Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Building Museum Revenue

Whilst the worst of the GFC may be behind us, the effects of it are going to be long lasting in the museum sector. No major capital works are in the pipeline, even in the two most likely organizations, the Queensland Museum (now the only Brisbane South Bank institution that has not had major new buildings in the last ten years) and the Western Australian Museum (still reeling from the cancellation of its $450 m Swan River power station revitalization and relocation).
So we are going to have to think more ingeniously about how we drive both capital works and new revenues.
A new book I have come across Museums, Libraries and Urban Vitality; a Handbook (Edited by Roger L.Kemp and Marcia Trotta. McFarland and Co 2008) intrigued me. It gives examples of no less than 43 US urban projects where museums and libraries have been important economic drivers. Particularly interesting is the concept of including museums in broader retail and commercial developments. The Daniel Libeskind- designed wing at the Denver Art Museum includes 56 apartments (known as Museum Residences), and the Newseum in Washington DC also includes apartments and a high- end restaurant. It reminds me of the abortive plan to incorporate a hotel in the new Sydney Cricket Ground grandstand, and then let out the rooms on match days. Whilst that never got off the ground, perhaps this could be one way of funding capital works with our sector, particularly given the location of many of our museums, Brisbane’s Southbank being a prime example.

In regards to new revenues, the buzz word is ‘participation’. Nina Simon of Web 2.0 fame has just released her "Participatory Museum". The forthcoming American Association of Museums conference in LA in May is all about how to get new and younger audiences to interface with museums in innovative, user-generated, participatory ways.

And there is a fascinating new study recently released by the Dallas Museum of Art on the results of a 7 year study on the preferences and behaviours of museum visitors , ‘A Framework for Engaging with Art’. Drawn from 3,400 qualitative surveys, the study concluded there were four types of visitor clusters:
· Observers – those that stand back, having limited knowledge of art, preferring a guided experience
· Participants – those that enjoy learning and the social experience of being in museums and galleries
· Independents – those that are more confident with their knowledge and prefer independent viewing
·Enthusiasts – those who are confident, enthusiastic, knowledgeable and comfortable looking at art, and who are most likely to actively participate in museum programs and be members
What this information has catalyzed is a series of innovative programming strategies and operational changes throughout the Museum resulting in a 100% increase in attendance and motivating over 50% of the Museum’s visitors to participate in its’ programs. Some great revenue creation stuff to build on here.

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