Partnerships with cultural institutions typically result from a need. Not always the case but I wager ‘need’ is pretty high on the list. In my case, the Black Family History Day came from a very specific need: engage with the community when I wasn’t sure how to. One thing that isn’t discussed is the learning curve involved in outreach and engagement especially if you are new to the area.
I’m not from Austin. I’m not even from Texas. I’m still learning the ‘lay of the land’ having resided in Austin for almost a year. I sought out a partnership to serve the dual purpose of promoting my institution AND engaging with the public with a more experienced partner institution. From my research, I came across the community archivist program at the Austin History Center. Archivists specializing in community work for a specific community. It was exactly what I was looking for.
This whole partnership ball got started back in October 2015. Looking at the calendar, I had about four months to pull together a black history program for the month of February. Four month seemed like more than enough time to whip something together. I reached out to the African American community archivist via email. I expected to get a response in a day or two.
I got a response within the hour. Within. the. hour.
Partnerships connect you with new people. One of the great things about partnerships is connecting with new people. While its great to expand your professional circle, its even better when you connect with someone who ‘gets it.’ They get the challenges you face be it archives or outreach. After talking with LaToya D., I felt like we were old friends. My idea was moving toward a reality.
In the process of cultivating this partnership, LaToya shared with me an outreach opportunity for my agency: the annual MLK Celebration and Festival.
Partnerships have unintended benefits. At the festival, hundreds of Austinites and Texans from the surrounding areas attend to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. And, it was also an opportunity for agencies and institutions to connect with the community. This was EXACTLY what I was looking for. It didn’t take much convincing to the ‘powers that be’ to get a table at the festival. I needed volunteers for what would be a large group of people. I can not emphasize enough the importance of a great team supporting you. My team consisted of people from the various divisions of my agency. Some had done outreach and others had not. They went above and beyond. Through LaToya, I learned about a great opportunity that raised the visibility of my institution to the African-American community.
In the process of developing this program, we added a third partner to the mix: the Carver Genealogy Center. A small powerhouse of an institution that is directly tapped into the community. Together, the three of us worked to build something great.
Partnerships pull together the collective power of your institutions. Realistically, our institutions could have put on individual programs that would have been a modest success. Or, we could pull together and deliver one program that could be a resounding success. Go big or go home, right? The Austin History Center and the Carver Genealogy Center had the contacts. They knew people in the community. What I brought to the mix (besides greater amounts of time) was a marketing staff and a physical space. We cast our net far and wide to tell as many people as possible.
Also, you can’t have three institutions come together and no one notice. It didn’t take long before people were reaching out to us, specifically Time Warner Cable News Austin. Imagine my surprise when I got that call. T.V. interview? Nothing makes you up your game like a TV interview.
So I woke up at 4 am on a Tuesday to do a tv spot for the local news and chat about Black Family History Day because, y’know, what’s what I do. Cue internal introvert screaming. But like I’ve mentioned in other post, to do outreach, you put your personal qualms aside and get that stuff done. Also, I was content with the idea that my work day would end at 2 pm (yes please!) So I said hush to my inner introvert to turn on the charm for the camera. Here’s the final result:
Texas State Library Hosting Black Family History Day (courtesy of Time Warner Cable News Austin)
Partnerships make you ambitious. Before the program was broadly publicized, we agreed among ourselves that this program would be the First Annual Black Family History Day. To quote an action/adventure movie, shots were fired. We were making it clear to the community this wouldn’t be a one time deal. We set the bar high.
The results: All the publicity resulted in an overwhelming response. For Austin, with a 5% African American population, this was a big deal. Due to space constraints, we had to cap the number at 30 people. I ended up closing registration 2 days before the actual event. It didn’t stop the calls or emails. The message was clear: people wanted to be a part of this program.
Afterward, now that our three institutions have worked together and it was mutually beneficial to all, we’re setting our sights on October which is Family History month. I don’t want to say more because its all up in the air at this point but that’s what partnerships do. Once you have a taste of a good thing, you want to keep going especially if it serves the dual purpose of promoting your institution (& collections) and engages the local community.