You Can’t Do That?!: How Breaking The Rules Paid Off For One Historic Home

Museum Resources
Marketing & Aud Dev Associate
Museum Resources July 18, 2017 Featured Image

Historic homes aren’t always known for unique programming or being a community center, but Hegeler Carus Mansion in LaSalle, Illinois is working to change that.

The “Museum Champion” behind this change is Kelly Klobucher, the Executive Director of this historic home. Kelly has revived HCM to be a mainstay in the area, multiplying annual attendance from 3000 visitors to 9000, and the mansion is now known for its engaging events and fun programming.

Recently, Kelly gave a detailed presentation about how HCM’s staff have revitalized their historic home by breaking conventions and embracing the mansion’s “creepy reputation”. The following is our recap of Kelly’s presentation, along with her original slides and our notes for context.

Bonus: We also recorded a brand new, never released interviewed with Kelly that dives into the specific strategies and tactics her and the HCM staff used. Enjoy!

With nothing to lose, Kelly set out to win back the local community and bring in a new audience.

Check out the now-restored Hegeler Carus Mansion, built in 1876, above. It didn’t always look this way, though. Out of family care, the house fell into disrepair and earned its reputation as being a bit creepy.  

There’s no doubt why so many thought this place was haunted.

Historic homes have a hard time fighting preconceived notions of being boring, old, and not really a place to go for a good time. Kelly became a fresh pair of eyes to bring in a new life to this old house, and bring in a new audience.

Creating a new audience from scratch isn’t easy, and along the way, Kelly received advice that seemed counter-intuitive. Who says you can’t do cool stuff in a historic home, anyway?

“We were a dead and dying historic house museum. Without realizing that I was hacking the museum… I don’t come from a history background, I come from a marketing and PR background. I took a page from Ringling Bro’s and made this museum the Greatest Show on Earth.”  – Kelly Klobucher

Kelly heard a lot of “don’ts,” but she decided without risk, there’d be no chance of reward. She decided to break all the “rules,” like don’t allow kids, don’t have a wedding on site, don’t host a rock band on the lawn — and more!

Because of Kelly’s mission, the Hegeler Carus hosts public programs, has great events, and is open for public tours.

While the house is still notable for its high Victorian stencils, woodwork, and history, it’s now also a place for the community to have a good time.

Here’s what Kelly and Hegeler Carus learned:

  • It takes a long time to change people’s perceptions.
  • We still want to dress up like Victorians every now and then…but we don’t need to do it everyday!
  • Your Board WILL eventually come around…as long as you break even!

The verdict? Their attendance tripled from around 3000 visitors a year to about 9,000.

“It has changed the way that the community looks at us.” 

New Interview with Kelly on Her Specific Tactics & Strategies for Growth

Our Audience Development Marketer, Julia Kennedy, interviewed Kelly about the specific strategies and tactics HCM used to quickly reposition their historic house and attract new audiences. Press play to listen!

 

Want to supercharge your institution? We help with strategic planning to help you sustainably grow your audience. Email us for more information at [email protected]

written with 💖 by Julia Kennedy

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