When I was recently asked about the relevancy of museums today, I pondered whether the automobile collection found in our museum was something that visitors simply enjoyed, or could it have a greater influence, perhaps even a life-changing experience.
I began to list people who, I felt in one way or another, had been affected by the cars and displays in this museum to the extent that it had affected career decisions, encouraged philanthropic giving or changed the trajectory of someone’s life. Before long, the list had filled the entire page.
Among the first people affected by the California Automobile Museum’s collection are our docents. Our docents are required to attend a 21-week training that covers automotive history like none other. It’s a fantastic education that not only increases knowledge, but prepares 30+ volunteers to lead tours in the Museum for the next several years. Many of our docents attend all or part of the training every year to keep their skills fresh. They also forge lifelong friendships, interact with people from all over the world, and witness many life-changing moments.
Secondly, our patrons are clearly profoundly inspired by the Museum, making comments on our visitor surveys like: “The cars take me back in time to the best memories of my life” and “Thank you for allowing us such a wonderful time with our family today – we had a priceless visit with our Dad,” and “I was thrilled to discover a 1950 Ford two-door Deluxe like the one my dad bought in 1953. Seeing one here brought back fond memories of Sunday drives (and not-so-fond memories of carsickness!).”
Of the many thousands of visitors who come to the Museum annually are more than 20,000 students, ranging from pre-school to vocational school. Most will long remember their first visit to the museum. Many will be highly successful in their chosen fields, and some may choose that field based on a transformative experience at the California Automobile Museum. And a few may be the next stewards of this collection, ensuring that it is preserved and appreciated by future generations.
There are other groups, including our staff, who increase our knowledge every day as we work around the cars, the volunteers and the visitors who teach us so much (I know I can certainly say that of myself!); our large family of supporters who commit to the Museum through memberships, monetary donations and gifts of automobiles or other collectibles; and even the people and organizations who choose to hold their events here – making memories amidst the automobiles that will last a lifetime!