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An 'Anarchist's' Plan to Reinvent the Historic House Museum

In the Arsenal building in Central Park, where he has an office, Franklin D. Vagnone keeps a pie chart. The chart, with five segments, is called the "Evaluation Matrix," and it is the culmination of years of Vagnone's theorizing about what makes an effective historic home.

Each section of the "Evaluation Matrix" has headings. That's where the businesslike organization ends and Vagnone's trademark quirkiness and plainspeak take over: subheads include "Transcend the Object," "Dig Deeper," "Learn by Doing," Avoid the Narcissism of Details," and "Keep it Real." The chart even suggests that historic houses employ N.U.D.E. tour guides—guides that are Non-linear, Unorthodox, Dactylic, and Experimental.

The matrix is one piece of a larger project for Vagnone, who is the executive director of New York City's Historic House Trust and the co-author of the Anarchist's Guide to Historic House Museums, published this month. Vagnone sees a potentially dire future for the historic home as funding and visitor numbers decline. "One of the problems with house museums is you keep kind of circling back to the same people who come….Eventually they are going to die and there's going to be no one coming to your parties," Vagnone says.

"It just has to be a massive philosophical shift" >>