ORGANIZATION CASE STUDY: Neutrality helps Sixth Floor Museum continue legacy

While accuracy and impartiality are the cornerstones of the Sixth Floor Museum, creative PR - crafted by an unbudgeted, one-person staff - is key in helping draw donors and visitors.

While accuracy and impartiality are the cornerstones of the Sixth Floor Museum, creative PR - crafted by an unbudgeted, one-person staff - is key in helping draw donors and visitors.

The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas is different things to different people. If you believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, it's a commemoration of the room from which a madman perched his gun and fatally shot the 35th President. But if you believe any of the other various theories about the murder of John F. Kennedy, then this museum is simply misplaced. If you're one of those people, you're going to have to keep waiting for the opening of "The JFK Museum at the Grassy Knoll," or some such thing. In the meantime, the Sixth Floor is where conspiracy theorists, JFK enthusiasts, patriots, and tourists alike can come to remember the tragic end and noble beginnings of America's youngest President. The name says it all. The museum is, in fact, located inside the infamous Texas School Book Depository building, mostly on the sixth floor, where Oswald's perch and bullet casings were discovered after the shooting. It's a commemoration not just of that day, but of JFK's entire life. You'll find many things here. The permanent exhibit on the sixth floor boasts an accurate recreation of the southeast window as it looked on November 22, 1963, including a facsimile of Oswald's perch. On display are TV and radio news reports from that day, even images from the famous "Zapruder Film," the only known footage of the shooting. (Indeed, the Zapruder family donated to the museum exclusive rights to the movie. "The film itself is in the National Archives - the government paid them for that," explains Dawn Quiett, the museum's PR and ad manager. "But the family did not give them the copyright, because then it can be printed on T-shirts and advertisements. They gave it to us knowing that we would protect it.") The seventh floor hosts rotating exhibits. Past displays include Stanley Tretick photographs from the shooting, a retrospective on the life of first lady Jackie Kennedy, and even a special examination of how America chooses to remember some of its other tragic sites, such as the World Trade Center and the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Consistent neutrality What you won't find at this museum are opinions. "We don't take sides," explains Quiett. "If we talk about Oswald, we use the word 'alleged,' because he was never charged with anything. We just present evidence from the two official investigations." That sort of neutrality is vital to Quiett's work. Her job is twofold: the easier part is attracting visitors to the museum; the harder one is encouraging people to rummage through their closets for JFK-related artifacts. "Go through your basement or your attic," she pleads. "We want those photographs; we want your oral histories." Much of the museum's permanent exhibit consists of amateur photographs from that day - many still anonymous. Quiett leads the hunt to identify the shooters, so to speak. "Some of these pictures here, we don't even know who took them," she says. "We'd like to find that out. Fifty years from now, someone could see these pictures and have a whole different story about what happened." The museum's curators are eminently aware of how delicate a challenge it can be to lure the pack rats, history buffs, and conspiracy theorists out of hiding. Hence the strict adherence to a neutral view of the assassination in all their communications. The last thing they want to do is alienate a large swath of their target audience. Take the wrong stand, and half the people with the most valuable collections will see you as the enemy. Good luck getting their memorabilia after that. Of course, one also has to be on the lookout for overzealous donors. "I once got a phone call from a guy who said his father has been a polygrapher, and he said he had the polygraph machine they used on [Oswald killer Jack] Ruby," Quiett remembers. "We never heard from him again, so we don't really know." Changing tactics to drive tourism Then there's the somewhat less touchy effort to drive tourism. With more than 5 million visitors in the 15 years that the museum has been open, the initiative to visit clearly already exists in the hearts of Americans and foreigners alike. But Quiett takes every opportunity to bring in more. Kennedy family anniversaries, patriotic milestones, and national holidays all work nicely as news pegs for the museum. She's also made a reputation for herself by pitching unique angles for the museum's rotating exhibits. "They are very creative. I'm always impressed by the angles that Dawn can find to explore what they have and what they do over there," says Gary Dowell of The Dallas Morning News. Dowell specifically recalls a recent exhibit featuring Andy Warhol's near-obsessive work documenting the life of Jackie Kennedy in the years following her husband's death. "Dawn contacted people regarding [Warhol's] spirituality. He was a diehard Catholic, and she had people doing articles on that aspect of him. The exhibit was very interesting, but I never would have thought of that angle. It was an interesting way of looking at the aftermath of JFK's death." Of course, in a situation like Quiett's, one has to be a bit creative. She doesn't just head the museum's PR and marketing staff, she is the staff. This 34-year-old, who's been on the job only a year, has no employees or budget to speak of. "I have Bacon's and I make lists, and every so often I use a wire system," she explains. "But I don't have a budget. If I need money to do something, though, we can usually come up with it." The museum does do some advertising, but doesn't necessarily pay for it. "We work with radio a lot," says Quiett, "so when it's time to advertise, a lot of the time we'll do something like give them 1,000 tickets to raffle off and ask how much ad time that can get us." 2003 is a big year for Quiett and company. Unless you've been living on the moon these past few weeks - which is the only way you could possibly miss the constant retrospectives running on TV - you know that November 22 was the 40th anniversary of JFK's assassination. That's a major event for a museum that habitually makes the most of whatever milestone it can. "I started working on this November 23 of last year," which, coincidentally, was the day Quiett started in her position, she says. "Today called us and said they want to broadcast live from here that day. Peter Jennings, CBS' The Early Show, and Good Morning America were also here. We're now talking to producers and affiliates from all over the world. I even have a list of reporters and witnesses that were there on the day who are available to do interviews." Of course, Quiett has to make sure all that happens before the museum opens. "I have had three or four people a day calling from Germany, Scotland, and England, asking if they'll be able to get in that day," she says. "And we're going to have thousands of schoolchildren here." The woman with the quiet name laughs in anticipation of the noise that awaits her. ----- PR contacts PR and advertising manager Dawn Quiett

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