Art museums have great power, and with great power comes great responsibility. Not only do influential institutions have a basic obligation to preserve art, they also have a basic need to attract, educate and inspire us about one of the most fundamental expressions of human behavior, the creation of art.
The American Alliance of Museums recently wrote a piece tying this year’s annual meeting to the idea of power and responsibility. It explains how the theme of power, influence and responsibility shapes the work of museums around the world. It goes on to question how museums are using this power to advance society.
Art helps us share thoughts, ideas and visions. It allows us to have a full range of expression. It provides a release, a place for reflection, a means through which to engage our entire selves. It can chronicle our own lives over time. Art offers us a reason to come together and share in an experience that both excites and changes us. Simply put, art makes us human.
That’s why it is so important for museums to use their power and evolve, to make sure they move in synch with the culture at large. The Met is one museum that recently has picked up on this new reality with a vengeance. Love it or hate it, The Met’s rebranding effort has revitalized its public appeal and eventually will help unify all its various projects. Another terrific example of how The Met is keeping up with culture was the launch of a smartphone app that provides its audience with customized experiences.
A new reality for cultural institutions is setting in, and as technology evolves and new generations emerge it will become even harder to attract and retain audiences in ways they are used to. Audiences today expect more than ever from how they choose to spend their time. So it’s up to museums to recognize they no longer are just cultural institutions. They are brands.
It’s not just about their colors, logo or slogan. It’s not even about their guiding mission. It’s the sum of all the concepts, memories, images, associations and feelings retained in a consumer’s experience. It’s the experience people walk away with, both inside and outside the museum walls.
Brands live; they breathe; they grow when nourished. It follows, therefore, that museums, as brands, must nourish their identities not only with exhibitions and events but also with unique, culturally relevant experiences. It is these experiences that can transform a collection of objects within the museum walls into stories that move people on the deepest emotional levels.
In NYC, for instance, the New Museum turned the 2012 opening of its new building in the Bowery into a memorable experience by using the momentum to launch its new identity. This rebranding effort increased visitors by 600%. Museums across the country also are picking up on this new reality, attracting new audiences in new ways that break the mold. We live in a post-modern world, where a consumer’s attention span lasts only a few seconds. With automation the new MO, if museums do not start sharing their optimism about the human capacity for reinvention they will lose customers to brands already doing it.
We invite museums to think more deeply about what they stand for. We challenge museums to discover their purpose in today’s new age of culture. We task museums the world over to evolve, adapt, and create experiences that showcase themselves not only as movers of culture but leaders of tomorrow.