By Gil Jordan’s math, three major museums in a town of only 20,000 people is “very unusual.”
Here’s another math question to ponder: How many of those 20,000 people, along with the rest of the Flathead Valley’s residents, know that Kalispell has three museums?
Jordan, the executive director of the Museum at Central School, believes more people are becoming aware of the museums, as both cultural institutions and community gathering spots. His museum’s paying membership has doubled from 400 six years ago to 800 today.
Jordan attributes a portion of the growth to a greater focus on collaborative marketing between his museum and Kalispell’s other two museums: the Hockaday Museum of Art and the Conrad Mansion Museum.
Over the past several years, museum directors have increasingly banded together to promote their institutions. Combining their resources has opened up new advertising doors and created a greater sense of harmony between three pillars of the Flathead arts community.
“We realized we’re not competing,” Jordan said. “We’re different than each other and we’ve found that working together is mutually beneficial.”
In the past, purchasing a full-page advertisement in a publication would have been all but impossible with the Museum at Central School’s budget, Jordan said. But together, the three museums can better afford it.
In a marketing campaign branded as “Kalispell Culture,” each individual museum offers its own tagline within a prominently displayed advertisement. People are alerted to the fact that Kalispell has three museums, while also finding out specific information about each institution.
“Most people who want to see one of us would be interested in seeing all three of us,” Jordan said.
Liz Moss, director of the Hockaday, said from her experience working at museums – most recently in Virginia – it is rare for a town of Kalispell’s size to have multiple museums. Like Jordan, she said the key is getting the word out to the community about the museum’s special events and daily offerings.
“As far as the Flathead Valley attracting cultural and art activities, to have three museums is huge,” Moss said. “But it’s about education and awareness – telling people that you have three museums here that you need to check out.”
Visitor numbers have held steady at Kalispell’s museums during the recession, though funding has been decidedly more difficult to obtain. An annual drive that netted $50,000 before the recession at the Museum at Central School failed to make $20,000 last year, Jordan said.
Yet he maintains that more people are familiar with his museum, thanks to the increased promotional efforts and especially to word of mouth.
The Museum at Central School holds nearly 200 events a year, from widely attended classical film showings to lectures to special events. Attendees often find they’re attracted to the museum and are inclined to return for other events or exhibits, Jordan said.
The increasing membership means there are more people on the street spreading good word about the museum. Also, hundreds of students attend the museum each year through school programs.
Jordan said a large interactive exhibit of Flathead Lake’s history should be completed by the end of June. He expects it to be a major draw.
Special events are also important attractions at the Hockaday and Conrad Mansion. An example is the upcoming Death-by-Chocolate on April 29-30 at the Conrad. The popular annual event is an interactive murder mystery that invites guests to search through clues to solve a mystery while enjoying food and beverages.
The Conrad Mansion also begins its annual tours of the mansion on May 15. The guided tours run through Oct. 15 on Tuesdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
In addition to its rotation of art exhibits, the Hockaday also maintains a busy event schedule, highlighted by July’s Arts in the Park festival. Held at Depot Park, the annual Arts in the Park showcases more than 100 local and visiting artists, while offering music, dancing, food and beverages.
Education and interaction with the public are essential to a museum’s purpose within a community, Moss said.
“That’s the goal, to be more deeply rooted in the community,” Moss said.
When Jordan took over at the Museum at Central School seven years ago, he felt as if the museum was a secret known only in certain circles. But he said that’s changing, and the collaborative efforts of all three museums are key to that change.
“When I first got here, the most common response I got was, ‘I didn’t even know you were here – I didn’t know there was a history museum here,’” Jordan said. “Now it’s, ‘We’re so glad you’re doing what you’re doing and that you’re here.’”
To reach the Conrad Mansion Museum, call 755-2166 or visit www.conradmansion.com. For the Hockaday Museum of Art, call 755-5268 or visit www.hockadaymuseum.org. The Museum at Central School can be reached at 756-8381 and found online at www.yourmuseum.org.
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