Time to lift local museums from obscurity

Posted Online: March 03, 2013, 6:00 am
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By Roger Ruthhart
Last week I made the point that many of our great festivals could benefit by working together to trying and cross-pollinate each other's loyal customer base. Chances are that if someone comes to the Quad-Cities for one festival event, they might visit another one -- if they knew about it.

If they came to town for one day, maybe we could get them to stay for two or three.

But any gains that might be made there pale in comparison to the benefits that could be realized if our local museums did the same thing. We have many great museums. Some labor along on a shoestring because they don't have the finances to promote themselves. But what if they banded together to promote one another?

Here's a test. Without looking at the accompanying list, how many museums can you count in the Quad-Cities region? Five? 10? Is 15 a stretch?
Actually, the number that I came up with after some work is 37!! There are probably some that I have overlooked.

Some are obvious and draw many visitors. The John Deere Pavilion, for instance, is one of the top tourist attractions in Illinois. The Figge is the top art museum in Iowa. Every school child in the region has been to the Hauberg Indian Museum and the Karpeles Manuscript Museum displays some of the world's rarest documents.

The Iowa 80 Trucking Museum is right on America's Main Street with tens of thousands passing by each day. Rock Island County history is safely tucked away at the Historical Society Museum.

But there are others that are well worth a one-time visit or a periodic trip just to see what is new. The problem is that some we have never heard of, some are off the beaten path and some, sadly, remain too obscure for the great history they preserve.

Recently Joe Taylor, president of the Quad Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau, launched a trial balloon suggesting that a new home be considered for the Rock Island Arsenal Museum.

It was just an idea, but in his mind a way to create greater visibility for, and more traffic to, this historic museum.

I wonder how many of you even know that there is a museum on the Rock Island Arsenal that is home to many artifacts of significant national historical importance?

I have lived in the Quad-Cities quite some time and raised a family here, yet I have not yet been to half of the museums on the accompanying list. I suspect that is the case with most of you.

What we need to do is get visitors to one museum to also visit others. Luring in Quad-Citians should be the first test, but there is a great opportunity to share those who visit from out of town too.

What if every person who visited one of the museums was handed a brochure that detailed all of the others? What if every museum had a big display inside the door promoting exhibits at other museums? What if the website for every local museum had links to all of the others?

What if each had its own social media following and used it to promote the other museums and their special activities as well? What if every museum guest received a punch card and when you had visited all 37, you get a weekend on the town -- all expenses paid by the museums.

A key to some of these sites -- which are open only on a part-time basis -- is getting information out about when guests are invited. Others need to constantly remind visitors that they exist.

They are all amazing resources, filled with priceless displays from which we can learn endless lessons. Of course that should come as no surprise given the history-rich area in which we live.

Museums and living activity centers attract a unique type of visitor who likely will be attracted to similar attractions elsewhere. It's not rocket science to think that they could effectively work together to promote their many great offerings to a shared audience.

Why that isn't already happening throughout the Quad-Cities region is a question they all should be asking each other.
Roger Ruthhart is managing editor of The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus. He can be reached at rruthhart@qconline.com.
Q-C area museums
* Hauberg Indian Museum, Rock Island
* Bishop Hill Historic Site
* John Deere Pavilion, Moline
* Colonel Davenport Home, Arsenal Island, Rock Island
* Karpeles Manuscript Museum, Rock Island
* Rock Island Arsenal Museum, Rock Island
* Center for Belgian Culture, Moline
* Fryxell Geology Museum, Augustana College, Rock Island
* Galesburg Railroad Museum, Galesburg
* Geneseo Historical Museum, Geneseo
* Jenny Lind Chapel, Andover
* John Deere Planetarium, Augustana College, Rock Island
* Rock Island County Historical Society Museum, Moline
* Martin House Museum, Fulton
* Heritage Canyon, Fulton
* Carl Sandburg Historic Site, Galesburg
* Dutch Windmill, Fulton
* Deere-Wiman House, Moline
* Butterworth Center, Moline
* Deere & Co. Administrative Center, Moline
* Discovery Depot Children's Museum, Galesburg
* Galesburg Historical Society Museum, Galesburg
* Warren County Historical Museum, Monmouth
* Wyatt Earp Birthplace, Monmouth
* Ronald Reagan Birthplace, Tampico
* Illinois Citizen Soldier Museum, Galesburg

* Putnam Museum and Nat. Geo. Giant Screen, Davenport
* Village of East Davenport
* Figge Art Museum, Davenport
* German American Heritage Center, Davenport
* Buffalo Bill Museum, LeClaire
* The Family Museum, Bettendorf
* River Music Experience, Davenport
* Jackson County Historical Museum, Maquoketa
* Clinton Engines Museum, Maquoketa
* Iowa 80 Trucking Museum, Walcott, Iowa
* Dan Nagle Walnut Grove Pioneer Village, Long Grove


Local events heading

  Today is Tuesday, July 29, the 210th day of 2014. There are 155 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: Col. H.F. Sickless informs us that there will be new organization of troops in this state under the call for more men.
1889 -- 125 years ago: James Normoyle arrived home after graduating from West Point with honors in the class of 1889. He was to report to Fort Brady, Mich., as second lieutenant in the 23rd Infantry.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Austria Hungary declared war on Serbia. Germany and Austria refused an invitation of Sir Edward Grey to join Great Britain at a mediation conference.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Dr. William Mayo, the last of the three famous Mayo brother surgeons, died at the age of 78.
1964 -- 50 years ago: One of the biggest horse shows of the season was held yesterday at Hillandale Arena on Knoxville Road under the sponsorship of the Illowa Horsemen's Club.
1989 -- 25 years ago: Davenport is like a gigantic carnival this weekend with the Bix Arts Fest taking over 12 square blocks of the downtown area. A festive atmosphere prevailed Friday as thousands of people turned out to sample what the Arts Fest has to offer.

(More History)