BC: The End
FC: James Monroe's Ashlawn-Highland
1: The Setting: Ashlawn-Highland is the early 19th century home of America's 5th President, James Monroe. Monroe called Highland his home from 1799-1823. Today the home is a Virginia Historic Landmark and is open to the public for tours and private events. Opened to the public in 1931, Highland still contains over 80% of the Monroe's furnishings
2: The Audience: On a typical day, Ashlawn-Highland attracts mainly an adult audience. This adult audience is often made up of middle aged to senior couples. For many of them, the decision to visit Highland is out of a mutual interest in history or historical homes, or in order to satisfy the wishes of another.
3: Above is the group I spent the afternoon with at Ashlawn-Highland. The picture demonstrates the wide ranging backgrounds and needs that Highland must meet in their program offerings.
4: Question: How does the leadership at Highland create an engaging experience for its adult visitors? Solution: By creating an environment where adults can learn from the expert Highland staff, but also allowing for an element of choice in the direction of their education.
6: According to Bonnie Sachatello-Sawyer, guided tours are one of the most common adult programs but often one of the most difficult to negotiate as a docent. As she states, "A single group can contain both those informed on the subject and those who know very little" (2002, 26). | The Program: Ashlawn-Highland offers docent led guided tours that connect visitors not only to the house and the furnishings it contains, but also to the historical significance of the Monroe family. The docent makes references and connections to Monroe's involvement in the American Revolution, the Louisiana Purchase, the Missouri Compromise, and his most famous accomplishment, the Monroe Doctrine. Questions and comments are constantly encouraged
7: The guided tour included information about family spaces such as bedrooms and workspaces on the farm. | This tour was available without advance reservation to walk-up individuals. As Sachatello-Sawyer points out,"making guides available to adults make sense" (2002,27)
8: Exploring the Gardens and Grounds Unlike other programs, successful adult programs must incorporate an element of freedom and choice for the participants. Adults need to play a role in determining the outcome of their overall experience. To account for this the tour at Ashlawn-Highland concluded with free access to the gardens, grounds and many of the out buildings. This feature allowed participants the choice of what to experience and explore. As Sachetello-Sawyer illustrates, " Facilitating learning and enjoyment is a primary reason programmers give for their offerings" (2002, 72).
10: The Instructor
11: The instructor can ultimately make or break a program. They are the primary connection between the visitor and the material that will provide them with an effective learning experience. Anna Johnson explains, "Creating a visitor experience that is positive and rewarding requires organization and attention to detail...docents often set the tone for the entire visitor experience" (2009, 29). Pictured on the opposite page was our docent for the guided tour of Ashlawn-Highland. She provided us with a very informative and fact filled tour, however the information was not personalized to our group. We also were given very little background information on the docent herself. The tour was a wonderful experience but could have been enhanced by these additions.
12: Program Materials: Overall, there were very few accompanying materials for this program. Participants ultimately relied on the information being delivered by the docent. Pictured above is a map of the farm to be used when exploring the grounds on your own and an informational piece on James Monroe and Ashlawn-Highland.
13: Program Marketing Ashlawn-Highland's marketing strategy for their guided tour is primarily web based. As a small museum, one would expect to see a focus on one or two marketing strategies rather than several in order to use funds as efficiently as possible. As John Faulk illustrates, "Marketing will be successful as long as it supports the needs and expectations for each major audience group" (2009, 189).
14: Conclusions: Ultimately, this programs was designed to fulfill the needs of an adult audience. Typical participants are usually characterized as Explorers or Facilitators based on John Faulk's audience categories. Ashlawn-Highland's choice to implement a docent guided tour as their main adult educational program demonstrates their commitment to what Sachatello-Sawyer terms as "bread and butter" programs. Enhancements in docent training could benefit the museum by providing more engaging and and personable docents. Additionally, perhaps embarking on a more diverse marketing strategy could help attract a broader audience base. The complete lack of evaluation materials makes one question the evaluation strategy that is currently in place. Perhaps the program could benefit from more thorough look into current strategies and interpretation.
15: References: Faulk, John H. (2009) "Attracting and Building Audiences" In Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press. Pgs. 185-213 Johnson, Anna. (2009) "Docent Training Guidelines" In The Museum Educator's Manuel. Lanham, Maryland: Alta Mira Press. Pgs. 47-60. Sachatello - Sawyer, Bonnie et all. (2002) Adult Museum Programs: Designing Meaningful Experiences. Walnut Creek, CA: Alta Mira Press. Pgs. 21-90.