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  • Carolynne Harris

SO - you want to build a museum?

Turning your dreams into everything you've imagined...

Building a Museum

You will need to figure out your legal structure, and there are lots of resources on the American Alliance of Museum's website. There provide Governance and Support Organizations Resources and Mission and Institutional Planning Resources, as well. You probably know you need to have a designer of some sort (Architect? Master Planner? Exhibit Designer?) to help you figure out the whether you need a new structure, or can repurpose a building.

You probably have an idea of what your basic theme will be, based on your available collection (objects, media or intellectual property.) Or maybe your museum idea is driven by an opportunity to bring an experience or economic development to your community.

If you haven’t worked in the museum or visitor attraction industry before, you are what I like to call a “civic entrepreneur” – you are undergoing a massive project (no matter how big or small) that needs careful planning, a creative team and attention to details you never could have imagined. Even if you have worked in this industry, but haven’t developed a new facility, or now you are expanding or renovating, you need purposeful organization & planning and a team to design & execute to make your dreams a reality.

But you also need – a VISION -- for what your visitors will experience, what the take-aways are, the intrinsic and real value of that experience, and for your capacity to operate it.

Having a good story and perhaps a great collection gets you halfway there. Understanding the breadth and depth of information and engagement that will be successful for your experience, and how to execute your vision gets you three-quarters of the way there. You also have to develop realistic operation plans and financial models that are trued up to a competitive environment.

Where to Start

Right here! Before you start to entertain different architects, consider locations or issue proclamations on why the world needs your institution...start talking with someone who can help you outline exactly what is viable for you and your community. Someone who can discuss the pros and cons of different strategies and who are the best partners for you. You will be dependent on these partners for the next several years...not to mention spending a lot of hard-raised money on them, as well.

So begin by bringing in someone who can help be a matchmaker, as well as help flesh out your vision. A consultant can help you formulate a 'master plan' that articulates the key content experiences, incorporates 'must-have' experiences or artifacts, and all the 'back of house' needs for your new attraction. Then, along with a designer, basic space needs and probable costs are driven by the desired visitor experiences and outcomes. And these are based on YOUR organizational realities, instead of starting with design, and backfilling the key experience and financial drivers.

A planning consultant can be your partner in crime, your sidekick and your consigliere who helps you manage the entire process, advises on the visitor perspective, keeps things on track and streamlines communication – even helping you cultivate board members, funders or write grants. Consultants will have their finger on the pulse of everything from competition in the market to visitor outcomes to ticketing systems to maintenance issues to realistic budgets to schedules to hot new exhibit strategies and more. This can help you plan an experience and institution that is appropriately sized, meets revenue and attendance projections and is a place where visitors leave saying, “That was fantastic!”

Developing a new museum is a grueling process full of stress and 1000 moving parts…sprinkled with big moments of inspiration and gratification.

Dream big! And let your consultant keep your dreams alive. Contact CHC today to see what we can do for you.

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