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News & Press: Best Practices

Wheeler Historic Farm: Our Experience with MAP

Monday, December 1, 2014   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Sarah Keil Roach
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Wheeler Historic Farm has been operated by Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation since the early 1970s. We are the only historic site operated by Salt Lake County and as such have had our share of challenges. As the first museum professional to come on the scene there was a bit of a feeling, for me, of—Where do I start?! My past experience with the American Alliance for Museums’ Museum Assessment Program (MAP) was a very valuable process and I came out with a solid direction to head. There are four grant categories you can choose from: Organizational Assessment, Collections Stewardship Assessment, Community Engagement Assessment, and Leadership/Governance Assessment.

For us at Wheeler Farm, I felt the best place to start was with the Organizational Assessment. The Organization Assessment is an internal assessment to get us working towards a successful institutional plan. All efforts should lend themselves to meeting the museum standards. Since we are within Salt Lake County we are lucky to have many of the formal policies and procedures already in place, but we still have a ways to go!   The assessment is set up in the categories following the American Alliance of Museum (AAM) standards.

The application process includes lots of the regular details including budget, attendance and why you think you need this grant. This was the first grant I applied for with the County, finding out who I needed as a designated signor and how long that takes was important to factor in to my timeline. I started working at Wheeler Farm mid-April 2013 and submitted this grant for the July 2013 deadline. It was a quick turnaround!

The Organizational Assessment looks at how we are operating now and what our needs are for successful operation moving forward. The grant includes a self-study workbook component which is meant to incorporate the thoughts and views both negative and positive of the staff and governing authorities. As many institutions have sensitive issues to address, it is good to know this process is confidential—AAM and the peer reviewer are the only two that see what your internal evaluation includes.

The self-study workbook filled an entire two inch binder with enough reading material to help our reviewer get to sleep for several nights before her visit—but all solid and necessary information—and a great introduction for me to our site. The self-study includes fill-in information and activities, everything from local demographics to local competition comparisons. One of our activities was to look at our Mission. This activity, held at Wheeler Farm, had some unforeseen results. We could hardly carry on our discussion because of the volume of sixty some geese honking outside. We started with “What does the Farm want to be?” The players around the table happened to be all the right players so we made some great decisions like: dropping the “South Cottonwood Regional Park” off our really long name, we formed a new mission statement and agreed that the farm was currently housing too many geese. This was the most productive meetings of the process.

Our original three objectives were:

1.       Developing and institutional master plan for growth of earned income sources and regular maintenance and preservations of structures while effectively utilizing available resources within the County.

2.       Increase staff, Wheeler Farm Friends and governing authority’s awareness and knowledge about roles and responsibilities relating to all facets of operation of Wheeler Historic Farm.

3.       Prepare Wheeler Historic Farm Staff for the addition of a new facility on site.

Our site reviewer came out in March 2014. This was a great part of the process as she met with various farm partners including our Wheeler Farm Friends in addition to our County Planner and site staff.  Being on the Farm gave her a greater sense of the issues she was already familiar with from the self-study.  She made some very solid recommendations. For example, one of the recommendations was that we wait on a new building (No. 3 above) until we had a clearer plan for buildings that already exist—which would be an ideal of the master plan process which was slated to start later in the year.  Another suggestion is that we change our staffing and internal structure so it is less like a Recreation Center and more like a Historic Site. We received several meaty homework assignments for continuing the process. The recommendations are very useful as part of our master planning and strategic planning processes. The timing was perfect because it helped to give us all some direction and shed some light on a number of possibilities for the farm. We are re-assessing job descriptions and staffing for the farm, looking at how to better work with our partners and exploring programming opportunities. To conclude this grant we received a final report from our reviewer and access to her for follow up questions for a year. Our next step will be to check in at the year mark and see how far we have come.

The American Alliance of Museums’ Museum Assessment Program is a valuable tool to look at your organization strategically and with a sustainable future in mind. If you want to start a little closer to home, check out the Utah Division of Arts and Museum’s State Performance goals found here: to begin thinking about how your own museum can begin working towards best practices. You will also find on the website a link to the State Performance Goals worksheet, a tool that will help you monitor your progress towards fulfilling the performance goals.


Sara Roach is Curator at Wheeler Historic Farm and serves on the Board of Directors for the Utah Museums Association. She brings a wealth of museum experience and enthusiasm to the Utah museum community and Wheeler Farm. 

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