September 21, 2018 in Newsletter
NAAM E-NEWS – SEPTEMBER 2018, Volume 20, Issue 3
- President’s Message
- Mission Statement
- 2019 Annual Conference
- Curatorial Spotlight
- NAAM Facebook Group
- Other News
By: Matt Anderson
Greetings NAAM Members,
Another car show season has come to a close as I sit down at my keyboard to write this column. I’ve seen many of you out there on the circuit, and I’ve enjoyed catching up with you about the happenings at your organizations. It’s a special thing about automotive museums. Not only do we get together at our annual NAAM conference, we also get a few extra reunions out there on the golf courses and activity fields. Whether you’ve taken a car across country to a big concours, or across town to a community festival, I hope your travels were safe.
In my last column, I wrote a few words about some of the angst out there in the wider world over the closure of a number of car museums. Much of it can be traced to a piece in the May 10, 2018, edition of the New York Times: “In the Car Museum Race, Some Drop Out.” Under that forced metaphor in the headline (hey, we’re colleagues, not competitors) is a tale of several organizations that have closed their doors in recent years.
It’s worth taking a closer look at three of the cited organizations: the Auto Collections at the Linq Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada; the Walter P. Chrysler Museum in Auburn Hills, Michigan; and Hostetler’s Hudson Auto Museum in Shipshewana, Indiana. Yes, each of these facilities could be considered a car museum by the general public. And yes, each of them has closed. But, to my mind, the similarities end there.
The Linq opened on the celebrated Vegas Strip under its present name in 2014. Key attractions include a shopping promenade and “High Roller” – currently the world’s tallest Ferris wheel at 550 feet. The Auto Collections museum predates the Linq name by more than 30 years, having first opened in 1981. As the name might imply, the museum had its roots in a private collection – one assembled by the hotel’s then-owner Ralph Engelstad. New operators took over the museum in 1999 and brought with them a new philosophy. The display remained open to the public, but the space became something of a showroom with museum vehicles offered for sale and trade. Full stop here. I would hope that we’d all agree that trading and selling collection automobiles is not a museum best practice. Yes, we occasionally trade with one another, and yes, we may facilitate the sale of non-accessioned or de-accessioned vehicles, but we do not make a habit of selling pieces from our collections. It’s an action of last resort – and one likely to bring swift condemnation from the larger museum community. Make no mistake, the Auto Collections was a for-profit business – within its rights to sell pieces as it saw fit, but not a museum in the traditional sense. It’s closed because the business was no longer selling enough cars, not because visitation was down. The Auto Collections closure doesn’t seem like a useful barometer of car museum health to me.
It’s a similar story with the Walter P. Chrysler Museum here in metro Detroit. The facility opened in 1999 on the campus of Chrysler’s Auburn Hills headquarters. The museum housed a private collection, but in this case the collection of the Chrysler Corporation itself. Attendance was strong in the museum’s early years, with a reported 90,000 visitors annually. And the exhibits were quite good for what was, in the end, a promotional venture for the Chrysler brand. (I remember being most impressed to see a K-car on display – an absolutely essential vehicle in the company’s history, but nowhere near as exciting as a letter-series 300 or a Viper.) But the museum struggled in recent years. Part of the problem was its far-flung location. Tourists in Auburn Hills were either there to see a Pistons basketball game or to shop at the nearby outlet mall – and the Pistons moved back downtown in 2017. More importantly, Chrysler itself struggled through a series of new owners and a Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Presumably, there was little time or money to promote the museum as widely as it deserved. Current owner FCA is in the business of selling Pacificas, RAMs and Wranglers, not interpreting the company’s rich history. It’s disappointing, but it’s not particularly surprising that the museum was deemed a luxury FCA could not afford. Again, the circumstances of the closure don’t seem terribly indicative of problems in the non-profit museum world.
