Fundraising: calendars, turnips and black market trading

By Joanna Cobley, Museum Detective

31 March 2009

Do you have enough “dosh” and “oomph” to keep operating for another year? One of the frustrating things is that it is more difficult to get money to cover the daily running expenses for your museum than it is to raise funds for a project. We all like projects – they have a beginning, middle and end – and the results can be measured. Projects can vary in size and scope – from a new building, to getting new archive boxes – but they invariably involve fundraising. Based on conversations with museum folks and my own detective observations I’ve created a list of fundraising ideas for you to try out.

Open days – vintage machinery museums run ‘steam days’ to draw in the crowds. Open days are best when scones are served, and preferably scones that have been baked in a coal range oven and are dripping with butter and berry conserve topped with a dash of clotted cream. I have tasted excellent scones at Ferrymead, Brayshaw Park and the Rockville Machinery & Settlers Museum in Collingwood also do scones. You could get bold and feature scone recipes from the community cookbooks in the museum’s collection, but then I’ve met some rural women who have no qualms using a pre-packaged scone mix either. As long as it brings in the money.

Growing things – whatever the climate there are museum volunteers planting growing, and harvesting turnips, oats, potatoes, barley, and hay to sell to the community. This is labour and machinery intensive, prices of the produce vary from season to season, and you’re often up against competition such as the local rugby club or kindy. Nonetheless all this haymaking brings on that nostalgic memory of folks working in the fields (especially if there is a faint waft of freshly made scones in the air) and it’s a good bonding exercise for the museum committee members too.

Hiring out the museum venue – museums have a long tradition of fundraising and curator, Peter Entwistle, retells a story about Lady McLean’s fundraising endeavours in Treasures of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. By the early 1900s the gallery had outgrown its unglamorous tin shed structure and was in urgent need of a new building. Lady McLean organised cake stalls and art sales. She also ensured that the gallery had revenue generating potential by installing a sprung floor for the new gallery. Why? She believed that hiring out the art gallery for dances and balls was a more reliable source of revenue than government grants.

Community events – on a farm at the foothills of Mt Somers in Canterbury there is a pond that freezes over each year. When the ice is thick enough the Stavely ice-skating rink is opened to the public. You can hire skates and I think there might be a sausage sizzle available too; profits are donated to the Stavely Historical and Geological Centre. You can warm your hands on a freshly made espresso from the dairy just across the road from the museum.

The Nude Calendar – coaxed by local museum volunteer, members from the Woodsdale community, Tasmania, donated their bodies for this popular fund-raising initiative. Calendar proceeds went towards the shearing shed and men’s shed that opened in February 2009. Both sheds are operational. The shearing shed is used for education programmes. The Men’s shed is part of a larger movement, popular in remote and rural areas of Australia. These sheds are working spaces for men to meet, learn a practical skill such as restoring drays and farm machinery, and be educated on men’s health issues (meaning Health Department posters and brochures on mental health and prostate cancer are available).

Finally, in this tightening economy, museums might be tempted to consider black market produce, but this is more an observation rather than a recommendation. When visiting theNimbin Museum I was approached by someone selling marijuana infused chocolates. Being a female I pretended to be ‘on a diet’ so declined. Then I scurried off to find a toilet to regain my composure but instead stumbled into the back garden where there was an even busier-looking group of folks mingling and trading their wares. Trading was busier than a Saturday morning farmers market. Once I got over my initial shock of seeing marijuana traded in a museum space I started thinking things through further. Nimbin is actively marketed in the tourism literature as a ‘hippie haven’ so why shouldn’t the museum be supporting the local economy especially if the local laws allow it? The museum was in urgent need of an upgrade: money was needed to hire a custodian to clean the exhibits and a curator to update the museum’s story. If the museum received just a 5% cut on the backyard takings it could generate thousands of dollars each year this is much more than the humble yet honest $1200 gained from last year’s neep sales down South.

1 Comment

  1. 02 Apr 2009 23:21 UTC
    wow, what a great article, inspiring! Just goes to show how innovative and creative museum people are.Especially loved the (no, not the marijuana idea!) the turnips! So get creative you museumy bods – theres more than one way to skin a cat (oops, thats not a good idea either). I know there are some great farmers markets happening around the country – gets an interesting crowd together…maybe take your museum to the market – well obviously not the most precious things, but it might be a good venue for a display to drag the punters in – and hey, about being open at the same time as the market, ie. the morning! So many places stick to the sunday 2-4pm opening hours. Boring! I bet 10-12 on a sunday morning would capture those market goers and sunday breakfast in the cafe types…or pop in after church? I think NZ museums need to think laterally about their visitors and come up with some new ideas to hook up with other community activities and happenings. Don’t lock yourselves away!

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