The third quarter of 2013 saw a level of activity and audience engagement at the Fenimore Art Museum not seen in at least a decade. The response to our summer exhibitions resulted in a nearly 30% increase in paid attendance by Labor Day. Likewise, The Farmers’ Museum had a good summer and a great autumn, ending October more than 3% ahead of 2012 in paid attendance. The Special Events at both museums were successfully revamped, with Art by the Lake revitalized by an artist consultant and Harvest Festival retooled for families by a team of staff.
As always, there is a large volume of work being accomplished that continues to fulfill our mission in ways that burnish the reputation of the institution. Here is an update on the 2013 goals set forth earlier this year:
- Install seven exhibitions at FAM and TFM and publish one monograph
In the third quarter staff dismantled and returned Nature and the American Vision, The Wyeths, and Native Roots: The 9th Contemporary Iroquois Art Biennial. In their place staff mounted American Masters: Thomas Cole to Grandma Moses, Rural Huors: The Watercolors of Susan Fenimore Cooper Weil, and Plain and Fancy: Native American Splint Baskets. In August, FAM published a catalogue for Plain and Fancy to accompany the exhibition.
- Present more than a dozen major special events and numerous on-site, off-site, and virtual programs for adults, children, and school groups, emphasizing a second year of weekend offerings and enriched agricultural programs at TFM and Native American programming at FAM
TFM put on four Step Back in Time weekends in the third quarter, and these mini-special events played a large role in driving attendance into positive territory. The Junior Livestock Show was as successful as ever, and as noted above, Harvest festival offered completely new experiences for families thanks to the creativity and hard work of an interdepartmental team of staff. At FAM, artist Susan Jones Kenyon revamped Art by the Lake and increased participation of artists and visitors. A major new initiative at TFM is the establishment of a working Farmstead which will enrich the visitor experience with increased agricultural activities and programs.
- Improve Collections Care and Management (for both museums and the Library) through on-going Collections Storage Study, reorganization, deaccessioning, and resolution of abandoned property issues, upgrade to new collections database
In the third quarter, collections staff successfully launched our new web-based collections database. The database is now completely mobile, offering new ease of use for staff, students, and the public. Collections staff has also continued to make great progress with reducing the footprint of the collections, as noted in the Strategic Plan update, and has dramatically improved the collection storage areas. Deaccessions and resolution of abandoned property continue apace.
- Continue to enhance permanent collection, focusing on further developing and promoting Plowline project
To date, there are more than 1,392 Plowline images available online and more than 28,367 unique visitors have engaged in more than 27 million visits to the website.
- Upgrade websites, improve and expand online store, collections databases, and electronic publications
In addition to the improvements made last year, where the FAM and TFM websites were put on schedule to be updated regularly and a new mobile site made available for smart phones and other mobile devices, this year we had good success with online sales of publications, particularly the Henry DiSpirito book published earlier in the year, and with online ticket sales to special events.
Overall, the season was highly successful in audience engagement and response as well as ancillary activity and fiscal sustainability. I look forward to discussing the upcoming season, as well as the strategies for the coming years, at our November/December meetings.