Hostetler’s Hudson Auto Museum is another private collection of automobiles, this time from Eldon Hostetler, who had a passion for Hudsons. Hostetler’s is a classic example of a museum founded on one person’s collection and vision. It’s an architype seen in museums of many different subjects, and certainly found in the auto museum world. There’s nothing wrong with an avid collector wanting to share her or his pieces with the public (provided the collector obeys all tax rules and is clear on the distinction between for-profit and non-profit enterprises). Indeed, I owe my own job to one of those passionate collectors who opened his own museum. The challenge, however, is sustainability. In their first years, collector museums are often supported by the collector himself – someone who pays for new acquisitions from his own pocket and covers the light bill when revenue runs low. But, unless the collector is wealthy (and wise) enough to establish a lasting endowment, this model simply isn’t sustainable. When the collector is no longer able to provide that support, the museum may be left with no choice but to close. The Hostetler museum successfully established itself as a non-profit organization and seated a board of directors to guide its future. But, for the past few years, the museum relied on the support of the town of Shipshewana, specifically in the form of a rent-free building. Museum admission revenues could not cover the rent payments once they were scheduled to start. The town would have to make up that shortfall – something that community leaders weren’t prepared to do.
Prudent financial management begins with the realization that admission tickets will not cover a museum’s total expenses. (Theoretically, you could charge an admission fee high enough to cover your expenses, but you’d soon find yourself with no visitors at all.) Further revenue is required in the form of store sales, weddings and events, special programs, membership sales, grants, and old-fashioned charitable donations. Building an endowment is essential. Even if it doesn’t cover the museum’s entire budget (And really, whose does?), it can carry the organization through the occasional bad times when revenues aren’t as high as anticipated.
So, again, with Hostetler’s we have another museum suffering not because of faltering interest in automobiles or automotive history, but due to more fundamental financial worries – worries universal to any museum on any subject.
To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the auto museum’s death are greatly exaggerated. That’s not to say that we can rest on our laurels, confident that visitors will seek us out each year. Of course, we have to evolve, stay fresh, and keep reaching new audiences. But we don’t have to live in fear of an existential threat against the automobile museum. As long as we share compelling stories, people will be compelled to experience them.
All the best,
The National Association of Automobile Museums is a professional center of excellence for automobile museums and affiliated organizations that supports, educates and encourages members to operate according to professional standards of the museum industry.
Conference Dates: March 18 (Arrival), March 19- 22nd (Conference)
Host Hotel: Aloft South Bend
Host Hotel Address: 111 North Main Street, South Bend, IN 46601
Host Hotel Number: (574) 288-8000
We are thrilled to announce that Hagerty Insurance has renewed its agreement to serve as the official sponsor and insurance provider of the National Association of Automobile Museums for the 2019- 2021 term. We applaud and congratulate Hagerty for their long-standing dedication to the collector car world — both to private collectors and to automotive museums. Few businesses have done more to encourage the preservation and sharing of vintage automobiles, and to develop the next generation of car enthusiasts. They are a perfect partner in our work.
Hagerty’s most recent three-year commitment to NAAM comes as a renewal following a long history of support for NAAM. We are delighted to continue this partnership. Many of NAAM’s efforts simply would not be possible without Hagerty’s generous assistance.
A bit about Hagerty: It’s all about passion. They have grown to be the global leader for collector car and boat insurance, but they’re still just a family business built on a love for the hobby. Their passion drives them to keep improving their product and to give their clients the best service imaginable.
Hagerty protects over 1,000,000 vehicles, 12,000 boats, and 30,000 motorcycles worth a total of $30 billion.
“At Hagerty, we believe it is our responsibility to support organizations and initiatives that help make sure the vehicles we love — and the lifestyles that revolve around them — not only survive but thrive, well into the future.”
More information about Hagerty can be found at www.hagerty.com.
A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words.
By Roberto M. Rodriguez
Seal Cove Auto Museum
“A picture is worth a thousand words” refers to the notion that a complex idea can be conveyed with just a single still image, or that an image of a subject conveys its meaning or essence more effectively than a description does. Although true, the power of both an image and a description can transform a picture into a powerful didactic experience for a museum visitor. The story behind the story, the inside scoop, the personal aside; those narratives can be memorable.
