Innovating Preservation: Engaging Visitors at Historic Homes

Thea Brannon and Dr. Kelli Wood, Department of Art History, University of Tennessee, 1715 Volunteer Blvd, 213 Art + Architecture, Knoxville, TN 37996

With over 15,000 locations across the United States, historic house museums provide an important public service of not only preserving American heritage but also educating and entertaining children and adults alike. High operating costs and low attendance numbers, however, have threatened the stability of these cultural institutions and have caused many museum professionals to ask the important question, “How can we improve visitor engagement?”. This paper is a case study of historic house museums in Knoxville, Tennessee including the Mabry-Hazen House, Historic Ramsey House, and Historic Westwood. By using both qualitative and quantitative methods to assess attendance numbers, the success of curatorial display strategies, type and frequency of public events and tours, and distribution of electronic communications alongside perceived utility of web presence, this project will provide a comprehensive survey of how these key factors for visitor engagement are employed at local institutions. Secondly, I will use this data to propose strategies to increase visitor engagement by a particular demographic, university students and young professionals. While attendance numbers are relatively strong for children, who are encouraged to visit these historic centers during primary school, attendance decreases as children age into young adults and there are fewer structured opportunities for learning about local history and visiting historic homes. This study will compare attitudes and data about leisure time and museum attendance in this demographic with current practices in Knoxville in order to suggest concrete steps to increase engagement by young adults and professionals. Through improving visitor engagement and targeting the students of universities and those who have just entered the workforce, historic home museums can increase their attendance, revenue, and volunteer pool, and ensure their future by investing in this vital audience.

Additional Abstract Information

Presenter: Thea Brannon

Institution: University of Tennessee at Knoxville

Type: Poster

Subject: Art History & Visual Arts

Status: Approved

Time and Location

Session: Poster 1
Date/Time: Mon 1:30pm-2:30pm
Session Number: 2103