Museum Studies at Tufts University

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Hancock Shaker Village Receives $1M Grant from Kresge Foundation

The AAM Facebook feed just congratulated Hancock Shaker Village on receiving a $1 million grant from the Kresge Foundation.

Read the original article. There are some really, really interesting things going on in there amidst all the business-speak.

“[The grant] recognizes the living history museum’s work as a visionary organization pursuing transformational projects designed to shift its business model and to serve as a field-wide example of leadership.”

Here’s what I see when I read that: grantmakers, and those who are interested in helping museums with money and resources, don’t want to see museums rest on their laurels. The museum is “visionary,” “transformational,” and a “field-wide example,” and that’s why it just got a check for a  million dollars.

“Appropriate levels of capitalization that allow an organization to grow or reinvent itself is standard in the for-profit sector, but has not routinely been considered best practice in the nonprofit sector. Kresge wishes to reverse this trend by supporting cultural organizations that have completed the thoughtful, exploratory process to reinvent their business models. ” – Alice Carle, program director at the Kresge Foundation

Venture capital firms exist to throw cash at good ideas that need a push. (The hope is then that the good idea will take off and offer a substantial return on the initial investment.) I love that the Kresge Foundation is looking at nonprofit funding in the same way. Too often really brilliant ideas – that may succeed or they may flop – are implemented on a shoestring budget that practically guarantees their failure. When a great idea fails, is it because it was a bad idea or because it wasn’t supported in the right way? Maybe one. Maybe the other. You never know unless you analyze its failure honestly.

“The Village will use half of the Kresge grant to seed its Building Reserve Fund and half to research and launch promising new business initiatives. “We are taking steps to move away from the outmoded museum business model of dependence upon admission and gift shop revenue,” said [Ellen] Spear, [President and CEO of Hancock Shaker Village].”

In this and other sections of the article, the museum’s programs, outreach, and education efforts are clearly outlined in business terms. They’re business models, initiatives, and product development. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Maybe both. Depending on admission and gift shop revenue isn’t a long-term sustainable economic model for a museum. But does it somehow violate the spirit of a museum to engage directly in naked capitalism?

In the end, though, huge congratulations to Hancock Shaker Village. Receiving a grant of this magnitude is a big vote of confidence. They know what they want, they know how to get there, and now they have the resources to take that path.


  1. Thank you for picking this up. Our new revenue generating initiatives all come from and are deeply tied to mission. We’re happy to share with any Tufts Museum Studies types who would like to know more about what we’re up to….Ellen Spear, President & CEO, HSV

  2. Ellen, thank you very much for commenting, and congratulations again on the grant! It sounds like you’re taking some fascinating and really innovative steps at Hancock Shaker Village and we’d certainly love to hear more about them.

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