After 9/11, the New York Stock Exchange closed its doors to visitors for security reasons, making the Museum of American Finance a popular alternative.
However, the museum was housed in a small 3,000-square-foot space and, with the sudden influx of visitors, its board was prompted to start looking for a bigger home.
"There were people coming downtown [who] wanted to experience Wall Street," says Kristin Aguilera, communications director of the museum. "But other than going to our small gallery, the only thing they could do that was finance-oriented was go to the stock exchange and take a picture outside, but not really experience Wall Street."
So at the end of 2005, the museum moved to a new space with 10 times the amount of square footage. Just last month, it relaunched with a week-long schedule of events, beginning with a fundraiser and ending with museum board members and staffers opening the day's trading session by ringing the opening bell.
Aguilera, who has served the museum in her present capacity since she graduated college 11 years ago, says while it was the busiest week she's ever had, it's exactly why she chose a career in communications.
"This was the biggest project of my career," she says. "Most of the PR projects we do center on the opening of exhibits and the occasional big event, like becoming an affiliate of the Smithsonian. This has been the largest event we have ever done - and the most significant in terms of our institution."
Aguilera says the most challenging part was coordinating a whole week's roll out of events with a staff of just nine. After the fundraiser, which was held on a Monday evening, a press conference was held on Wednesday to announce the grand opening of the museum, scheduled for later that week on Friday morning. More than 40 media members, including foreign reporters and bloggers, attended the announcement.
Aguilera, who took part in nearly 25 interviews that week alone, says coordinating the ringing of the opening bell was no easy feat, but says taking part in it was the highlight of her career.
Prior to ringing the bell, her team walked the exchange floor handing out hats embroidered with the museum's logo to traders "so they could cheer us on." She adds, "Ringing the bell a half hour before we opened to the public was a great away to celebrate our presence on Wall Street."
But aside from providing a fix for millions of tourists, the museum is also serving as an educational tool during these turbulent times, Aguilera says.
"Providing perspective is the most valuable service this museum can offer," she adds. "Given market events over the past few weeks, it's no wonder we're seeing such an influx of visitors."
Scott Tangney, EVP of financial and professional services at Makovsky & Company, who worked with the museum on the opening, is not at all surprised Aguilera has handled the week so flawlessly.
"[Her] stamina would stand up to any of the Wall Street barons," he says. "To produce three major events in an entire week, remain calm and collected, and be able to make strategic decisions under fire was very impressive."
Aguilera will be glad to take part in the tiring gauntlet of events and interviews again, but "at least not for another ten months."
Museum of American Finance, comms director
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