. Sadly, because of deterioration over the years, it was closed to public use in 2004.  Efforts are underway to fund restoration.

Friends of the Grand Staircase is a group of passionate individuals dedicated to saving the “college steps” and preserving and honoring their history.  Partners in this effort include EOU, the EOU Foundation, Restore Oregon, SHPO, the City of La Grande, La Grande Main Street Downtown, the Eastern Oregon Visitors Association, and the Union County Chamber of Commerce. 

The Grand Staircase has potential as a cultural heritage tourism attraction and, as a result, could help boost the economy of La Grande, eastern Oregon, and Oregon as a whole. Even now, deteriorating and no longer opened to the public, it is an architectural treasure worth seeing. 

The year 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the Women’s Vote. Do you know of other important Oregon places associated with women’s history? These may be residences, business places, social gathering spaces, sites for suffrage and women’s rights efforts, burial sites, campuses, etc… Please provide all information and documentation you can to inform our Historic Sites Database.

Historic Objects Don’t Rehouse Themselves

February 5, 2020

Written by: Cam Amabile, Oregon Department of Forestry

Goodbye constant threat from water damage, hello room full of gleaming white boxes!

Thanks to Oregon Parks & Recreation & Oregon Heritage Commission, a 2019 Museum Grant provided the Tillamook Forest Center with much needed protection for a valuable collection of archives and objects. While piles of unfolded corrugated plastic boxes aren’t exactly glitzy or glamorous, these simple objects provide permanence for public resources on the some of the biggest fires in Oregon’s history, the first large-scale experimental forest replanting effort in the nation, and a rich history of Oregon’s relationship with the Tillamook State Forest. 

Those boxes didn’t fold themselves. Our historic objects, they didn’t mold themselves into foam.  All the documentation, it didn’t write itself. While the center’s Interpretation & Education team managed the archive project, two steadfast archive warriors made it all happen: volunteers, Kristy Lund & John Casteel.

Volunteer Kristy Lund rehouses objects

Many organizations fear putting valuable collections in the hands of their volunteers. Surely, it takes a lot of trust, knowledge, and training but it doesn’t need to be scary. Our volunteers came to us with two things that made them successful, dedication & the ability to pay attention to detail.  It didn’t hurt that Kristy had a little bit of experience too. Regardless of Kristy’s experience, both she and John possessed a moldable suite of soft skills making them ideal candidates to engage in this project. Their interest in working with archives and desire to preserve the objects we have, has now had a lasting impact on the center for the good of the public.

Goodbye constant threat from water damage, hello room full of gleaming white boxes!

Our staff took time to set them up upon arrival each day with measurable objectives along with training for any new tasks. We followed manuals readily available online focused on preparing volunteers for archival work and perfected them to meet the center’s needs. By providing these passionate and dedicated volunteers with support and trusting them, we were able to steamroll through tasks with precision, accuracy, and the ever-elusive efficiency.

Volunteers can sometimes be the best play-doh to mold into powerhouses for accomplishing specialized tasks. All it takes is willing staff to guide them, a little time for training at the outset, and supporting them when they come upon a crossroads. Without volunteers, the Tillamook Forest Center/Oregon Department of Forestry would have been unable to preserve these materials. Our volunteers are invaluable members of our team and invaluable assets to all Oregonians for preserving our collective history.

Calling for Sites that Tell Women’s History

January 14, 2020

By Jason Allen, Oregon State Historic Preservation Office

One hundred years ago today, Oregon became the 25th state to ratify the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, affirming the right of women to fully participate in our democracy. Because it would require another eight months to reach the necessary 36 states to adopt it formally into the United States Constitution, 2020 is a year full of significant dates marking the centenary.

Lord Schryver Conservancy, Salem

In this important anniversary year, one way we can draw attention to the historically unrecognized contributions of women in Oregon is to connect those accomplishments with the places where they happened and record those sites in the Oregon Statewide Inventory, the State’s collection of information on historically significant places.