Imagine yourself as a visitor. Is your curiosity piqued? A written description can fill in some of the blanks, an audio guide, or QR reader app, can go further, but for a small museum like the Seal Cove it is a visitor’s interaction with a docent that is golden. Here is the story behind the story, the inside scoop, the personal aside, the five Ws and some personal observations for good measure.
The Artist: Earl Eugene Mayan was born in 1916 in Richmond Hill, New York. He attended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn from 1933 to 1936. In 1941, Mayan enlisted into the Army, and worked as a camouflage engineer and photographer, first in Panama and Trinidad, and then in France and Germany. After the war, he resumed his career, doing covers for Argosy and Bantam Books. In the 1960’s and ‘70’s, he worked for Grosset & Dunlap and Random House, and from 1962 to 1995, he taught fine art and illustration at the Art Students League of New York. and undertook commissioned work like this calendar for the Humble Oil & Refining Company in 1968.
The Calendar: “Come to the Fair” captures the spirit of the St. Louis Fair of 1904 and the idea of early long-distance motoring inspired by the popular tune, “Meet me in St. Louis, Louis, meet me at the Fair.” The Fair, officially known as the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, was a huge success bringing some 20 million visitors through its gates over its seven-month run. The Fair included hundreds of thousands of objects, people, animals, displays, and publications from 62 exhibiting countries and 43 of the 45 states, spread over its 1,200-acre site. If you believe the popular history, more American foods were invented at the Fair than during any other single event in history. The list includes the hamburger, the hot dog, peanut butter, iced tea, the club sandwich, cotton candy, and the ice cream cone. Many new automobiles were also showcased in the Transportation Building, and at the Automobile Parade.
The Automobile: The featured 1904 Knox was custom built for E.H. Cutler, President of the Knox Automobile Company. Known as the Waterless Knox the engine was nicknamed the “porcupine” because of the spikes protruding from the two horizontal cylinders. Before coming to the Seal Cove Auto Museum, the Knox was the pride and joy of Waleta (“Wally”), the wife of Henry Austin Clark Jr., of the famed Long Island Automotive Museum. Through Clark’s entrepreneurship, the Knox was featured on postcards, prints, posters, and even in a promotional film for the 1957 Oldsmobile titled, “50 Years of Automotive Progress.” It is no wonder that when Mayan needed a car to render for his calendar art he chose the Knox.
Your eye will also pause on the African American couple to the right of the Knox, and the African American girl in the red dress with the other children. Historically, the reality of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition was not one racial equality, quite the opposite was true. According to research by Angela da Silva, professor of American Cultural Studies at Angela at Missouri’s Lindenwood University, the 1904 World’s Fair welcomed the international community to St. Louis, the invitation didn’t extend to black St. Louis — unless they wanted to work a menial job behind the scenes or be in one of the anthropological displays designed to “prove” their subhuman nature.
Perhaps Eugene Mayan’s life experiences led him to be a champion of Civil Rights, or perhaps he was simply responding to the Civil Rights movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s, that rightfully demanded a more positive image of blacks and other minority groups in advertising. The answer has been lost to time but either way, we can certainly acknowledge that Mayan created an image that “speaks a thousand words,” and that the story behind the image can tell a thousand more.
Join the new NAAM Facebook Group! This space is in conjunction with the NAAM Online Community and is a great place to share successes and challenges, gather ideas, and network with member museums. Go to www.facebook.com/NAAM2017
ClassicCars.com writer Larry Edsall was working on a series piece concerning the future of the collector car hobby and asked National Corvette Museum curator, Derek E. Moore, for a contributing article. Due to the nature of the topic, it is reprinted here.
The Future of Automobile Museums – One Curator’s Outlook
Derek E. Moore
Curator – National Corvette Museum
Automobile museums are a unique sector of the collector car hobby. We are home to some of the rarest and most historically significant automobiles produced, as well as, some of the most common automobiles assembled during the roughly 132 years of automobile production to date. Our collections and exhibits are an opportunity for students, families, hobbyists, and every day visitors to learn about the impact of the automobile on society and culture, witness progressing technology in the automotive industry, see the rise and fall of thousands of automobile manufacturers in the United States, and (possibly the most important opportunity of all) recall memories and experiences with automobiles from their own past.
