The nuts and bolts of managing and preserving a historic place were part of a fascinating discussion prior to last weekend’s Landmarks Illinois presentation of the annual Driehaus Foundation Awards. The subjects participants touched on were familiar to all preservationists—fund raising, attracting visitors, and what they might do if a big company offered an equally big check, with a slight catch.
Glessner House Museum’s executive director William Tyre suggested that fund raising is generally easier for obvious needs (like a physical addition or renovation), but less so for day-to-day operating expenses. To generate needed revenue, the museum has resorted to some nontraditional ideas.
“We host meetings, wedding receptions to raise awareness—and revenue,” Tyre said. “It’s a historic site so people will visit one time and check it off their list. The challenge is to keep them coming back, so we’re constantly trying to teach them something new about the past through the museum.”
Tyre said Glessner House Museum isn’t afraid to try new things. They offer haunted house tours and Edgar Allen Poe readings, both of which bring in many new visitors.
“Some of them come back again, just to see the Glessner House,” he said.
Bishop Hill Heritage Association administrator Todd DeDecker said even getting people to visit the historic property is sometimes challenging, because it takes some doing to get to there. That hasn’t stopped Swedish visitors—and others from around the country and around the world. DeDecker joked that with a population of 130, the town residents of Bishop Hill enjoy a museum culture like no other place in Illinois or perhaps the entire country. That’s because there are six museums in the town.
Rounding out the panel was the Fuller Dome Home representative Thad Heckman, who said the Bucky Dome faces similar challenges as his peers. They’re always trying new ways to attract both funds and visitors, he said.
Moderator and Preservation Illinois Board president Will Tippens asked the panel members what they’d do if a big corporation offered millions of dollars in a lump donation, but with the stipulation that it came with naming rights to the location.
The panel members quickly offered up that they’d be happy to accept the money, and that most people would continue calling the site by its historic name (like Sears instead of Willis), but that ultimately, it would be a board of directors decision.