The Historic Ambassador House and Heritage Gardens, Inc. in Fishers, Indiana is a rehabilitated historic home owned by the City of Fishers and managed as a non-profit organization by a volunteer Board of Directors with help from three part-time staff members. The home was saved from demolition in 1996 and moved to a new location where a city park, now called Heritage Park at White River, was developed around it. Today, the home serves as a local history site for the city of Fishers and is most often identified as a popular location for private event rentals.
This identity as an event venue is sometimes a troublesome one, for it tends to preclude the Ambassador House’s mission to preserve and promote the organization by engaging the community in history and culture. Though its function as an event center is necessary to offset the costs of maintaining the home, with every weekend and certain weekdays booked May through October for weddings, bridal and baby showers, and birthday and corporate parties, The Ambassador House often struggles to find the time and means to engage the public in its history through community programming.
Fortunately, thanks to the support and initiative of local partner organization Hamilton County Tourism, the Ambassador House has begun working its way through the AASLH StEPS program. Representatives from the Ambassador House have met with directors, staff and volunteers from other Hamilton County historical sites and small museums at workshops hosted by Hamilton County Tourism and lead by Indiana Historical Society personnel representing the AASLH. The workshops and the StEPS workbook have been of tremendous help in instigating and carrying the Ambassador House through a self-evaluation process. This process allows the Board to better understand the balance the Ambassador House must strike between its function as an event center and its mission to engage the community in historical and cultural experiences.
So far, we have considered our interpretation policies and procedures and our mission, vision and governance at workshops, and the Board has participated in the StEPS certification process for Interpretation. The outcome of this work has been that the Board has been able to see the Ambassador House in conjunction with a larger group of Historic House organizations and within the realm of museumship. The Board has renewed its commitment to historical and community programming. In addition to plans to bolster our existing programming, there is momentum to carry out an inaugural exhibition of historical materials in our collection.
Most importantly, the StEPS workshops have fostered collaboration among Hamilton county organizations, leading to our participation in county-wide programs, including a program of storytelling presentations with The Storytelling Arts of Indiana organization. Using our front porch as the stage for two of the storytelling artists in this program, we will set aside a Sunday in June, the busiest of rental months, for this community cultural event. The StEPS program has given us an awareness of and sense of duty toward the wider range of Historic House organizations and has helped reaffirm our identity beyond that of solely an event center.
— Beth Clark is a five-year resident of Fishers, IN and served for two years on the Board of Directors of the Historic Ambassador House and Heritage Gardens, Inc. With prior museum experience and degrees in Comparative Literature and Art History from Indiana University, she was very pleased to accept the role of part-time Curator and Programming Coordinator for the Ambassador House. She also serves on the Fishers Arts Council Board as Secretary and sits on the Board of Fishers’ theater organization Nickel Plate Players.