Chinsegut Hill, Highclere Castle, and Acton Scott All Have Struggled To Remain Afloat And Here Are My 3 Solutions Historical Museums Must Possess To Remain Prosperous

I haven't written about my experience as a curator for historic preservation until now. When I first began volunteering as a record keeper, I was in my early twenties. Just yesterday, I read an article in The Guardian which further piqued my interest in prattling on about a subject close to my heart; Historic Preservation. Since I've had many experiences, I thought I'd write a lead-in post for ye olde blog. In 2020 I petitioned the Board of County Commissioners (in my hometown of Brooksville, Florida) for the opportunity to become the curator/owner of Chinsegut Hill.

It was a dewy morning in January of 2020, mere weeks before we knew what the Black Water Plague (pandemic) was going to prove across this ole' big blue marble. I was dressed from head to foot in my victorian garb, right down to my corset and unmentionables. I had spent months getting up to scratch on research, speaking with private investors/philanthropists, going over phish film and building reports. I fully intended to solidify what I know Chinsegut Hill is in dire need of and that's rescuing and loved back to life. The two things I categorically, metaphorically and spiritually know of in meaning. We are constantly out-picturing ourselves. So I was all set and ready with my artistic proposal in hand as I entered the small Victorian brick courthouse. I was possessed with high hopes of being the one to win the Blue Ribbon for dear ole' Chinsegut Hill.

It was several months after Sawyers death. Jeffrey and I had just moved back to our hometown, of Brooksville where we are both third and fourth generation natives. I spent my entire childhood in Brooksville. In fact, it's also where I landed my first 'real' job as a Weeki Wachee Springs Mermaid, which is an honour, I don't mind admitting. Not many can say they were a part of the legacy of being a Weeki Wachee Springs mermaid. I take pleasure in stating that score.

Obviously, by reading this, you know, I didn't get the tick for the Chinsegut Hill curatorship. Still, I want to explain several things I learned in the process. First, I was up against two large companies, Tampa Bay History Center and Mid Florida Community Services, but that didn't deter me. I'm skilled in curatorship, historic preservation, and one ace up my sleeve, which is what no one can beat a stick at, and that is good ole' experience. Furthermore, I live authentically (as much as possible at the present moment) in the portrayal of victorian life (meaning it's not an act, it is my actual life). I am also an artist and illustrator, like Elizabeth Robins (the famous British actress and author) we all have come to love and adore here in Brooksville, who also owned Chinsegut Hill. I thought what better reason would one need than to represent myself and the person who came before me, Elizabeth Robins. I feel I must carry on Elizabeth's legacy. At the end of play, Elizabeth got the raw lot of Chinsegut. The narrative perpetuated for quite some time is not how things actually transpired. I've spent two years researching Elizabeth and have grown to have a profound fondness for her. So much, in fact, she's the main protagonist in the British romantic novel I'm currently writing titled; Deceit and Dissension.

Now let me get on with how my experience played out. Presently I have no skin In the game, as things were decided in 2020. However, I thought shedding some light on my personal experience and details about historical museums may be interesting to some of you. My expertise runs back to history. History is always playing a part somehow. As I previously stated, I was up against two companies that were pretty much concrete solid (which I initially knew going in, perhaps I manifested that, Err...). Still, for the sake of protocol, the commissioners said they would listen to me present my plan, to throw my hat in, so to speak. They already had their minds set to select the Mid Florida Community Services and the Tampa Bay History Center. There were many meetings and decisions behind the wall. Why would the county decide on Tampa Bay History Center and Mid Florida Community Services? I'll tell you the answer, it was safe, and there was money to back the museum. Whereas having funding is essential, there is no heart.

These two companies came prepared with PowerPoint presentations, a metal stick in hand, dressed in three-piece suits. The women wore poly pencil skirts with blazers; how odious. Their presence does not nearly by a shot relate to what our little historically founded town represents. We are men and womenfolk who are majority made up of farmers. We are down to earth, shop at Walmart and Tractor Supply. We support small mum and pop shoppes, sway on the front porch swing till dusk until the skeeters start to bitin'. We drink sweet tea made with well water, talk hand quilting, and olde remedied wives tales of how to cure a common cold. Those are the kind of folks that live here in my little one-horse towne.

