Iowa Museum Association Focuses on Partnerships

Strategy: Collaborate in New Ways, Enhance Your Product

Type of attraction: Museum/Historic Site

Summary: With Iowa’s museums facing the same challenges as others across the country during the economic downturn – attracting visitors, coping with budget cuts and even reducing staff.

With Iowa’s museums facing the same challenges as others across the country during the economic downturn – attracting visitors, coping with budget cuts and even reducing staff – the Iowa Museum Association has responded with a variety of creative programs to address every aspect of museums’ operations.

In 2010 the association reached out to potential visitors by emphasizing the one-of-a-kind nature of the state’s museums, and “Iowa’s Treasures” was the result. “We asked every museum to pick one thing from their collection that is not seen very often and to put it on display,” says Cyndi Sweet, executive director.

Museums rallied behind the idea, creating a statewide treasure hunt that includes an amazing assortment of artifacts—including the podium that President Obama used at every appearance in Iowa during the 2007-2008 presidential campaign, the state’s largest sculpted brick mural (a 19 x 29 foot depiction of the history of Belle Plaine), a violin that includes a carving of the head of Czechoslovakia’s first president, a rare aircraft called the Sky Pup, a 1913 electric car and even the puppets that appeared in “The Sound of Music.”

To get the word out about the treasures, the association partnered with Iowan Magazine for a special section in the May/June 2010 issue. “Our partnership with the magazine began in 2007, with the 2010 issue focusing on the ‘treasures,’” Sweet says. “The section included a listing for each museum with a picture and description of their treasure and contact information. Museums could also purchase display ads at a reduced rate.”

The magazine has also become an important sponsor by underwriting improvements to the association’s website. The site now includes a link to Iowan Magazine’s special museum section so potential visitors can download a directory and map of museums.

“The key thing when developing partnerships is to understand what both organizations need and develop a partnership that benefits both organizations,” Sweet says.

Following that strategy, Sweet has built many other partnerships, including organizing an Intern Job Fair in 2009. “Most educational programs require internships, and museums are happy to provide those internship experiences, but students don’t always realize the variety of jobs performed in museums - marketing, website design, collections management, administration, etc.,” Sweet says. “We targeted college students throughout Iowa and invited students, faculty advisors and department heads to attend. Museums representatives were on hand to meet students and talk about internship projects they had available, and students went from table to table to explore all of the opportunities.”

In 2010, Sweet plans to hold the event at the beginning of the association’s annual conference. Students will be invited to come to intern job fair and also attend the conference’s opening reception – an important networking opportunity - at no charge.

The conference theme will be timely – focusing on building community partnerships. “Iowa has hundreds of small historical societies and museums and most survive on a shoestring,” Sweet says. “The most successful are those that form community partnerships, reaching out to their Main Street, tourism and chamber organizations, local schools, clubs, and others.”

For more information, visit www.iowamuseums.org; contact Cyndi Sweet, executive director, imasweet@cfu.net; 319-239-2236.