Thursday, December 23, 2010

LOOKING BACK/MOVING FORWARD


2010 was a remarkable year for Mark Twain in general and The Mark Twain House & Museum in particular. Time recently catalogued the “Comebacks of the Year” and included in the list was Twain. Of course, this is funny to folks here at the museum because Twain never truly went away (a necessary ingredient for a comeback). Our Centennial Celebration – the observance of Twain’s death plus his 175th birthday and the 125th anniversary of the U.S. publication of his masterwork Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – only served as a reminder of this giant among men who still walks, speaks and breathes (if a little raspishly after all those cigars) among us.

Two years ago, The Mark Twain House & Museum appeared to be down for the count. Financial difficulties put the future of this National Historic Landmark in doubt. Thanks to generous supporters, a rallying cry from Twain-lovers across the globe, and the dedicated stewardship of a hard-working staff and board, the rough waters were leveled and the ship was righted. But smooth sailing, as any scholar of Twain will tell you, is not what Samuel Clemens was about. His chosen pen name indicates the point at which dangerous passages become safe waters and vice versa. We had to dive into our Centennial Celebration and make a splash.


In order to change the course of The Mark Twain House & Museum, we turned to Sam himself and created a multi-faceted celebration of his life, his times, his interests, his foibles, his family and, of course, his legendary work. Thanks to our generous friends at The Hartford Financial Services Group, our Centennial Sponsor, we were able to hit the ground running in January and haven’t looked back, until now, in the waning weeks of 2010. Some highlights…

  • A performance of Mark Twain Tonight! by the indefatigable Hal Holbrook
  • A far-ranging collaboration with Hartford Stage, Hartford Public Library and Connecticut Public Broadcasting to celebrate Twain and his classic The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
  • The blockbuster success of Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1 plus a symposium on Twain at St. Joseph College
  • A brand new website that adds more resources for folks looking to know more about Twain and his home in Hartford
  • Authors in conversation including Twain biographers Laura Skandera Trombley, Jerome Loving, Michael Shelden and food historian Andrew Beahrs discussing Twain’s Feast
  • A Centennial Séance that exposed the bunk and chills of Spiritualism (plus a breathtaking Mark Twain House cake created by the Ace of Cakes)
  • Four fascinating exhibitions that explored Twain’s legacy, his house’s architecture, and his seminal works
  • Thousands of children visiting the house and museum for the first time to learn about Twain
  • The launch of the Nook Farm Book Club with the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center
  • A delightful Spring and Fall series of free lectures examining Sam and his obsessions, The Trouble Begins at 5:30
  • Expanding education programs with Capital Prep and Bulkeley High School
  • The debut of Writing at The Mark Twain House classes with Lary Bloom, Suzanne Levine and Susan Campbell
  • Fun and eclectic programs like our Tapping into Twain Oktoberfest, Sam’s Summer Social & Moustache Party, Steampunk Tea Party and Party on the Mississippi.
  • Lectures and programs with national figures such as Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi, Tiffany & Co. Design Director Emeritus John Loring, Irish punk rock author Larry Kirwan and Montblanc North America CEO Jan-Patrick Schmitz.
  • Family-friendly events like Tom Sawyer Day, Saturdays with Sam and Stowe & Twain’s Old Fashioned Christmas
  • Popular outreach lecture programs held at libraries and organizations throughout the state by Education Program Manager Craig Hotchkiss
  • Sold-out Graveyard Shift Ghost Tours that probed the darker elements of Twain’s home and history
  • Lively performances by the Ebony Hillbillies, Hartford Opera Theatre, Sea Tea Improv, Varla Jean Merman, HartBeat Ensemble, and dozens of others.
  • A celebration of fellow Connecticut icon P.T. Barnum for the circus impresario’s Bicentennial with a special exhibition plus lecture and family programs
  • …and so much more!

In all, we had over 50 unique events plus mini-exhibitions, collaborations and speaking engagements. And the world sat up and took notice. We’ve had press coverage ranging from local features, regional write-ups and national attention from USA Today, The New York Times, CBS Sunday Morning, Wall Street Journal, Ghost Hunters Academy, among others. We also were profiled by international journalists including the BBC, German Public Radio, Portuguese and Russian magazines, a Japanese newspaper, Australian radio, and an Israeli internet reporter, to name but a few. Special thanks goes to Vault Communications, our amazing PR firm, and the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving for their support of our expanded marketing efforts.


The result of all of this activity and attention? We have experienced a 13% increase in house tour visitation this year and a 16% increase in revenue. In August 2010, we had our highest attendance for a month ever. Program attendance alone has soared over 60% higher than previous years. We’ve grown our membership base and the Mark Twain Museum Store has exceeded its sales goals (thanks due, in no small part, to our new Store Manager Laura Van Dine and the arrival of a certain autobiography).


Another result of all of this activity? We’re exhausted. And planning how to top ourselves. We’ve already announced special programs for early 2011 including a lecture by author Anne Trubek (A Skeptic’s Guide to Writers’ Houses), a visit from humorist Roy Blount, Jr., an evening of R-Rated Twain, and a celebrity reading of Twain’s Diaries of Adam & Eve with Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker. We hope that you plan to join us again and again as we look ahead to where Mark Twain will take us. Subscribe to our email newsletter, become a member, follow us on Twitter and/or become a fan on Facebook to keep up-to-date on everything we have in the works. Please know that at the close of our Centennial Celebration that we plan on continuing our efforts to celebrate the man who has given us so much joy.


Thank you to our board, staff, donors, members, visitors, fans and friends for making this an unforgettably awesome year. See you in 2011!


- Jacques Lamarre

Director of Communications

2 comments:

Dan Russell said...

What a great year! Proud to be a member.

Paul said...

Dan beat me to it, but congratulations on a great year from a proud member of the museum!