Museums in the age of social media: How an Auburn treasure is staying relevant in the 21st century

In an age of social media and “always on” streaming services, how can museums and other arts attractions survive and stay relevant?

If you ask Brandon Anderson, Executive Director & CEO of the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum (ACD Museum) in Auburn, it calls for thinking creatively when it comes to programming and outreach.

Anderson, who's in his early 30s, has been in his position for about a year and is already making waves in the museum community. He says being an Executive Director is the capstone of his career so far. To manage the task, he draws on his knowledge from an undergraduate degree in historic preservation and architectural design and a master's degree in museum studies from the University of Oklahoma.

And as a Millennial, he's aware that museums must evolve with the times to attract younger audiences.

“What we are working really hard to do is create brand-new experiences and ways to be part of the museum, our history, and the collections we preserve," he says. "And along with that, we look to preserve the story behind the Cord Duesenberg brand and its impact globally.”

ACD Museum's Brandon Anderson

As younger generations take to social media to express themselves, connecting them with unique, highly shareable experiences and meaningful stories is part of the equation. Anderson says the history of the Auburn Cord Duesenberg is one of northeast Indiana's best-kept secrets it has to share.

At one time, Auburn was on the world map because of the innovations coming out of its Auburn Automobile Company. On top of that, the ACD Museum is a National Historic Landmark and the only automobile museum in the world that's in its original international headquarters. It also houses the largest public display of Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg automobiles in the world.

Anderson and his team are working hard to frame this story both online and in-person as they connect with new and younger audiences—those who live in their backyard or come from halfway around the world. 

“We get people from all over the world that come to visit us," he says. "Even our board members are located throughout the country. So we have a national presence, but our audience is actually global.”

Unlike some museums who are limited in resources or by the nature of their collection, Anderson says the ACD Museum has more agency in this regard, and it allows them to put on some impressive, interactive events.

“One example is that we have begun offering historic rides in our collection pieces as part of our special programming,” he explains. “Like for Father’s Day, we made some of our automobiles available from the collection that people maybe have only seen in the showroom. These are pieces that were designed and built to drive. And what better way to interact with the museum's collection than to literally drive it around town? That's one of the ways that we're moving towards being relevant and viable.” 

The ACD Museum welcomes guests from around the world.

Filling gaps and innovating in local education systems is another means to that end. The museum has partnerships with local schools designed to instill an appreciation for the arts and science behind automobile design and production in a younger generation.

Like the Father's Day program, the educational partnerships also involve an experiential component. Anderson's staff brings cars from their collection on-site so kids can get up close and personal with these historic artifacts. The programming also meets state standards for curriculum and incorporates STEM concepts, too.

“That's where our education has gone in the United States,” Anderson explains. “It’s our responsibility to create programs and curriculum and events for educators who may not have the resources to do that, or don't have an engineering background, or are not really sure how to tie in something with that broad spectrum.”

Speaking of a tie-in, blogger Kwasi Hope Agyeman has advice for museum professionals in his January 2019 piece, "Top 10 Museum Trends in 2019." In the post, Agyeman argues that meetups can help museums connect with patrons in non-traditional ways, while fostering a community around their missions.

Look no further than the ACD Museum's "Cars & Coffee" program as an example of this trend in action. Car owners and enthusiasts from around the region are encouraged to talk shop and enjoy plenty of automotive eye candy, all over a cup of coffee provided by Jeremiah’s Brewed Awakenings, also in Auburn.

As the museum looks to the near future, Anderson offers an invitation to connect and collaborate with more people and organizations in the region.

“We're a part of northeast Indiana,” he says. "We know that when one organization succeeds, we all succeed. So we want to be a part of the larger community and work together. That’s why we try to have an active presence at regional events to get more exposure. We would love to continue to do that to a greater extent.”

Attend "Cars & Coffee"

"Cars and Coffee" takes place 9-11 am every third Saturday through September on the plaza across from the ACD Museum, 1400 South Wayne St., Auburn.

Read more articles by Lauren Caggiano.

Lauren Caggiano is a Fort Wayne-based writer. A 2007 graduate of the University of Dayton, she returned to Northeast Indiana to pursue a career. In the past 12 years she has worked in journalism, public relations, marketing, and digital media. She currently writes for several local, regional, and national publications.
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