Museums celebrate heritage Week of programs set to begin tomorrow

September 18, 1998|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

Like so many other small museums and historical sites around the country, the African Art Museum of Maryland finds it's better to cooperate than to compete for tourism dollars.

Doris Ligon, founder and director of the 18-year-old museum, joined forces three years ago with other leaders of Howard County museums and historical centers to promote heritage tourism in the county. The result: the Howard County Historical and Cultural Alliance (HCHCA).

Groups like the alliance, one of 11 such organizations in Maryland, have been cropping up around the state for the past five or six years, said Alice Merrill, a program director for the Maryland Historic Trust.

The alliance's member museums originally planned to coordinate their hours, apply for funding together and share resources. Instead, they organized an annual festival, now in its second year: Howard County Heritage Week. It runs tomorrow through Sept. 27 and features more than 20 programs at about 20 historical and cultural sites throughout the county.

Phyllis Knill, director of the Howard County Historical Museum and one of the association's founders, hopes HCHCA will start working on other goals, too.

"I think it's still defining itself," she said.

Merrill said small museums like those in Howard have no choice but to consolidate their efforts.

"Given the challenges the museums face with limited funding resources and restricted resources in general, it just is prudent to collaborate and work together as much as possible," Merrill said.

That's especially true when it comes to small historical museums, said Peggy Burke, a cultural resources consultant. Valuable as they are, Burke said, regional museums are never going to attract hordes of people. But if they can sell themselves as a historical area, she said, they have a better chance of attracting attention.

Tourist revenue

"Tourists don't often come to an area just to see one site," she said. "If you can look at a region and find the authentic sites and provide a tourist a way to explore that, you'll have better luck attracting people."

More people, of course, means more money -- especially in Maryland. Every year, tourists bring about $8 billion in revenue to the state, said R. Dean Kenderdine, an assistant secretary for the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. A poll last year, he said, showed that heritage tourism -- which focuses on an area's roots -- was the No. 3 reason tourists came to the state. Shopping was the biggest draw, followed by outdoor recreation.

Karen Justice, executive director of the Howard County Tourism Council, estimates tourism brings at least $152.9 million to Howard County every year. She knows that if HCHCA succeeds, that number will grow.

"They're enhancing the product that I have to sell," she said.

Historical alliances also exist in Baltimore City and Charles, Cecil, Frederick, Harford, Prince George's, Queen Anne's and Washington counties. There is also a Southern Maryland Museum Association, a Small Museum Association, a Maryland Association of History Museums, and a group called the Delmarva Advisory Council, which caters to museums in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.

'Tough raising money'

"This is the way the museum world is headed," said Liz Shatto, coordinator of the Frederick alliance, one of the oldest and most successful in the state. "It's tough raising money. It's tough getting anything accomplished these days. More and more funders are looking for consortia."

Small historical museums aren't the only ones merging. Banks do it. Companies do it. Big museums do it. Even some restaurants are getting into the trend. Consider:

In 1996, a dozen downtown institutions banded together to form the Mount Vernon Cultural Association. Members include the Basilica of the Assumption, Center Stage, the Maryland Historical Society and the Walters Art Gallery.

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Baltimore harbor drive

A group of Baltimore harbor institutions is planning a joint marketing drive to give the harbor a more distinct identity. The institutions are calling themselves the National Historic Seaport of Baltimore and have plans to add a number of attractions to the harbor.

Some Key Highway institutions are working together to draw visitors by publishing a brochure and extending their hours on Wednesdays. Members include the Baltimore Museum of Industry, the American Visionary Art Museum and the Little Havana Restaurante.

That's just in Baltimore. Other alliances are in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York, Tucson, Ariz., and Washington.

Compared with more-established groups, HCHCA has a long way to go. But some members see rewards for their efforts.

"I know there is something we are getting as a group that we could not get individually," Ligon said. "And that's positive publicity."

Heritage Week highlights

Walking tours of Main Street, Ellicott City, 2 p.m. to 3: 15 p.m. tomorrow, Sunday and Sept. 26 and 27.

Ghost tours of Historic Ellicott City, 8: 30 p.m. tomorrow and Sept. 26.

Video presentation and slide show of historical and cultural sites in Howard County, noon to 2 p.m. tomorrow, Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park, Mount Ida.

Civil War Encampment of 1st Regiment Virginia Volunteers, Company D, Living History Presentations at the Park, noon to 4 p.m. tomorrow, Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park.

Civil War-era dance demonstrations performed by dancers in period dress, Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park, 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. tomorrow.

Soap-making demonstration, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, and noon to 5 p.m. Monday to Thursday and Sept. 25 and 26 at the Howard County Center for African American Culture Inc.

Hand-pressed cider and hayrides, 4: 30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, Cider Mill Farm.

Sneak preview of the Savage Mill Manor, 6 p.m. to 7: 30 p.m. Sept. 25, Savage Mill Manor.

For admission prices and a full schedule of events, call the Howard County Tourism Council at 410-313-1900 or 800-288-8747.

Pub Date: 9/18/98

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