Brewmaster Studios: A Community Partnership Takes Off

By Special Contributor posted 03-29-2016 15:04


Originally Posted  January 27, 2016
By Kimberly Bender

As a nonprofit, a house museum faces the core challenge of raising revenue in ways that relate to the organization’s mission. Fortunately, house museums possess one of the world’s most lucrative resources: real estate. The paradox is that a house museum’s real estate is its mission, and it is often also part of its museum collection. At the Heurich House Museum in Washington, DC, we have worked hard to create mission-related uses for the non-collection parts of our historic property. In April 2015, we converted our carriage house into an arts and humanities collective called Brewmaster Studios.

 Heurich House Carriage House c. 1925 | Heurich House Museum

Founded in 2003, the Heurich House Museum preserves the legacy of brewer Christian Heurich and enriches the cultural life of Washington, DC. Our property is made up of the Heurich family’s five-story mansion, which contains intact interiors and family objects; their carriage house, with interiors that had been redeveloped into office space before the museum was established; and a garden that the family used as a dog run and backyard and that contains no original plantings. Our collections management policy defines the building, as well as many of the original architectural features that still remain on the property, such as the cast-iron and concrete fences and the exterior of the carriage house, as part of our collection.

The lessons we have learned from Brewmaster Studios can serve other house museums in their pursuit of mission-related revenue-producing projects.

1. Give entrepreneurial stakeholders a chance to help.

For the last three years, the Heurich House Museum has held an annual Christkindlmarkt in the garden. The event is our take on a traditional festive German holiday market, our way of honoring Heurich’s native German culture while supporting local artisans. Our Christkindlmarkt vendors sell hand-made works that stem from the same traditions as the craftsmen who built this house.

Studio of Letterpress Maker Meredith Akery | Credit: Sharmila Photography, Heurich House Museum

In early 2015, Meredith Akery, a letterpress maker and one of our Christkindlmarkt vendors, asked if she could use the carriage house as a studio space. The two-floor building was up for rent, but we were searching for a larger nonprofit to fill the space. Meredith proposed converting the building into a series of artist studios and offered to create a plan to make it work. After hearing her ideas, and hammering out the details, we decided to create an application for occupancy. The response was so positive that we were able to refine the project goals and choose artists who were best suited to our space, mission and financial need: a jewelry artisan, a leather-goods maker, an artist whose paintings reflected architectural themes and a humanities scholar.

2. There is such a thing as an “all-in-one” solution.

When we first put the carriage house up for lease, our plan was to find an economically stable nonprofit tenant whose mission aligned with ours and who served the DC population. This solution was intended to achieve three goals: ensure that our rental income was mission-related and not taxable; align with DC law, which governs our property tax exemption; and not overburden our small staff. During the initial planning stages of Brewmaster Studios, we found creative ways to meet these same goals. In exchange for a rent reduction, Meredith acted as studio administrator, co-organizing the application process and artist choice as well as handling day-to-day tenant management. One locally focused nonprofit organization anchored the project as the tenant of the open floor plan first floor, and we rented the “rabbit warren” of offices on the second floor as studios to craftspeople who owned small local businesses with a level of proven viability.

3. Well-implemented revenue-making projects can bring more than just revenue.

Since Brewmaster Studios opened in April 2015, our tenants have worked just as hard as we have to build this independent arts community. They launched their own website, host monthly open-house events and have collaborated to create new products.

 Studio of Jeweler Mallory Shelter at Brewmaster Studios | Credit: Morgan West, Heurich House Museum

The benefits of creating Brewmaster Studios have proven exponentially greater than the monthly rent in our operating account. Our humanities scholar tenant has become a senior adviser to the Heurich House Museum, and some of the artisans participated in our Christkindlmarkt again this year. The project has received considerable coverage by the local press, and the museum’s reputation in the local small business community has grown. The studios have also inspired new ideas in the museum’s programming. During this year’s holiday market, we featured vendors’ work in the museum spaces for the first time. Brewmaster Studios has inspired the museum to participate in Dupont Circle’s monthly “First Fridays,” a free event open to the public. By opening on Friday evenings, we attract a new audience that is unable to visit during our daytime public tours. In addition, we have the opportunity to partner with local artisans each month and provide them with a platform to market their works.

By teaming with our stakeholders, we have not only secured a reliable revenue stream aligned to our mission but also built a new community, found new pathways to collaboration and expanded our reach in our neighborhood.

Kimberly Bender has served as the executive director of the Heurich House Museum since 2012.

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