So straight shootin' city slickin' talkers they were, but you can't fool an olde victorian cowgirl like me. I see em' comin' a mile away. I know my little town struggles with financing just as many have before the plague (pandemic) and afterwards. I absolutely understand why they'd go with the 'big wigs.' It takes the green stuff to keep the machines workin'. I understand that. But what I will explain is why this type of well-meaning safe never works concerning sustainability. It's like the goose that lays the golden egg, and you can't get too high minded and kill off the golden goose. Did the look of a hoorah moment seem a lovely notion? Yes. But it never pans out, and not to sound pessimistic, but we have much smooth talkin' snake oil salesman's round these parts, and you've got to know how to spot em'. As I predicted, (Chinsegut Hill) did get some nice people to install disinfectant machines (insert sarcasm, although it is the lowest form of wit, smile) with impressive generic forest green monogrammed pique polo shirts and a head full of regurgitated information. I'll share with you what I think transpired. All of this is purely speculation and my subjective opinion.

After the large doses of articles, news findings and financial reports I've poured over, I thought I'd give you a small history lesson, shall we? In 2008 several women formed a non-profit organisation called The Friends of Chinsegut Hill. These ladies would remain in positions for years regarding anything happening at Chinsegut Hill. There were donations, exhibits, retreats formed to bring in money, cafe, and grants to Chinsegut Hill upwards in the two million-plus range, with additional financial sourcing. Whereas several structural things were improved (such as the foundation of the mansion), the overall consensus from what I read was the funding for the welfare of the museum's future success was mismanaged. So In the county's defence, I can entirely understand why they may have felt a little jilted when I came along with another non-profit proposal for my foundation (The Carter Settlement). I think an immediate apprehension was felt if I were selected. There would possibly be a replay of past events, which led to significant disappointment for Chinsegut. I concur from the financial perspective, but otherwise, hey ho, I thought it was ghastly.

It reminded me of another time when I lived in California, and Clint Eastwood attempted to purchase an olde historical mansion near his ranch in Carmel. Still, the city refused him no matter how much money he threw at them. They should have sold it to him; he planned to preserve the land (build some structures well in the confines of regulations), add more sheep to the land and keep it protected. But because he was a celebrity and the person that had legal control over the museum, he refused, and the house has nearly gone to ruin, and to this day barely stands. Unfortunately, they mismanaged the funds, and instead of reinvesting in the mansion, it became a court power struggle of personalities. Millions of Carmel funding went to fight court costs, attorneys and the battle continued for 18 years; the home has sat since; uninhabited. In my opinion an absolute travesty.

I've been in this field of not only intellectually understanding historic preservation, but I also know what it takes from the mindset (tugging of the heart) level. Unless both are in place, our museums will not survive, full stop.

Here are my three solutions for the survival of our historical museums.

I. The sacred cow of free entry /or low fee entries must be done away.

At one time, free entry was a nice pleasurable rose coloured glasses approach. However, just as the Victorians were notorious for industrialisation and innovation, we must also take up the charge. What worked once In history will no longer work. Just as Albert Einstein so wisely stated, "Insanity is doing the same thing expecting a different result." Now having said that, I'm not ghoulish in that we have to reinvent the wheel. There are ways of improving without spoiling. 

Our museums must start charging more money for an entry. Whereas it seemed to fit the bill for many generations to have low or free admission, it's impossible to create significant capital, sustainability, as well as keep museums thriving. One cannot pull blood from a turnip. Suppose we look at the most successful museums globally, for example, V & A Museum in England. In that case, they charge high prices for entry, especially when holding exhibits.

Moreover, covering the costs of maintaining and preserving the museum's archives takes much of the capital. Did you know that? The majority of funding is spent on preservation and care of the artifacts?

While the free entry policy (or low entry prices) has helped some museums become the most visited, visits do not equate to museums remaining open and thriving. Just as with all forms of industrialisation and progress, we as citizens must bring attention and begin grassroots and build from there. Yes, I think free entry (or meagre entry fee) must be done away with. I know, barmy, right. The Victorians moved with the times, and so must we as a collective. Our museum's state lottery funding is nice; nice doesn't bring home the bacon. Nor equate to keeping these beautiful places up to par and running ship seamlessly. Often there are too many cooks in the kitchen, and we all know after watching the Downton Abbey movie how that pans out. The downstairs staff won't have it one bit.

Now yes, you may be thinking, what about the lotteries Raquel. Well, frequently, what happens with the lotteries and funding from the state level is well-meaning folks begin to rely on state lotteries as the primary source of financing instead of what they intended, which is an additional alternative.

Folks have come to rely on tax dollars and lotteries to maintain our museums, and we mustn't do that. This is where self-sufficiency comes to play. We build ourselves as a community, working together for the greater good, not relying on the government.