As the Survey and Inventory Program Coordinator at Oregon Heritage, I’ve become familiar with quite a lot of the significant places across Oregon. For example, the Lord & Schryver Conservancy was the Northwest’s first woman owned and operated landscape architecture firm, and was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2014.

More importantly, I’ve learned of some properties that I hadn’t known anything about, such as the Patton Home for the Aged, a stately Georgian/Colonial Revival-style building in Portland that may have been the first retirement home in Oregon. Prior to the New Deal programs that assisted older people into their later years, support for the elderly was a charity cause.

Patton Home, Portland. Photo:Wikipedia

Among those charitable organizations was the Ladies’ Union Relief Society, established in 1887 and dedicated to assisting any who needed it. In 1889 land was donated for the purpose of establishing a home of the aged, which the Society accepted, and the first phase of construction of the Patton Home was built. Members of the Ladies’ Union Relief Society held all offices in the new organization, led by Mary A. Knox, who served as President of the Patton Home for many years. The building was expanded many times over the following decades, initially serving as a retirement home for vulnerable, elderly women, but ultimately opening to both men and women. The building is now low-income housing, but stands as a testament to the efforts of Mary Knox and the other women of the Society to provide for women in their later years.

Maybe most importantly, I’ve also learned about some places that I thought I knew, but was introduced to connections that were wholly new to me. One such property is Lincoln Hall on the Portland State University campus in downtown Portland. I knew that this building had started its life in 1911 as Lincoln High School, later becoming the first building occupied by the University on its opening on the South Park Blocks in 1953. What I learned, however, was that the building was also central to the early development of Portland’s now thriving independent film scene.

In the early 1960s, a student group called the Portland State Film Committee began screening films in the basement of Lincoln Hall. The group’s leader was Brooke Jacobson, then an undergraduate student. Brooke went on to a lifetime of achievements in the advancement of independent, local filmmaking, including the founding of the Northwest Media Project, co-founding the Northwest Film Center, and the securing of critical grants early in the history of both, serving on a committee of the National Endowment for the Arts that sought to identify resources for independent filmmakers, earned a PhD from USC, and returned to PSU to teach film. Through her efforts, future artists like Bill Plympton, Matt Groening, Gus Van Sant, and others were exposed to independent film through their participation in screenings held in Lincoln Hall. Ms. Jacobson is recognized as one of the leading early drivers behind independent film in Portland, Oregon, and the Pacific Northwest, and it all began in the basement, Room 75, and the auditorium at Lincoln Hall.

My work here at Oregon Heritage gives me the great opportunity to see many places in Oregon, to learn about their role in history, and to share them with others. On this 100th anniversary of Oregon’s acknowledgment of the right of women to vote, let us all take a moment to acknowledge the great achievements of Oregon’s women, sung and unsung, and of those everywhere whose contributions stand far above the recognition they’ve received.

Do you know of other important Oregon places associated with women’s history? These may be residences, business places, social gathering spaces, sites for suffrage and women’s rights efforts, burial sites, campuses, etc… Please provide all information and documentation you can to inform our Historic Sites Database.

Board Development Without a Strategic Planning Retreat

December 30, 2019

By Darin Rutledge, Executive Director, Klamath Falls Downtown Association

Inspired by this past spring’s Oregon Heritage Summit, Klamath Falls Downtown Association wanted to find a way to take our organization’s board engagement to the next level. One of the many takeaways from the summit – which perfectly delivered on its theme of “The Culture of Board Engagement” – was the concept of having more regular discussions about high level organizational topics. Certainly, those discussions could take place in a multi-day, offsite strategic planning retreat, but we wanted to get to work now. We identified a set of individual activities that could be completed in a relatively short amount of time, and decided to use our board meetings! I know what you’re thinking … board meetings can already be long and tedious. That is true, and it was true for us as well. But we solved that too!

