OPEN ARMS: Education and Visitors-Services Manager Dalila Goulart says the John Brown House Museum has about 6,000 visitors per year. While there is an understanding of limited resources, she says more promotion for the 18th-century house and museum would be welcome.
For nonprofit museums and historical sites off the beaten path or public radar, there’s never enough publicity, promotion or cross-organizational cooperation to get the word out.
It’s an annual issue many of Rhode Island’s somewhat lesser-known museums – read: not Newport mansions – are dealing with as they prepare for their busiest season this summer.
“We certainly do attract people … but [we] alone aren’t going to be a tourist destination,” said Janice O’Donnell, executive director of the Providence Children’s Museum. “I think it would be really helpful for visitors to Rhode Island to see the state as a whole package. We’ve been talking about it for decades.”
The Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau has for several months been holding meetings with the heads of some of the state’s historical homes and museums in order to develop linkages and thematic itineraries amongst the attractions, according to President and CEO Martha Sheridan.
The goal, Sheridan said, is to offer Providence and Rhode Island visitors the complete experience they often say they are looking for when traveling to the Ocean State.
“They don’t want a one-off thing,” Sheridan said. “Our goal is to find out what the commonalities are, to work collaboratively, and to develop itineraries and tours.”
Sheridan said the meetings were born out of the necessity to pool resources of attractions that by their nature are small and do not have the wherewithal – financial or in personnel – to draw visitors the way larger entities can. The goal is to offer a thematic tour linking local sites this summer.
The lesser-known historical sites and museums throughout the state do draw visitors, and their combined economic contribution is significant, though still difficult to quantify.
According to the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, the seven museums that received grants from that organization had $8.7 million in ticket sales for fiscal 2012 and had 186,103 visitors.
Those numbers do not include indirect spending from visitors who may have spent money at nearby restaurants, shops and parking garages, among other businesses.
Receiving grants were the Rhode Island School of Design Museum, considered one of the state’s more popular museum draws, as well as the Old Slater Mill, Warwick Art Museum, Newport Art Museum, Rhode Island Museum of Science and Art, Providence’s Museum of Natural History & Planetarium and the Tomaquag Indian Memorial Museum.