Thomas Canavan: Thank you for taking the time to chat with us.
Amy Bryer: You’re welcome. Thank you very much for inviting me!
T: Of course! We think your institution is phenomenal and we want to share it with as many people as possible. Can you tell us more about the Animal History Museum and your background?
A: That’s terrific since we also think it’s a great concept and want to share it with as many people as possible.
The Animal History Museum is the first museum dedicated to understanding and celebrating the human-animal bond.
We’re a fully-registered 501(c)(3), online-only at the moment, but hoping to create a permanent home in or near Los Angeles.
We are planning exhibits such as: the human-animal bond, animals and intelligence, the history of animals in society through art, literature, TV, film and pop culture, the development of animal welfare, rights and law, vegetarian/vegan food trends, animals and religion and more!
A little about my background? I am an attorney by trade. I opened the first animal law practice in Illinois in 2002 and ran that full-time until 2010, when I moved to southern California.
T: It’s amazing that there isn’t a museum already dedicated to this. I think everyone will be very pleased to know that there finally is one.
A: Well, there are other places around the country that are focusing on smaller pieces of the puzzle.
For example, there is a Presidential Pets Museum, as well as the American Working Dog Museum (combined with Toby’s Sit-and-Stay).
T: But nothing totally encompassing?
A: I’ve e-met the folks who run those places. I’d love to visit – if they weren’t so far away; one is on the east coast and the other in the Midwest – but no, nothing so encompassing as what we have planned.
T: I want to go back to you all being totally online right now.
A: Ask away!
T: Do you think it has been beneficial in a way? I’m sure you all have been working to create creative ways to engage the public without your physical space and I imagine this will be an asset for you in the future. Other museums have the physical space to fall back on and I imagine this sometimes leaves their online presence a lesser priority.
A: I think you work with what you’ve got first of all. Although, beyond that, we want to continue to build our online presence, even after we have a physical space. Not everyone can get to LA. Even if you’re in LA, you might not be able to visit. Giving an interested viewer the opportunity to enjoy an exhibit online, or be part of a virtual community, is important.
Also, I’m not sure that other institutions necessarily view the internet as a lesser priority so much as it might be a function of allocating lesser resources. But I will leave others to answer for themselves.
We do put a lot of time into building the website, building a Facebook community and so forth.
T: Can you tell us what stage of development AHM is in? As you all are searching for a physical space, are you looking at pre-existing buildings or new construction? How long do you think it will be until we can enter the gates?
A: We are in the process of raising funds to open a location. We plan to rent (start small) to begin with, but hope to have our own freestanding building eventually. Ideally, we are also looking for some temporary space that we can borrow. If we can arrange not to have rent overhead to start, that would obviously go a long way toward getting the doors open sooner.
Definitely pre-existing buildings. If I can figure out how to persuade Bill Gates to adopt me, then maybe new construction.
T: That makes sense. Museum Force is trying to approach our organization in the same way.
A: May I tell you a little about our newest online exhibit?
A: We’re really thrilled with the response we’ve been getting to our newest exhibit. It’s about senior animal adoption and it’s called: “Single, Experienced Animal Seeks Mature, Loving Relationship: Stories of Older Animal Adoption.”
The idea came about last spring, while I was at a coffee shop with a wonderful LA photographer named Lori Fusaro. In addition to running her own studio, she does a lot of volunteer work with animals, in particular, photography..
T: You get a great visual understanding of the exhibit through that title. I love it! Does Lori assist with these adoptions?
A: She takes pictures of animals – and especially older animals – that get dumped back into shelters, in the hopes of getting them adopted out again. In other words, instead of the usual frightening looking photos of some animal cowering in the back of its cage, Lori takes them out, cleans them up, plays with them and then really gets their personality to shine through in the photo. The whole idea is that when someone sees the photo, instead of turning away, they might say “I can picture that animal in my home!
T: That’s a great approach.
A: I have a soft spot for seniors too, having adopted a 13-year-old cat last year.
So I asked Lori if we could borrow some of her images, build a Facebook contest around them, and then ask people to send in their own photos and stories to create a crowd-sourced exhibit. We had done something similar during summer 2012 with pitbull rescue. Our Facebook community really enjoyed it and we got many beautiful photos, so we expanded the concept this summer to also include professional photographers who take pictures on behalf of shelters, as well as video entries.
T: That’s how you use the internet! No more Sarah McLachlan?
A: Well, if Sarah McLachlan would like to be a celebrity spokesperson for us, I would not turn that down.
T: I suppose not.
A: So we held a Facebook contest, collected the entries, had a crowd-sourced vote, then collected extra materials in order to feature the winners. Although all of the entries were so wonderful, that we decided to include all of the photos and videos.
T: You had no winner? Everyone won?!
A: No, we had winners, but the other entries were still so wonderful, why not pay at least a little tribute to all of these folks who opened up their homes and hearts to senior animals.
I know it’s going to sound cliché, but yes, in some sense, all of these folks were winners just by the choices made to give these animals a second chance.
T: Who do you think will enjoy your museum more? Children or adults?
A: We hope that both children and adults will find things to enjoy at the Animal History Museum!
T: I knew you were going to say that!
T: But that’s fair, I truly believe both will. And I think that’s a testament to the importance of your museum. This bond spans old and young and across all cultural or geographical boundaries.
A: You should do our PR!
T: Haha! How can we help you and AHM? We want to see these doors open and filled with families!
A: We were very excited when we first heard about your plans for Museum Force. As you have correctly identified, there’s a big gap between this new form of funding – crowdfunding – and the perpetually funding-strapped non-profit sector. You definitely get the impression from reading through the Kickstarter site that they are under the impression that NFPs don’t need crowdfunding because we can get grant money .
The trouble is, most organizations can’t just “get” grants, or if they do, not necessarily in the amount needed. It’s not like having access to a private tap you can just turn on.
So your concept is a great one. And we are absolutely thrilled to be part of your launch.
T: We agree. We really want to be able to help out museums in all phases of development. Once we understand that a little from everyone will go a long way, I believe the state of our museums will begin to improve.
A: Agree 100 percent.
T: I have one last question.
A: Go ahead!
T: I know from our own experience that there are a lot of challenges along the way when trying to create something that hasn’t yet been done. So many that sometimes it’s hard to keep pushing for it. What was the one success, a huge win, that you’ve had that made you know this museum has to happen. No matter what! By all means necessary!
A: I’m not sure we’ve had that one huge win yet, but we’ve definitely had many small, solid steps forward. I can’t tell you how many people hear about our plans and tell me what a great idea, how needed, how they are looking forward to it, etc. Interestingly, maybe a half-dozen people have told me they had pretty much the same idea, 10 and even 20 years ago. I think it’s just an idea whose time has come.
T: That’s okay, take all those small wins. We think it’s time has come also.
A: Every time someone makes a donation, or agrees to be on our advisory council, or even just posts a picture on our Facebook wall, it’s a show of support
T: It all helps and I hope we can help too by sharing you all with our readers and creating a great campaign with you once Museum Force is up and running.
A: We are looking forward to it. Please let us know what you need from us, and I’d be delighted to one day say that our Museum Force campaign was our first huge win. : )
T: Yes! Well thank you Amy again for talking with us.
A: Thank you, Thomas. It’s been a pleasure.
T: We wish you and the Animal History Museum so much success and now that we’re here in Los Angeles, we hope to be among the first to enter the gates for your grand opening!
A: You are definitely on the guest list!
Amy Breyer is the Founder and Executive Director of the Animal History Museum. Learn more about AHM at animalhistorymuseum.org.
Thomas Canavan is the Founder and Executive Director of Museum Force.