Posted by: cgratton | March 19, 2009

Museums are Feeling the Pinch, Forced to Take New Directions

It’s not breaking news that the economy sucks right now. It’s also not a shock that businesses are now forced to find new, broader, more innovative ways to reach out to consumers to keep their businesses alive. But the fact that museums are also feeling the pinch and are threatened by the tanking market signifies a sad day in my book.

Resources are shrinking quickly, endowments and donations are slowing to a standstill, tourism is dropping, therefore dwindling foot traffic to a scary low.  But these frightening economic realities are forcing museum directors to think outside of the box, or shall we say, outside the picture frame.

Museums are now being modeled as community centers, offering events that usually don’t fit the museum bill.

In New York City, you can take a yoga class at the Museum of Modern Art, and as they advertised on their invitations, “Put the oM in the MoMa.”

At the NYC American Museum of Natural History, you can go clubbing at the “One Step Beyond” party in the Rose Center for Earth and Space.  One Friday a month, $20 allows you to sip cocktails under the Milky Way and listen to famous Dj’s spin new music. Kanye West even performed last January.

Kanye Wests surprise performance stunned the museum crowd

Kanye West's surprise performance stunned the museum crowd

At the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, you can bring your bike to the museum’s “bike night” and peddle with a large group around the outdoor courtyard, then have the bike valeted, drink cocktails and watch a screening of a new movie.

And instead of just advertising new exhibits, museums are now heavily advertising permanent ones; as tourism is at a low, museums are trying desperately to reinvigorate the local audience’s visitation.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of these, with an aggressive ad campaign of pictures submitted by visitors of them in the museum with the tag line, “It’s Time We Met.”  The ads, which are part of a contest through Flickr, is splashed across the city—on buses, subways and even a towering billboard in Times Square.

The Met held a contest through Flickr for museum attendees to send in their pictures to be part of their new ad campaign

One of the lucky winners, and the one that was featured in Times Square

Marketing efforts are also tapping into the digital world, with every major museum on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr, and even blogging to reach a younger audience.

I believe that this pioneering spirit could be beneficial to museums in long run, as they can now be recognized truly for what they are—the cultural hub of a city.  Branching out from a limited, traditional role of “purveyors of information” is arcane, and this transformation is necessary to keep up with the demanding consumer of today. I only see good things to come from this, and hope that museums will now grow even more influential.

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