Connecting to Collections Care Online Community

Make Guests Care- Balancing Museum Rental?

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    • #139488
      Madelyn Rzadko


      I am the curator of a very large, self-sustained historic house museum that also serves as an event rental space. In the past few years, we have done a lot to create a better balance between the museum side and the event rental side, but the bottom line will always be that event rental brings in the majority of our funding. The events that make touring/interpretation/collections care harder are the only reasons we are open.

      Like many museums, we make it work, and I do think we’re doing a better job at having these separate areas enhance one another, rather than detract. BUT, we’ve noticed lately that guests are causing more damage and caring less about it. They move furniture, break things, refuse to listen to no food/drink signs… ex: there are a pair of unlined curtains that a lot of people touch so they are very worn. A table used to be in front of them, so I moved it back and put a don’t touch sign, but a woman on a tour (not at an event) reached beyond the table, put her hands in one of the holes and ripped them completely (luckily I wasn’t there 🙂 ). She told a volunteer that we needed new ones anyways and she wanted to see through the curtains.

      So, I’ve put up more signs about collections (either their value or about their condition), and I’m considering putting up signs in the bathroom stalls with fun facts about our history, preservation and expenses. But I’m looking for more advice on what I can do to make people understand that our collection items are important and basically not replaceable… maybe because we have events, we feel more like a “home” than a “museum,” but still, I wouldn’t purposely break something in someone’s home. Thoughts?

    • #139489
      Jeannie Whited

      It wouldn’t help much for events, but if your tours are with a guide, the guide can include information about collections care. Things like why not to touch curtains (or anything else) – showing an example of touched v. untouched can be very dramatic and leave an impression with people. People ignore signs, that seems to be what signs are for. You have to have them to say you tried, but that’s all they’re good for.

      I’d also consider putting out an exhibit of something (like your curtains) that was broken by visitors. “Why is this broken?” and explain why, and why it’s important to not touch. Show something with insect damage or food stains, and use your exhibit to explain why no food/drink is important.

      Bathroom signs are good – people at least read them!

      But fundamentally, the only effective means I’ve seen to stop people from touching are distance, solid barriers, and staff/volunteers a distant third.

    • #139495
      Erin Kraus

      Hello Ms. Rzadko,

      Thank you for contacting us. It is very unfortunate that your guests aren’t taking care of your spaces.

      I agree that in the case of tours at least, one of the first things stated by the guide should be about appropriate behavior, like no touching. For events you could try increased staff/volunteer presence. They can intervene if they see harm being done and may even deter carelessness by the guests just by being there and watchful.

      You may consider creating a simple contract that details what you expect from your event client, that way expectations are known from the beginning. Address things like moving furniture, food/drink, etc.

      You could make an event policy addressing these things that could be sent out to guests beforehand or have the information in a pamphlet that guests can grab when they arrive that tells a little about the venue and the preservation concerns.

      Connecting to Collections Care has two webinars about his topic:

      Protecting Collections During Special Events

      Protecting Collections During Special Events

      Caring for Collections During Seasonal Special Events

      Seasonal Affective Disorder: Caring for Collections During Seasonal Special Events

      This was in the resource list of the first webinar and I found it to be particularly detailed.

      Please let me know if you have any further questions,

      Erin Kraus

    • #139545

      From my past experiences, the rental contract should not be taken lightly and should be fully enforced. Do you require a damage deposit from renters? Include this in their rental contract and make the renter walk through the site with you prior to the event and prior to signing the rental contract. If the deposit is significant enough, it helps the renter police themselves more. Hold them accountable to it for the cost of wages and supplies to clean food and drink messes, extra cleaning, or conservation or replacement services required. Additionally, charge them wages for a staff member to be on site during the rental. Consider plexiglas barriers or walls in doorways so people can see through, but not touch, items outside of the rental space. In the spaces that are available for rental, remove artifacts and replace them with props. If someone on a tour damages something, bill them for it. It’s fine to let people know about this policy when they pay for entrance.

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