Keynote speaker Forrest Rodgers, past president and CEO of the High Desert Museum, shared his insights on the challenging business of running a museum at Saturday night's Jefferson County Historical Society's dinner, which raised $4,300 for a future museum.
Rodgers said society members need to plan ahead for what will happen if their dream of building a Central Oregon Heritage Center comes true.
"It will be a long, steady, upward climb with great accomplishments and many frustrations," he said.
Having turned the High Desert Museum around from operating in the red, to having stable funding, Rodgers offered his perspective on what makes museums work.
"Most people think the desert is dead and museums are deadly," he said, noting they had to develop a theme to attract visitors. They decided High Desert exhibits would all be "fun, engaging and evocative" and advertised it that way.
"People can't learn unless they can have fun learning. It doesn't matter how good your exhibit is if nobody sees it," Rodgers said.
Everyone takes in exhibits differently, and museums have to talk to visitors at their age level, not just gear it to adults.
Interactive displays and living history characters are a great way to make history come alive. "You can learn history in ways that aren't boring and you don't have to memorize dates," he suggested.
On the subject of artifacts, Rodgers noted, "A cane is just a cane ... unless it's Abraham Lincoln's cane. Then it has a story to tell, and history is all about telling stories."
On the financial side, he warned that this is 'a red ink business unless you have significant endowments or have a heritage district.
He suggested the museum should think creatively about partnering with other museums in Warm Springs and Prineville, and using Web site links to be more efficient and effective with resources.
Another question to ask is what happens if the Central Oregon Heritage Center is not built? "What if those stories and voices of experience are silent?" Rodgers asked.
The annual dinner and auction is a fund-raiser for the heritage center to be built in Madras.
Tour spots open
Space is still available on several of the tours from the silent auction, which include: an old railroad tour, Ashwood tour, trip up North Unit Irrigation District's Burma Road at Smith Rock, tour of the Warm Springs electrical dam or Warm Springs Forest Products mill, visit to Opal Springs, and tour of the Sky Ranch east of Madras. To sign up or for more information contact Harold Moore at 475-6537, or Jerry Ramsey at 475-5390.