Monday will mark the anniversary of his first year at the museum. He said during a meeting of the Bradley Sunrise Rotary Club Thursday that he and his staff are trying to make the museum a place people in the area will continually want to visit.
“We’ve done a lot of behind-the-scenes work,” Najjar said.
He explained he and the other museum staff have been adding more exhibits and activities, because one of the criticisms people had about the museum before was that “nothing ever changed.”
That criticism led to the museum creating a new exhibit space to accommodate traveling exhibits from museums in other cities.
Najjar said they are now able to add new exhibits about every 12 or 15 weeks.
A new focus has also been placed on promoting membership to the museum by adding special members-only events and adding benefits like being able to get 10 percent discounts to nearby downtown businesses.
Najjar stressed that museums continue to see declines in membership and general attendance despite the fact that knowing the history of people who lived in Bradley County remains important.
He said he read somewhere that people only spend 5 percent of their lives learning in classrooms, and even less time may be spent learning about history.
“Where do you spend the other 95 percent?” he asked.
He said he would like to see more families attending the museum together and talking about the people who lived in the area before them, rather than what happened on “The Bachelor” and other reality television shows.
He maintains there is no shortage of stories waiting to be told and discussed. The amount of history in the area is something Najjar said had exceeded the expectations he had when he first became the museum’s director.
“It’s been a huge eye-opener for me,” Najjar said. “There’s a lot of history in town.”
He said that has bolstered his enthusiasm for adding more and more new exhibits and events to share the history of the area with visitors.
The museum’s seven staff members currently welcome about 25,000 visitors per year. Najjar said a good portion of those come from out of town. He said that was likely because Chattanooga does not currently have a history museum open to the public.
Doug Berry, vice president of economic development for the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce, had just introduced Hajjar to the group, saying he believed the changes the museum’s staff had made under Najjar’s leadership over the past year meant positive things for it.
“I’m very pleased with the efforts he’s taken to better the museum,” Berry said.
Still, Najjar said he wanted more Bradley County residents to view the museum as a place to go to learn more about the histories of their ancestors. Also in the works are more plans to host events for teachers that can be used as resources to learn about local history.
Though the museum now places much less emphasis on renting out its facilities for events than it once did, Najjar said it does remain “important” to the museum’s income.
After a Rotarian asked why facility rental prices had recently been raised, he said the museum had in the past lowered the prices to attract new event rentals. However, it was “not sustainable” for the prices to remain where they were once the demand for the facilities became higher.
Overall, he said the museum is “breaking even,” though he would like to see the number of members get higher than the current 482. The museum’s goal is to have 1,000 members.
Najjar gave the Rotarians a look at some the exhibits and events that will be happening at the museum over the next month.
The museum’s current rotating exhibit is called “Common People in Uncommon Times: The Civil War Experience in Tennessee.” It will be at the museum until May 17 and is included in the normal admission price.
Najjar said that rather than just focusing on the soldiers and generals of the Civil War, the exhibit gives visitors a look at how the war impacted the ordinary people of Tennessee as they went through their daily lives.
On March 29, the museum will host the FiberWorks fashion show and market. The event, which will take place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., will feature a variety of clothing and other items made by area fiber artists. The event includes lunch and a fashion show. The cost is $28 for museum members and $35 for non-members. Tickets must be purchased ahead of time.
On April 2 a workshop for local teachers is planned to help them include the study of primary sources when teaching history. The “Primary Sources and Common Core” workshop will take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and will be hosted by Kira Duke from Middle Tennessee State University’s Teaching with Primary Sources program. The event is free, but teachers must reserve their spots in the workshop.
The museum will host a lecture on April 3 about President Andrew Jackson and his role in the Trail of Tears. Author Mark Cheathem will discuss what he learned while writing his book “Andrew Jackson, Southerner.” The event will take place from 6 to 7 p.m.
A new documentary will premiere at the museum on April 17. Ron and Debbie Moore will present “It’s a Dirt Track Life,” which documents dirt track racing in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. The documentary is 80-minutes long, and the event will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. The documentary’s debut will set the stage for the exhibit “In the Dirt: The Fast and Dirty World of Dirt Track Racing,” which opens May 30.
All the events and exhibits are included in regular admission costs and are free to members unless otherwise noted.