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New tools to refresh Marietta’s historic image

April 12, 2011
By Kate York ( , The Marietta Times

It may be true that history can never be new, but it can certainly feel that way, say those who have the job of marketing history-one of the area's most valuable commodities.

How do they keep history fresh and draw people in to see museums and artifacts?

The key is in making exhibits, facts and dates come alive through reenactments, dynamic displays and hands-on activities, said Floyd Barmann, manager of the Campus Martius and Ohio River museums in Marietta.

"For the younger generations, it has to be hands-on," he said. "You can no longer just have the exhibit. There have to be programs and a chance to touch something, see someone in costume or put on a costume themselves."

Creative marketing is increasingly important in the field but is also expensive and challenging, Barmann said.

"We have the constant battle of trying to make history contemporary without changing its authenticity," he said.

Fact Box

At a glance

New Marketing Techniques

Use of social networks like Facebook and Twitter

Incorporating hands-on activities

Coordinating programming with exhibits

Frequently changing offerings

While the producers of a historical movie made today can choose to tweak details in order to make the public happy, it's in a museum's mission to present history authentically, Barmann said.

"Boots weren't worn in the 18th century but they might be in a movie about the 18th century because they don't think the audience would like seeing the short pants with long socks," he said. "But we can't do that."

Instead, those managing historical sites draw crowds in through activities.

"We'll have them dip candles and then go show them how the candles were used in the Putnam House," Barmann said.

They also reach out to potential consumers through modern day avenues, from Facebook to Twitter.

It's not only inserting actual electronics into the museum world that's critical but also catering to the technology-driven frame of mind, said Barmann.

"We've got to appeal to the short sound bite crowd," he said.

Recent museum visitor Cliff Massey, 51, of Parkersburg, said he doesn't mind browsing an old-fashioned museum or reading about history.

But his teenage children, he said, need a little more to liveliness to light the spark of loving history.

"To capture their attention, there needs to be some computer aspect or something they can actually do," he said. "They don't want to just sit and stare at things, no matter how interesting they may seem to me."

His 13-year-old son, Michael, has been to war reenactments with him and has found a love for that, Massey said.

"There's a lot of action to that," he said. "He can compare it to his video games."

Rotating exhibits is also a must in today's world, according to Barmann, although the typical cost of that is $50 a square foot.

"Because it can be expensive we go into existing exhibits and make changes," he said. "But you've got to change the exhibits often these days."

Barmann said there has been a noticeable shift in the marketing of history over about 40 years but it's become much more marked in the last decade.



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