by Danielle Hodes
How’d I get here?
My involvement with the LatimerNOW project has given me the opportunity to redesign the visitor experience around what a historic site’s community needs.
I first heard about the Anarchist Guide during my internship at the Morris-Jumel Mansion—one of the 23 historic houses administered by the Historic House Trust.
In fact, it was the anarchist-inspired events – like Corseted: An Immersive Theater Experience, The Loves of Aaron Burr: Portraits of Corsetry & Binding, salon style tours of exhibitions, and concerts held in the rooms – and approach that attracted me to the Mansion in the first place. I had never before seen a history house museum act more like a house than a museum. During one of the first events I attended, I saw people walking through the halls, laughing, dancing, music was playing, and visitors were acting as if they really were at home, not like they were in a historic house museum.
The Mansion’s community, made up of neighbors, arts and history enthusiasts, gardeners, musicians, and more intrigued me deeply and changed my view of historic house museums. until then every time I had been to a historic house it was as a tourist and I never gave much thought to visiting again—I had a ‘been there, done that’ type of attitude.
However, seeing the Mansion’s strong connections and responsibilities to such a diverse constituency made me realize the possibilities and necessity of historic house museums as community resources.
So what do I do around here?
My involvement so far has focused on researching communities most relevant to the project – other historic house museums, ‘regular’ museums and cultural institutions in Flushing and the larger Queens area. I’ve also learned about the history of the Flushing community itself.
In researching other historic house museums around the country, and some in Europe too, I haven’t found any other quite like the what we’re doing here at the Lewis Latimer House. Many in the historic house museum community are faced with many of the same challenges as we have here, but none have responded to them with the same level of innovation and reinvention as Latimer.
One of the main differences between the LatimerNOW approach and traditional historic house museums is making the visitor experience revolve around community, as opposed to just being all about the history of the house and its residents.
The experience doesn’t begin and end with sharing a year or two of the house’s story, but is instead open to the exploration of the entire history of the house and those involved with it both past and present. This visitor-centric outlook, while rare, it gaining ground and I am excited to be part of a project so boldly blazing a trail into the future of historic house museums.