Historical Sites, Landscape History, Museums, Public History, Sustainability, Uncategorized

How to Reinvigorate House Museums

This week I came across a Boston Globe article that reiterated the question , “Are there too many house Museums.” The article argues that museums (the traditional “stuff and exhibit space” museums) are experiencing new found popularity and are stepping-up their game with new exhibits, wings and architectural wonders. House museums, on the other hand, lag behind focusing more on preservation (staying the same).

Lets not be so negative, there is some hope yet for house museums! Case in point, Arcadia Farms.

Arcadia Farms is an agricultural project that teaches child about sustainable farming and brings organically grown produce into D.C. food desserts. Produce food trucks give D.C. shoppers the opportunity to have the kinds of foods all people deserve (fresh and chemical free)  AND Arcadia’s food truck accept food stamps, so the food is accessible. (I really like this project, so excuse me if I turn this post into a love letter to Arcadia Farms)

Here is their blurb:

“Arcadia Farm is located just a few short miles from downtown Washington, DC, on the historic grounds of Woodlawn Estate.  Arcadia’s demonstration farm and educational children’s garden currently encompasses four acres, providing a sustainable model of agriculture to new farmers, students and the public through hands-on community engagement. “

From http://www.woodlawnpopeleighey.org
From http://www.woodlawnpopeleighey.org

Arcadia Farms works out of Woodlawn Estate, a historical Washington family plantation. (Once an 18thc farm, now a sustainable community conscience organic educational farm! ❤ <3) Instead of allowing the vast land surrounding the house to simply be pastures of grass, Arcadia repurposes the land to do what made it valuable in the first place –GROW STUFF! The project not only feeds people, it gives the house museum a new purpose, new educational opportunities and makes the estate a community investor.

So, are there too many house museums? No, there are too many of them have the same goals. House museums need to diversify their output (educationally, socially, and economically). I want to see house museums with functional wineries, breweries, farms, textile mils. House museums need to embrace the buy local, eat local, drink local (very 18thc btw) movement or like Kenmore in Fredericksburg, really get into theater. We need to ask historical homes, “What makes you so special? What can you DO” In order to compete with other house museums and traditional “stuff and exhibit space” museums, historical homes need to show the world their special talent and single themselves out in a world of preserved plantation homes on picturesque landscapes.

In my world there is a lot of talk about sustainability and what it means for Public History and historical sites, this is one way historical sites can take part in sustainability movement. House museums can take the lead teaching future generations the arts/science of sustainable farming. They can teach people about, not the arcane nature, but the possibly and reality of sustainable farming at home. It is not weird to get your food from your lawn it is doable!

From http://www.woodlawnpopeleighey.org
Farming! From http://www.woodlawnpopeleighey.org

Let’s stop this anti-house museum talk and start focusing on how we can use these places to make the world a better, healthier, sustainable place.




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