Museums band together to issue visitor passports

Carson City, a museum town?

Even Suzi Meehan and Sheila Abbe didn't realize how many museums Carson City has before they helped form the Museum Association of Carson City.

Probably a vast majority of Carson City's residents couldn't name all eight museums in town.

"I'm a prime example," said Meehan, executive director of the Children's Museum of Northern Nevada. "I didn't even know there was a museum at the Capitol."

"I didn't know about the Warren Engine Co.," said Abbe, who runs the Stewart Indian School Museum.

The museum crowd got to know each other late last summer as they casually formed the museum association, which they call MACC.

The association includes the Children's Museum, the Stewart Indian School Museum, the Nevada State Museum, the Nevada State Railroad Museum, the Roberts House, Warren Engine Co. No. 1, the Nevada State Capitol Museum and the Nevada State Library and Archives.

Together, the MACC group believes Carson City could become as much a museum town as it is the state capital.

That certainly will be the impression people flying into Reno-Tahoe Airport will get in coming weeks.

All eight museums will be featured on a backlighted advertising display in the Southwest Airlines concourse. The 42-by-63-inch display will be the nearest to airline gates.

"When you come out of that mess (the gate area), our sign will be the first really cool thing you see," said Abbe, the association's administrator for the display board project.

Negotiations with airport officials got more mileage out of MACC's $650 monthly rent for the display board. At no additional charge, museum advertising will fill eight vacant panels on both of the telephone banks where direct calls may be made to hotel.

Also, the airport threw in eight of the 12 doorway billboards just inside the street doors.

"The opportunity to put advertising in Reno-Tahoe Airport creates an awareness that Carson City is only 25 miles away and is fun for families," Meehan said. "Some people think we're close to Las Vegas."

MACC will get free advertising on the phone banks and doorway billboards until somebody rents the space. Even then, the museum will get one panel on the phone banks once the other seven are rented, Abbe said.

All three forms of advertising will go up as soon as MACC designs and installs the ads, she said.

The Museum Association of Carson City stayed quiet about its existence until receiving a $6,000 grant earlier this month from the Carson City Convention and Visitors' Bureau. The grant pays substantial amounts of the airport advertising, but the association still needs about $3,000, Abbe said.

"This grant will launch us," Abbe said.

The museums are also working to create a "passport system" commonly found in larger cities, where discounts are offered to visit multiple museums. Most of Carson City's museum have free entry so a fully stamped passport will win bearers a prize of some sort - perhaps an "I Survived Carson City's museums" button.

"The passport will cost nothing," Abbe said. "It will encourage people to go to another museum. If nothing else, it will make people aware there are more museums in Carson City."

The passports will work together with brochure boards that will be at each of the museums. The boards will have a map pinpointing the museums along with providing brochures for each museum.

Meehan thinks the passport system and brochure boards should be in place by early July.

Meehan first learned about museum passports while visiting San Francisco a year ago.

"I was absolutely amazed and excited with the passport system," she said. "When I met with the director of the Exploratorium, he said you should do this in Carson City."

The idea grew into a full-blown association as Meehan learned that several local museums were suffering attendance slumps. They quickly saw the advantages to marketing as a group.

"This is an easy thing to agree to," Abbe said. "We may all be museums but we're all very different. We work well together because we're not in competition."

Meehan and Abbe see MACC's efforts as a way to convince visitors to spend more time in Carson City and thus more money. Room tax money paid at motels and hotels is paying for MACC's airport advertising.

Typically, they said, visitors may walk through one or two museums. With people aware of more museums, they will likely visit more than that.

"I would say four museums is likely (once MACC's word gets out) and five is terrific," Meehan said.


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