II. The Funding Bubble Burst

My second solution is that many museums must be independently funded financially by philanthropists, endowments and sponsors. Our most prosperous museums use this approach, which is why they have the most achievement. They aren't relying on government only; they rely on the wealthy citizens to circulate the water well of revenue. This solution will keep museums from the threat of ruin and being closed down as many are currently. The states receive billions for our museums, but it's not nearly enough to sustain them long term. The US alone receives 17% from government funding. That is not much, folks. The states are only there to supplement; the communities are the ones that must pull together and support through additional funding. To rely on just state tax for our museums is a travesty. In my opinion, it's quite like passing the buck of responsibility. Our museums must not rely on government funding. 

It's true anyone can shuffle paper clips from one side of the desk to the other and appear to be working; however, the books don't lie. One can seemingly manage to run a museum. Still, my message has always been there must be a genuine love for what we are attempting to accomplish, and it must start at home; the grassroots level—slow and steady wins the race. Sure we can toss some money at a project, but will it thrive and prosper? Absolutely not. These buildings and structures must be loved back to life. Call me fool-hearted. I think that's why Europe has the most money poured into their museums. They understand history, traditions and they cling to it like a tick on Dick's hatband (Smile). Excuse me while I remain on my moral high horse; it's folks like you and me that rally to create revolutionary change in small towns such as mine and yours.

We keep the legacy and historical museums like Chinsegut Hill and Acton Scott running at full strength. If not, they will become like many who will ultimately level down and sell the land piecemeal. When Matthew from Downton Abbey received a rather large fortune from Lavinia Swires inheritance, Mary wanted Matthew to give the capital to her papa to save Downton Abbey. After the dust settles and Matthew gives Robert the inheritance, they are talking on the lawn garden, and Lord Grantham says to Matthew, "You don't see it yet, Matthew. You see crumbling rocks and stones that require too much work and too much money, but I see my lifes work, a dynasty to preserve for generations to come. It's not ours, Matthew; we are the caretakers and stewards. So we must press on and care for it."

III. The lost treasures of an optimistic mindset.

Whereas I've heard for years, there is a pressing need for excellent leaders with the right skills to guide museums. And those qualified won't apply because they do not make enough money. I think this happens because most folks live by the creed as old as time, and that's they think narrow-mindedly and from a scarcity perspective. What we focus on, continually dragging up how things have always been, will perpetuate that same outcome. We live under a vibrational energetic law which means whatever the thought consistently thought through momentum will harden into fact. Therefore, many people who live under similar thoughts will always get what they've always gotten. We must change, or we will be forced to change. Mankind can only persist so long under mounting pressure. This is when pivot occurs or learning to cope. To cope in a world is no way to live long term in a happy world; it's just not. As a collective consciousness, we will begin changing our mindsets regarding living in an optimistic universe. There is a shift occurring, and things are going to get better. I'm asking that we see things from a new perspective, to shift the subjective viewpoint of all things are possible who desire to do good and make the world a better world in which to dwell. It will require focus and a determined spirit of avoiding falling into the trap of accepting defeat. This takes me to Highclere Castle (the setting for Downton Abbey.) The Earl and Countess of Carnarvon. They had spoken in interviews that before they were approached to film Downton Abbey, the castle was in desperate need of repair and in financial danger. However, thanks to Julian Fellowes and the success of Downton Abbey, it's been saved for quite a long time in future. The Earl and Countess are wise and use opportunities to create revenue that significantly benefit the castle's future. Think of this; If they had continued on feeling hopeless, perhaps Downton Abbey would never exist. I would guarantee you, Earl and Countess Carnarvon had thoughts and imagined a way to come about to preserve, save and protect their beautiful home so their son could carry on the family legacy, just as Lady Mary on the series Downton. We are only limited by our imagination, and our wonderful human imagination is how everything is created. What we must do is take a look at these well-run museums (such as Highclere Castle), who's now beyond exceeded expectations for funding, and emulate through their example.

I submitted my proposal with a well thought out plan, a connection to private funding (which is beneficial for tax exemption purposes) and a way for my non-profit to thrive for generations. Although I didn't end up at Chinsegut Hill, my plans for my non-profit foundation, The Carter Settlement, will continue to successfully prevail. I am currently executing my plans for my foundation which will ensure long term revenue and create jobs for our beautiful little town of Brooksville, Florida.

In closing, the reason I feel our museums must remain open is that at moments of world sadness with many folks plagued with fear and lost hope we need bits and bobs of happiness. Dreaming a little dream keeps us full of hope. So the next time you visit a historical museum, try and imagine a life that spreads joy, and sends a pulsation through you of yesteryear's gone by and pure optimistic happiness. Somewhere a childhood dream will come true, as there's some little boy or girl out there treading the winepress of their thoughts. They are being inspired to become courageous enough to believe they will one day change the world through their imagination. I know because I was one of those little girls.


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