The Mark Twain House & Museum will soon have a new executive director. WNPR’s Sujata Srinivasan spoke to Cindy Lovell on her plans to preserve Twain’s legacy, increase revenue, and promote tourism.
In fourth grade, Cindy Lovell fell in love with Tom Sawyer. She didn’t know then about the other books Mark Twain had written – that discovery would happen in her sophomore year. Lovell went on to become the executive director of the author’s Boyhood Home & Museum in Hannibal, Missouri. And this March 4th – the 150th year since Samuel Langhorne Clemens first wrote under the name Mark Twain – she will become the new executive director of the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford.
It was here that Clemens the man lived and raised a family, and Twain the writer became a global phenomenon.
“If you’ve read Tom Sawyer, you know that work consists of what a body is obliged to do and play consists of what a body is not obliged to do. I happen to find that working for Sam Clemens as my boss doesn’t really feel like work.”
Each year, the museum attracts around 70,000 visitors from the U.S. and around the world and has a current annual operating budget of 2.6 million dollars. Lovell plans to increase the revenue from traditional sources for nonprofits – grants, donations, and endowments. But she also wants to find new revenue streams by developing products in-house – she wrote an audio biography featuring Clint Eastwood as the voice of Twain and Jimmy Buffet as Huck Finn. Proceeds amounting to over 100,000 dollars to date, benefit the Hannibal museum’s operations. Another of her ideas was “dollar at the door” – staff raised more than 20,000 dollars from visitors in the last three years.
“I really like to look at creativity, and look at product development, look at new ideas, technology; I believe the internet is an under-utilized tool. Twain fans come from around the world. Most people who love Mark Twain will never find themselves in the position that they can come and enjoy the Hartford house. But the internet can provide virtual tours, possibly for a fee, possibly for a donation.”
Under Lovell’s watch from 2008, the Hannibal museum nearly doubled its endowment to 1.4 million dollars. Her goal for the Hartford museum is 20 million dollars. But like Twain himself, her new workplace went through tough financial times beginning with the construction of an 18 million-dollar visitors center, embezzlement by a former employee, near-bankruptcy and layoffs.
“We can’t dwell on the past. We can only learn from it. I admire the people who have stood by the house, who’ve worked very hard and I know have reached into their own pockets to keep things moving forward. I’m an old-fashioned farm girl, I know how to run a budget. How to save money? You have to do these things. You don’t spend money you don’t have and you don’t buy things if you don’t have the money to pay for them. And I also understand about putting away money for a rainy day and how important that is.”
Twain’s words are immortal, as Ken Burns noted in his 2001 documentary. But Lovell says it’s just as important to preserve the historic sites associated with him.
“This man left a legacy of words that will be here forever. He spoke to the human condition. He was a truth teller. Oh yes, he made us squirm and he poked us with a sharp stick. But that’s why he’s timeless. His words will resonate forever. But the buildings are important. The buildings have their own story to tell.”
Lovell hopes to reduce operating costs by collaborating to promote all Twain-related sites across the country, make bulk purchases and cross-sell products, and apply for national grants as a group. A recipient of the Missouri tourism Ambassador Award, she wants to work with state officials to promote Twain’s Hartford. Of the city, he said fondly: “You do not know what beauty is, if you have not been here.”
For WNPR, I’m Sujata Srinivasan