The Dyckman Farmhouse is the oldest remaining farmhouse on Manhattan Island in New York CIty and serves as a reminder of the city’s rural past. This Dutch Colonial-style farmhouse was built by William Dyckman in around 1785. Today you can find the Dyckman Farmhouse in a small park on the corner of Broadway and 204th street in the Inglewood neighborhood.
Over the past four years, Dyckman Farmhouse Museum Executive Director Meredith Horsford has focused on making the museum an inclusive community resource through expanded public program offerings and a growing list of neighborhood partnerships. Under Horsford’s supervision, the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum has added board members from the local community, installed bilingual interpretive signage, increased local partnerships, and began working with artists to create exhibitions.
Meredith grew up in the museum world. Her mother, Gretchen Sorin, Director and Distinguished Professor of the Cooperstown Graduate Program, has spent her entire professional career working in and for museums. It might have seem inevitable that Meredith too would enter the museum field, but she took a slightly different path through historic preservation and worked for the Historic House Trust for about ten years.
When Meredith started as the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum Executive Director, she realized that the farmhouse did not have a strong relationship with the community, and the neighborhood did not view the farmhouse as a resource and usable space.
“I would tell people I was with the Dyckman Farmhouse and many responded with, ‘do you live there?’” Yet, instead of feeling discouraged, Meredith viewed this as an opportunity. The farmhouse was a blank canvas with lots of potential possibilities and all of those possibilities needed to incorporate the community.
Historic house museums reaching out and engaging with their local communities is not a new concept, but what that historical content is and how the museum shares that history is evolving. By telling all of the stories of those who have lived in historic houses, including the indentured and enslaved, the historic house staff can engage new audiences.
“We’re not a typical historic house… it’s important that we not just talk about the history of the Dyckman family.” There is the history of the enslaved and the history of the people that lived on this land long before the Dyckman family built their farm.
Part of creating an inclusive museum environment is telling this history. The Dyckman family had slaves. The stories of the enslaved are important to the history of the site. Meredith and her team have been working with local officials for proper recognition beyond the farmhouse site to mark a burial ground where some of the enslaved from the Dyckman Farmhouse are buried.
The Dyckman Farmhouse Museum also looked to the community's artists as new museum partners. The museum has local artists exhibit each quarter which has helped to connect the museum to its artistic neighborhood. The museum is also partnering with author Peter Hoffmeister to create a year-long art installation project inspired by the history and stories of the enslaved peoples who lived there and how specific Dyckman family members felt about slavery.
Historic buildings are prioritizing their spaces to serve as a neighborhood gathering space housing meeting, business incubators, and targeted events for new audiences. “Our community is around 70% Spanish speaking but we didn’t have any bilingual signs,” Meredith said. Her Director of Education Naiomy Rodriguez was able to translate and redesign the museum signage to include Spanish. Developing these signs created a physical acknowledgment to its neighbors that this was an inviting and inclusive space that attracted a new audience.
The Dyckman Farmhouses’ bilingual signage and inviting artists were all part of Meredith’s goal for the museum to create a welcoming and inclusive environment. For her, it was about learning and understanding who the museum audience was or could be. Having a breakdown of who wants to come to your site or asking who are you trying to attract and how can you communicate that all are part of her focus to create an inclusive museum environment.
By increasing different types of public programming, creating a comfortable and welcoming environment, and making the museum seen as an inclusive community resource are just key parts in developing a sustainable future for this historic house museum. Moving towards the future with a complete and inclusive narrative are helping the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum better serve its community and fulfill its mission.
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