Although automobile museums offer all these opportunities and, truly, many more than what is listed above, we face many challenges along the way. The greatest of these challenges, in my opinion, is relevance…our exhibits, the stories we tell, must in some way relate to our audience or we will no longer be relevant institutions within society. As years progress horseless carriages, brass era vehicles, and even cars of the classic era (Marmon, Duesenberg, Pierce-Arrow, etc.) are becoming novelties rather than memories. Novelties are still interesting to many visitors and there are still collectors of these vehicles that enjoy them, but most visitors have no connection to and no memories of these early vehicles. It is the museum’s job to interpret the importance of these vehicles to our visitors and relate them in a way that engages the visitor.
Engaging visitors is one of the most rapidly changing areas in the museum field today. Ever changing expectations of technology means that we can no longer be complacent with exhibits that contain only vehicles and exhibit labels. Handheld technology, interactive touchscreens, and advancements in image projection are changing our visitor’s interests and methods of learning. As technology becomes increasingly integrated into the everyday lives of upcoming generations, they will expect it to be utilized in every interaction they experience. This technological advancement has already forced major changes upon museums, from the largest to the smallest, and will only continue to mold our institutions in new ways within the next decade and well beyond.
During my time working at The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan the automotive exhibit was reimagined from what was Automobile in American Life to the current exhibit Driving America. Both fantastic exhibits, however, Driving America includes interactive touch screens and a completely new website dedicated to a digital experience related to the exhibit. This digital experience allows virtual visitors to explore digitized collections with deeper looks at the stories of vehicles and artifacts within the exhibit. On the other side of the spectrum, my hometown history museum, the St. Charles Area Museum in St. Charles, Michigan, albeit not an automobile museum but a local history museum that includes an Aero Craft boat and Chessie System caboose, has taken to Facebook in an effort to share its stories and find an affordable means of utilizing technology to connect with a wider range of generations.
In my current roll as the Curator at the National Corvette Museum, we are embarking on an overhaul of the majority of exhibits within the Museum’s galleries. This would be no small task if we were only looking at the plans of what vehicles, small artifacts, and overall content we wanted to include within the exhibits, as may have been the case 20 years ago. In today’s world though, and in the continuously advancing world of technology, we must also consider what interactive technology we want to include within exhibits to enhance the visitor experience. Adding in not only features that can be accessed by handheld devices visitors bring with them, but also interactive touch screens, as well as, enhanced graphics and experiences through projection will be key to ensuring we remain relevant to new generations of visitors to our museum.
I have heard it said, repeatedly, that museums are dusty, boring places with old stuff that no one wants anymore. I like to think, or at least hope, that automobile museums aren’t included in that sweeping statement, but if we are not careful over the next ten or so years, we may find ourselves quickly included. We, as museums, must embrace upcoming technology and the desires of our visitors to have experiences involving technology, to remain relevant in society, both today and in the future. It is my belief, that within the next decade a visit to an automobile museum will be completely different from today. I am not saying that you won’t be able to walk through a museum and see vehicles on display with exhibit labels in front of them that tell you a portion of their story, rather, that as a visitor, you will have more opportunities using technology to explore those stories deeper than ever before. It will become your choice to dig deeper into a vehicle’s history if you want; the museum will allow the visitor to guide their experience as they desire.
I hope that everyone in the collector car community continues to support automobile museums around the country as we strive to remain relevant and be the home for the history of the vehicles and stories we are all so passionate about. It is only with the support of the community that we can continue to evolve, introduce new experiences through technology, and remain relevant in the technology-based world we live in today. I encourage you all to visit your local automobile museum, be it big or small, and get involved, help them understand what you as a visitor want to experience, but don’t forget, not all visitors want the same experience, we must engage all our visitors to remain relevant.
Self-Propelled Vehicle Celebrates Important Milestone
Don’t forget to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the first self-propelled mechanical vehicle next year! The Cugnot, built in 1769 by Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot, was an experimental vehicle built for moving heavy equipment, such as cannons, for the French Army.