Here’s how we adapted our regular board meeting agenda to accommodate:

  • We eliminated ex-officio directors’ round robin reports from the agenda. Ex-officios now request agenda time if they have topical and timely updates to deliver;
  • We removed committee reports from the agenda. Our committee chairs are now responsible for written monthly reports to be included in the agenda packet; and
  • We added 15 minutes at the end of each meeting for “board development time”

For each board meeting, we pick a board development topic designed to achieve two primary purposes: First, to provide learning opportunities for those who could benefit from discussing common nonprofit management concepts; and second, to provide an open and candid opportunity to discuss our organization’s performance in certain areas.

The changes to the meeting structure and the addition of board development to our agenda has created positive results in our organization:

  • Board meetings on average are approximately 30 minutes SHORTER than before;
  • Our board has rapidly checked off a couple areas where we perform at an adequate level, and identified some areas where we have some work to do; and
  • We have provided a monthly opportunity for our board to discuss high-level organizational topics above and beyond the transactional decision making that previously dominated the agenda.

One of our goals is to make sure our board is on the same page in terms of how the organization operates. Building a culture of board engagement is not something that can happen overnight or even in the few short months since we’ve deployed these tools, but we’re already benefiting from the effort through a more unified board voice and through open discussion of high-level topics that typically don’t get attention until the strategic planning process rolls around.

Following are some keys to success if you want to give it a shot:

  • Make this board development time a priority. It shouldn’t be the first thing that is cut if the agenda runs long.
  • Don’t approach it as “training.” Many nonprofits have a disparity between the experience of their staff and volunteer board members. The value in this process is in making sure everyone has an equal voice.
  • Follow up. If you identify the need for an immediate change, add it to a future board agenda.
  • Coordinating topics and facilitating the discussion require some administrative time, but it is well worth it. A good place to start if you’d like to test the waters without having to invest too much is “Board Management: 10 minute exercises to get your board working!” from the Center for Nonprofit Stewardship.

Regardless of the size, maturity and structure of your nonprofit, this is a great way to keep these important topics front and center and to create some more value from your board meetings!

History: Not as Old as You Think

December 16, 2019

By Jeremy Ebersole, University of Oregon Graduate Student in Historic Preservation

Preservationists are often beleaguered by an impression that we are stuck in the past, a fact not helped by common understandings of what is and is not historic.  We generally agree that George Washington’s Mount Vernon is historic.  So too with Portland’s 1869 Pioneer Courthouse.  But what about a motel from the 1930s? Or a movie theater with bright 20th century neon? 

The National Park Service, which manages the National Register of Historic Places, the country’s official list of historic places around which most other preservation programs are built, sets the cutoff at 50 years.  The relevance of this limit is hotly debated, however, and the National Register itself allows newer properties to be listed if they have “exceptional importance” (the Portland Building, for example, was listed when it was only 29 years old). 

As a recent Vermonter, my decision to come to Oregon for historic preservation graduate studies bewilders many, concerned that I’d leave the land of “real history” for a place where everything is relatively new.  Despite not having anything from the Revolutionary War, Oregon has a wealth of buildings both historic and important, and I’m proud to be studying here.

As I interned with Oregon Heritage this past summer, there have been numerous opportunities to support these “nontraditional” resources.  The Oregon Main Streets Network makes a huge difference in our communities, including The Dalles, where the Main Street organization is working closely with the new National Neon Sign Museum to promote the museum and display some of its collection around town.  In St. Helens, the Columbia Theatre was the recipient of an Oregon Main Street Revitalization Grant, which will help replace, in kind, the marquee and neon on this c.1920s shrine to entertainment. 

