Attendance? Up 85 percent at events ranging from a Somali weaving festival to fireside history chats to regular museum visits. Membership? That rose 16 percent as more people found their way to the museum in the Whittier neighborhood of Minneapolis, thanks in part to outreach at farmers markets and street festivals.
Admittedly, Cedar Imboden Phillips, who completed her first year as the museum’s director in November, was working from a low base at what has historically been a quiet venue that attracted few.
Even with the membership gain, the museum still has fewer than 400 members. Attendance was about 3,000.
Yet there’s more of a sense of life at the museum. There’s a show on now about the area’s role in figure skating, from the Ice Follies to the first triple axel landed in competition by an American woman. A show that will open in March, done with the Cycling Museum of Minnesota, will focus on the boom in cycling in the late 19th century.
Some new events have mixed fun with history. Last year, a brewery history tour on a vintage Twin Cities Lines bus also featured stops at local taprooms. An upcoming exhibit will feature people and their pets.
The museum even kicked up a little dust when it protested what it regarded as censorship when Facebook shut down the museum’s page for a day, without explanation or apology, after the outfit publicized an upcoming talk by the author of a book about the Ku Klux Klan in Minnesota.
But that may have boosted attendance. “The event itself went great. We had a full room,” Phillips said.
The museum’s Facebook following has jumped from 1,600 to 2,759 in the past year. But it also uses old-school marketing methods. One was to invest $100 in a sandwich-board sign that’s now out on the sidewalk simply to snag passers-by who may not even know the museum is there.
“I’m definitely pleased with the work we’ve done over the past year and what Cedar has brought to our organization,” said Cara Letofsky, who is in her third year on the museum’s board and is its president.
The board is revitalized with 11 members. The small staff is expanding. The budget is jumping from $290,000 in 2015 to $377,000 next year. “We’re definitely heading in the right direction,” Letofsky said.
Letofsky said that, now that the museum has stabilized, the next task is to tackle long-term planning needs. She includes addressing rehabilitation of the 1919 mansion that houses the museum at 2303 3rd Av. S., along with some heavy-duty fundraising.
One sign of success is intangible. People used to ask Letofsky why they hadn’t heard of the museum. “Fewer ask that now,” she said.
Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438
(Photo: Cedar Imboden Phillips started as director of Hennepin History Museum in November, 2014.)