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.
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.