Launching a new museum is seldom, if ever, an easy undertaking. While the passion is always there, major challenges remain for any such institution. These can range from raising the necessary funds to finding the right location.
Roberta Rubin can tell you all about them. As co-chair of the board of directors of the American Writers Museum and member of its founders’ council, she’s navigated a number of obstacles on the way to its launch, slated for Spring 2017 in Chicago.
Rubin, formerly the owner of The Book Stall, a popular independent bookstore in Chicago’s suburban North Shore, has devoted her career to the written word. So creating this museum, which will celebrate the historical and cultural legacy of prominent American writers of myriad styles and backgrounds, is truly a labor of love for her.
“It’s a start-up,” she said. “It has its delicacies and trials, but we feel like it will be open a year from now.”
Here are three specific challenges the institution has faced so far, along with solutions Rubin and her fellow board members have implemented — or will implement — to address them.
Challenge: Attracting attention nationwide for the institution, despite having a limited marketing/PR budget.
Solution: In addition to seeking earned media, Rubin and others involved with the institution are getting public support from their well-known contacts in the literary and academic worlds, such as historian, author and Pulitzer Prize-winner David McCullough. (From her time operating a bookstore, Rubin gained years of experience lining up notable writers for speaking engagements.)
Challenge: Getting people to go “up.” Though the museum will have approximately 12,000 square feet in a building at Lake Street and Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago — a literal stone’s throw from the renowned Millennium Park — it will be housed on the second story. That means it won’t have a street-level entrance, with all the signage that goes with it.
Solution: Rubin acknowledges that a second-floor space is “not ideal,” but adds that the museum will place a few good-sized signs at street level. Additionally, it’ll have large windows that will feature eye-catching promotional banners to get the attention of passing pedestrians.
Challenge: Finding donors who can financially carry the museum until it generates revenues that make it self-sustaining — or close to it.
Solution: One way the board approached this issue was to have two co-chairs: Rubin, who manages the content and promotional side of planning, and Hill Hammock, former vice chairman and COO of LaSalle Bank, who brought access to potential individual and organizational donors with deep pockets. Another tactic has been to offer a variety of options for donating, such as five-year pledges and charter memberships. And there’s the opportunity to purchase naming rights for galleries and exhibits.
Though these and other challenges will remain for the foreseeable future, Rubin is as confident as she’s ever been that the American Writers Museum will go from concept to reality in the coming year.
“The best part is that I think it’s going to happen,” she said. “There’s enough support. Big donors have stepped forward. I feel a rush that it is working.”