Share and Share Alike

This morning I had the pleasure of talking about the Affiliations program with staff from two Affiliates, the Heinz History Center and the B & O Railroad Museum.  But we weren’t talking about the Smithsonian’s Affiliations program – we were talking about theirs.


Both the Heinz History Center and the B & O Museum have created Affiliate programs, which were the topic of a panel discussion today entitled “Share and Share Alike” at the Pennsylvania Federation of Museums and Historical Association’s annual meeting in Gettysburg.  Their programs are structured very differently, which made for an interesting compare and contrast in regard to costs, benefits and challenges.  But we discovered many commonalities too.

The Heinz Center’s Affiliate Program (HCAP) encompasses historical societies, libraries, museums, even cemeteries across Western Pennsylvania.  Nearly 100 organizations have affiliated with the History Center, seeking help and advice on issues ranging from cleaning metal objects to writing label copy.

The B & O Railroad Museum’s program is more formal and structured, a tiered approach with escalating benefits that include discounts on branded retail items and reduced admission for members.  Contrary to expectations, the B & O’s affiliates are not limited to other railroad museums; it also attracts historical societies with ties to the railroad industry in West Virginia and Maryland.

But both programs have alot in common.  It takes the entire staff of both museums to make the program work, and staff members are committed to sharing their expertise and providing a range of services to their affiliate networks.  They agree that a primary difference between their Affiliate programs and other types of associations or memberships (AASLH or AAM for example), is the opportunity to share artifacts.  Truly, nothing can replace the power of the real thing, as every museum professional knows.  hcaptree

We were fortunate to have a staff member from one of the Heinz Center’s Affiliates in the audience, who provided an insight that I’m confident B & O’s Affiliates share.  More than anything, she appreciated the access to personalized, customized, one-to-one mentoring available through the program.  Nothing can replace the power of that kind of relationship either.

The Georgia Aquarium


Whale Sharks, manta rays and 6 million gallons of water ( I  have seen 8 million quoted – either way it is ALOT of water!)combined with a 100 year old giant squid on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History were just a few highlights from the first half hour of our tour of the Georgia Aquarium, one of our newest Affiliates and our first aqaurium partner.

To say the Georgia Aquarium is a destination is an understatement, just entering the parking lot one could tell that this was one of the most popular family spots in Atlanta.  We were greeted by Christie Cobb, Vice President of Development and Membership where we entered the world of fish and exotic sea creatures through the special event reception area – not your normal reception space to say the least but a room with a sprawling glass tank wall that allows guests to enjoy a private veiw of the Aquarium’s main exhibition, Ocean Voyager. From there our gracious hostess took us behind the scenes to the top  of the massive tank filled with more than 6 million gallons of  fresh water, more than 100,000 animals representing 500 + different species. Here, interns and students can be found observing the whale shark’s interactions with the other fish on research projects and lucky visitors who want to swim  in the tank prepare for their dive. The Aquarium  has an impressive closet full of dive gear in just about everyone’s size so even beginners can swim with the fish. 

 As we continued our tour we turned a corner in the hallway outside the dive gear area and were greeted by a team of penguins jumping around and playing! What a site too see! 

 The Georgia Aquarium has commited to be a world leader in promoting efforts to conserve aquatic wildlife. A group of researchers that includes scientists from the Aquarium are conducting worldwide studies and conservation efforts specifically on whale sharks – the world’s largest fish, in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Isla Holbox, Mexico. The initiative has uncovered the largest known aggregation of whale sharks and research is ongoing in collaboration with the government of Mexico.

For more information about the Georgia Aquarium visit or make a visit in person!