I’ve also been privileged to complete a survey of commercial buildings along Hwy 101 in Lincoln City.  A benefit provided by Oregon Heritage to the new Main Street community, this survey uncovered a number of architectural gems in a place best known for its coastline.  While many properties are from the mid-century or have been altered over the years and may not appear “historic,” meaningful history exists nonetheless.  The survey and report will benefit the city by calling out the resources that exist within it and recommending future actions to take advantage of those resources, many of which are closely related to auto age tourism, particularly old motor courts.  It will also draw attention to the fact that history doesn’t need to be all federal buildings and important people’s homes.  It can be restaurants and theaters and candy stores as well.

Jeremy Ebersole worked as State Historic Preservation Office summer staff during 2019. He is a graduate student at University of Oregon studying historic preservation.

Reflections on Welcoming More Visitors with the Museums for All Program

December 3, 2019

By Ruth Hyde, Membership and Visitor Services Manager, Museum of Natural and Cultural History

In the summer of 2015, the Museum of Natural and Cultural History in Eugene was delighted to join the Institute of Museum and Library Service’s Museums for All program and offer reduced admission to Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card holders, those receiving food assistance. Museums for All is a national, branded access program that encourages individuals of all backgrounds to visit museums regularly and build lifelong museum habits. Setting our Museums for All admission rates at $1 for individuals and $5 for families—a significant discount from our already affordable general admission rates of $6 and $12—we looked forward to welcoming more visitors for whom cost had been a barrier to the museum.  

Are people taking advantage of the program? Absolutely! And they are doing so in greater numbers each year.

But we saw a slow and sporadic response at the outset. Upon initial launch, we translated the official Museums for All (MfA) program language into Spanish and produced a bilingual poster for distribution to low-income serving sites around Eugene and Springfield. However, describing the program in both Spanish and English made for a text-heavy poster that likely discouraged readership, and there was no takeaway component that allowed people to keep the information with them and share it with their families. In addition, since the MfA program language was market-tested on a national scale, it missed certain elements that would speak more directly to local audiences—using “EBT card” instead of “Oregon Trail card,” for example, and promoting the nationwide initiative rather than our specific museum and all it has to offer.   

This strategy translated in very sporadic use of program and fairly uneven staff buy-in for the first year. Given few transactions using the discount, front-end staff were forgetting the discount process, leading to awkward conversations at admissions. We eventually recognized that simply having this discount was not the same as being welcoming.

Our museum wanted to be welcoming. So we realigned our approach.

Based on feedback from front-end staff, we learned that referring to an “EBT card” or “SNAP benefits” wasn’t always effective in communicating with visitors at the admission desk; most MfA program constituents were referring to their “Oregon Trail” card. We updated our marketing language to reflect this, and also shifted our strategy from promoting MfA as a standalone program that was primarily identified by its national brand. Instead, we began consistently incorporating our new, locally-tailored program language, adding a line about reduced admission for Oregon Trail cardholders to the standard admission language appearing across all of our marketing materials. This allowed our exhibits and programs to be the front-and-center message while simultaneously communicating the MfA benefit—a strategy that has proven much more engaging to the program’s target audiences.

Although MfA, as an initiative of the Association of Children’s Museums and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, is designed to target families, we are seeing equal numbers of young adults and seniors use the discount—an ideal outcome since our museum offers interactive experiences for all ages. The program has translated much better to a broad age demographic than we may have intended, but we are pleased with the result!

What have I learned? My biggest take-away is that being successful with this type of program takes time, ongoing relationships, and an all-in approach from public-serving staff, communications staff, volunteer exhibit hall interpreters, and program coordinators. With data that show us that simply offering free admission doesn’t significantly attract a more income-diverse audience, I’ve learned how critical is the need to refine our strategies and more effectively welcome underserved communities. We look forward to continuing with this program and inviting our whole community to connect with our museum.

*Museums for All is a national, branded access program that encourages individuals of all backgrounds to visit museums regularly and build lifelong museum habits. It is open to participation by any type of museum — including art, history, natural history/anthropology, and general museums, children’s museums, science centers, planetariums, nature centers, historic houses/sites, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, and arboretums. Learn more on the Museums for All website.