Constant Change: Working in Living History

Well, this month has been a BUSY one.  I have come to the conclusion, that successful Living History sites are constantly changing.  While initially that might seem like a strange paradox—Constant Change— the concept is sound in an ever diverse and changing world.  Perhaps sharing what i have specifically been a part of this month will help explain.

This is The Place to remember the past, entertain the present and educate the future as we honor Utah’s Heritage through hands-on experience that provides a glimpse into “a day in the life” of Utah’s rich and diverse history.

The Mission Statement.  The core of everything that an institution does. In the case of This is the Place Heritage Park the mission boils down to three main goals: Remember, Entertain, and Educate through a variety of experiences. In order to achieve those goals, constant, mission-driven change and growth is required. As we enter our fall programming, we shift focus to the entertain portion of our programming.

October is a busy month for us.  We implement our Haunted VillageLittle Haunts, and most recently successful Witches’ Ball. Haunted Village is exactly what is sounds to be: We take our historic village and turn it into a “spook alley” in the evenings. This requires extensive coordination among all departments so that daily historic programming and school tours are not effected by the evening events. Routes have to be drawn, new employees hired to work evenings, and buildings decorated to fit the theme. Each year, (this is now the 8th) this program brings in additional revenue and exposure to the Park.  In fact, several living history sites are beginning to implement similar programs surrounding Halloween.

Haunted village

Since Haunted Village is more for older kids and adults, we offer our Little Haunts program for families with small children. Visitors don’t only get to visit the Village with regular pioneer activities, but they get to wear their Halloween costumes, trick or treat at the historic buildings, and listen to a witch tell stories. Again, the exposure the park receives from this event is priceless.  Families may come up for something to do around Halloween, but they also experience our pioneer programming and the momentum of their experience will carry them to future events and visits at the Park.

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The Witches’ Ball is a new program that was started last year.  It is a one-night ball, or family-friendly costume and dance party.  Fortune tellers, palm readers, live owls, and even snakes and spiders offer dancers things to do while taking a break from the dance floor.  We even have a costume contest. Last year, we had over five hundred participants.  Hosted in our large event center, it was a great success.  Last year we advertised the Witches’ Ball at the Salt Lake City Comic-Con, now the 2nd largest in the country. Since people already attend Comic-Con in costume, why not get them to come to This is the Place for a costume party?  With that goal in mind I attended the convention to help advertise not only our Witches Ball, but all of our Halloween Programming….and I may or may not have run into a famous bounty hunter…

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So what?

Well, I think that these programs demonstrate ways in which living history sites can think outside of the box, as long as it falls within their mission.  In the case of This is the Place, it does, and has proven enormously successful.

But this is just one portion of what I have been a part of preparing this past month. In an effort to grow the Youth Programs offered at the Park, we have been increasing our Social Media presence, constantly adapting or referencing our posts to local trends.  New print materials have been created, printed, and will soon be distributed.  We are working on a couple of potential partnerships with other organizations offering youth programs to increase our visibility and professional network. Once again, it is important for Living History organizations to think outside the box, but stay on mission. In this case, the focus is to Educate.

October-Conference-Youth-Post-2

Finally, we have had the recent privilege to host members of the Utah Legislative Appropriations Committee, as well as a government delegation from Vietnam. Though these groups definitely fall under VIP visitors, their personal experiences are just as important as any other guest. It was a great experience to personally give them tours of the Village, allow them to participate in our hands-on activities, and tell them about the history of the Park, as well as the settlement of Utah and the American West. Both groups had memorable experiences and expressed gratitude for the time they were able to spend at the Park.

vietnamese delegationAlthough it has been a busy month, and looks to be similar in October, my  advice to anyone working at a historic site, or in living history is this:

Don’t be afraid to think outside the box to build visitor numbers, programs, and the exposure of the site, as long as it falls within the mission of the organization.

In an ever diverse and changing world, historic sites and living historians can choose to be on the cutting edge, or in the distant past. I submit that it is possible to be on the cutting edge, while still maintaining historical integrity and the important stories and lessons of the past.

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