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From Construction Site to Museum: Managing the Opening Process (American Association of Museums 2009)


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Solutions to the challenges of museum building projects, such as determining an opening date, managing staff and board expectations, establishing and managing priorities, and funding. Other topics include getting off on the right foot, dealing with uncertainty, handling delays and cost overruns, and opening with grace.

Chaired by:
Judy Gradwohl, Associate Director for Public Programs, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institition, Washington, DC
Elaine Heumann Gurian, Sr. Museum Consultant, Arlington, VA
James Volkert, Exhibition Associate, Exhibition Associates, Conway, AR
Dana Allen-Greil, Project Manager, New Media, National Museum of American History, Washington, DC
Susan Leidy, Deputy Director, Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, NH

Endorsed by:
AAM Museum Management Committee
AAM National Association for Museum Exhibition (NAME)
AAM Public Relations and Marketing Committee
AAM Development and Membership Committee
AAM Museum Association Security Committee

From Construction Site to Museum: Managing the Opening Process (American Association of Museums 2009)

  1. 1. From Construction Site to Museum: Managing the Opening Process
  2. 2. From Construction Site to Museum: Managing the Opening Process •Judy Gradwohl, Associate Director for Public Programs, National Museum of American History •James Volkert, Principal, Exhibition Associates •Dana Allen-Greil, New Media Project Manager, National Museum of American History •Susan Leidy, Deputy Director, Currier Museum of Art •Elaine Gurian, Senior Consultant, Principal, Elaine Heumann Gurian LLC
  3. 3. James Volkert Principal Exhibition Associates
  4. 4. So, you’re now responsible to get the project completed?
  5. 5. Create a transition team • Draw from throughout the museum • Make the team “dissolvable”
  6. 6. The architects don’t do all the work • List your tasks • Learn to read plans • Learn their language
  7. 7. Its not business as usual • The systems you have may not be adequate • Develop a Day One list • Establish a comprehensive schedule • Link schedules and budgets by task, not departments
  8. 8. The systems you have may not be adequate • You are set up to run a museum, not build a project • Fix the things that don’t work
  9. 9. Develop a Day One list
  10. 10. Establish a comprehensive schedule
  11. 11. Link schedules and budgets by task, not departments
  12. 12. Be courageous in decision-making • Push decisions down • Make decisions public • Document the decisions • Change the process if it • Make the process transparent doesn’t work
  13. 13. Decision Review Action Committee (DRAC) Mall Action Committee (MAC)
  14. 14. “I could not possibly do anything else” • I’m already working at 110%
  15. 15. Establish the rhythm of the work
  16. 16. How can you tell when things are not going well?
  17. 17. “You can’t measure my creative process…”
  18. 18. The unimagined will happen
  19. 19. Judy Gradwohl Associate Director for Public Programs National Museum of American History
  20. 20. Will you make it? • Opening date • Budget • Scope of work
  21. 21. Set priorities • Exhibitions • Visitor and staff services and amenities • Opening events and programs
  22. 22. FULL CRITICAL LIMITED Funded: $0 Funded: $X,059,000* Funded: $X48,000 Shortfall: $XXX,000 Exhibitions: Shortfall: $XXX,000 • Star-Spangled Banner Public Spaces and Amenities: • Artifact Walls and Landmark Objects Exhibitions: • Wayfinding signs outside central core • Price of Freedom • Customer service training for front-line staff • Timeline • First Ladies & The American • Family Guide for print and Web Presidency • Welcome Center staffing Public Spaces and Amenities: • Music, Sports, and Entertainment • Museum fully furnished • Reprinting wayfinding signs • Invention At Play • Security check and queuing furniture • Furniture for Board Room and • America on the Move • Outdoor signs and banners Director’s suite • Julia Child’s Kitchen • Visitor flow planning • Bike rack • Within These Walls • Carmichael Auditorium • Hands On Science Center • Reception Suite carpet Opening Events and Outreach: • Lighting a Revolution Opening Events and Outreach: • Star-Spangled Banner books • Power Machinery Hall • Design and printing of press materials • Video news release • Lunch Boxes • Ad buys • White House luncheon • Communities in a Changing Nation • Satellite and radio media tours • Behring Dinner • Gunboat Philadelphia • Public Relations assistance • Web promotion for reopening • Dolls’ House • Staff and volunteer preview • SI Libraries Gallery • Marketing for special events OPTIONAL EVENTS • Science in American Life • Tourism and hospitality industry previews Shortfall: $238,000 • Deinstall Treasures • Dedication ceremony Public Spaces and Amenities: • Gala for major donors • Exterior decoration and lighting • Welcome Center • Congressional preview event • Evening events for public opening • LeFrak Lobby to Carmichael • Public opening event • Marketing for reopening Auditorium • Additional donor events • Museum stores and food service • Event planners • Furniture (minimal amount) • Conservation and graphics support • Wayfinding signs within central core • Reopening contingency funds • Transition zones Opening Events and Outreach: • B-roll taping
  23. 23. Manage your money and time • Cut—don’t add • Count everybody’s pennies • If something isn’t working reconsider its value
  24. 24. Manage your expectations
  25. 25. Prepare to lower your expectations • Cut all extraneous activity • Ask if it needs to be ready on opening day • Any testing is better than none
  26. 26. Leave room to celebrate • Recognize staff as well as donors • Open with a splash
  27. 27. Dana Allen-Greil New Media Project Manager National Museum of American History
  28. 28. Tell everyone everything • Good and bad news • Meetings: short, organized, often • Different styles of learning
  29. 29. Be kind to your staff • Take the internal climate seriously • Listen to grumbling • Don’t allow a climate of blame to develop
  30. 30. Work together • Praise, respect each other • Engage cross-departmentally • Celebrate milestones
  31. 31. Manage expectations • Staff • Board/Administration • Public
  32. 32. Communicate budget, schedule
  33. 33. Stay inside the message box
  34. 34. Experiment with new media
  35. 35. Susan Leidy Deputy Director Currier Museum of Art
  36. 36. Expansion completed Nov. 2007; Reopened March 2008 • 33,000 square feet • $21.4 million cost, $14.5 million construction • Ann Beha Architects, Boston, MA • Harvey Construction Company, Bedford, NH
  37. 37. Currier Museum of Art 43
  38. 38. Currier Museum of Art 44
  39. 39. What we did well 1. Strategic Planning process identified what facility improvements were needed: • Galleries / exhibition space • Visitor amenities • Education / program space
  40. 40. What we did well 2. Cross-departmental planning for re-opening events
  41. 41. What we did well 3. Grant-enabled re-branding
  42. 42. What we did well 4. Mandatory orientation to the building, branding, amenities, collections, and membership for all staff and volunteers
  43. 43. What we didn’t do as well 1. Save staff time and money for additional furnishings, signs, unanticipated changes, and additions post-construction
  44. 44. What we didn’t do as well 2. Address the inevitable let-down after the excitement of re-opening
  45. 45. Elaine Gurian Senior Consultant, Principal Elaine Heumann Gurian LLC
  46. 46. From Construction Site to Museum: Managing the Opening Process Questions? Ideas?