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Arts

There Is No Mission Without Money: Why Cultural Organizations Need To Get Smart About Pricing Practices

museum admission line

This article concludes a four-part series intended to help visitor-serving organizations understand and respond to emerging trends that will impact their financial and mission-related goals. Learn more about the series here. 

Austerity measures and the loss of heretofore “reliable” funding mechanisms pitched many European cultural organizations into a tenuous financial state and catalyzed a conversation concerning the sustained solvency of visitor-serving enterprise worldwide. In an increasingly competitive market where volume-based strategies (such as an ever-increasing attendance) are less likely remedies to the new economic reality that emphasizes earned revenues, 2014 will mark the year when organizations will need to “get smart” about leveraging data to develop intelligent, efficient price indices. In turn, analysis of an organization’s pricing structure will likely – and necessarily – foster additional discussion concerning the creation of more effective affordable access programming.

Nonprofits are increasingly competing with for-profit organizations as private companies capitalize on shifts in market behavior toward supporting social causes. The market – and especially millennials – are also increasingly sector-agnostic, meaning that simply being a nonprofit doesn’t necessarily indicate to audiences that your organization is providing more social value than a private company.   This is one of the reasons why visitor-serving organizations that highlight their mission outperform museums that market themselves primarily as attractions. 

It’s time to pause and think about your organization’s relevance – and relevance is determined by the market and the support that your organization is able to summon. In short order, museums that cannot survive a “natural selection” and appeal to audiences will sink due to lack of support (relevance), while those that remain solvent and vital (while also pursuing their mission), will enjoy sustained success.

 

1) Here’s why your organization needs to think about revenue and pricing right now (and more than ever before):

 

A) In general, fewer people may be attending your organization because of negative substitution of traditional visitors so increasing attendance may prove challenging in the near-term.

Visitor-serving organizations’ (VSOs) “historic” visitors are leaving the market at a faster rate than new high-propensity visitors are entering the market, creating a negative substitution phenomenon that does not paint a bright future (or present, for that matter) for VSOs. In fact, for every one historic HPV that leaves the market, they are being replaced by 0.989 “new” high-propensity visitors. That may sound like a small difference, but these people add up! Keep up your hard work reaching your traditional audiences and – for no fault of your own – negative substitution factors would suggest that an organization currently serving one million annual visitors will attract 946,000 visitors five years from now (that is 54,000 fewer people, and a likely corresponding decline in membership and program participation). This troubling “glide path” also considers that you’ll be doing everything that you can do to meet your current audience’s needs, and continue to market to them like exceptional rockstars! This data suggests that the key to long-term organizational solvency is to evolve our engagement strategies to include your emerging high-propensity visitors.

The good news: If museums begin to target and cultivate new audiences now, we should start to observe a broad attendance turnaround in year 2019 as emerging audiences (such as English as Second Language households) continue to acculturate into the “mainstream” market and if millennials (who will dominate the market in terms of number and purchasing power) have been engaged by VSOs. But the attendance trend still stands: In spite of overall population growth and even if your organization does its very best and starts evolving right now (as you should in order to get things back up when the market is ripe around 2019), there’s a good chance that your attendance numbers may flatten out these next few years.

 

B) Expensive special exhibits are often financial drains when compared to the potential alternative uses of these same funds.

Despite clear data that utilizing special exhibits to cultivate visitation is an ineffective long-term strategy and has particularly costly and detrimental consequences for organizations, many VSOs (and museums, in particular), get wrapped up in this bad, bad practice when times get tight.

In my world, we refer to organizations that prioritize special exhibits over building affinity for permanent collections as committing “blockbuster suicide.” And – though I won’t throw any organizations under the bus by mentioning their names – I’ll bet that you can think of an organization or two that has “committed suicide” in this way and is now in quite a financial pickle.  These museums train even their closest constituents to wait for expensive exhibits in order to motivate a return visit. Not only is this plan ineffective and ridiculously short-sighted, but it’s also very expensive.

In an economy that increasingly relies on maximizing earned revenues from a finite audience, the margin of financial success is very small. Many organizations cannot afford expensive vanity projects that do little to improve net revenues but add significant costs to their financial model.  Alternative uses of funds that focus on improving the visitor experience frequently realize better returns than the costs to actualize a “special” exhibit.  While many organizations have become very astute at calculating per capita revenues, it may also be wise to similarly calculate the per capita operating costs attendant to serving your visitors.  We reliably observe that exhibits increase per capita operating costs at a level that exceeds any short-term increase in per capita revenues.  In other words, there is little evidence to recommend the viability of special exhibits as a sustainable revenue maximization strategy.

 

C) Visitor-serving organizations that discount to increase word of mouth and drive attendance experience the backlash of negative reputational equities.

What about social media? Can’t we use that to drive attendance? Yes, data suggest that utilizing social media to increase reputation in order to drive attendance is effective and indeed you should! However, when times get tight financially, we see many organizations resort to offering discounts via social media…and offering discounts via social media is a big mistake. This practice cultivates a “market addiction” that has long-term, negative consequences on the health of your organization.

Moreover, the more steeply you discount, the less likely visitors are to return. (Here’s the data again). People also tend to value what they pay for. Those who visit your organization at a discount are also statistically less satisfied with their experience and report more negative reviews than those who come in at full price (Hey, you devalued your brand first!). So much for crossing your fingers for better word of mouth as the result of a discount…

 

 

2) Now look at how most organizations decide how to price for admission:

Many organizations price their admissions based on what we at IMPACTS have termed “unintentional collusion.” Take a look back in time to your most recent conversation about pricing. The origin of your pricing framework probably went something like this:

IMPACTS unintentional collusion pricing

This happens because organizations misunderstand a fundamental principle of pricing.

Museums actually have different reputational equities and thus differing values that the market is willing to pay for a unique experience. If you’re a zoo that is charging the same admission as a nearby children’s museum (or vice versa), then your organization may be ignorantly “leaving money on the table” by relying on the comparative price of a neighboring or “like” organization. Each museum actually has an optimal price index (often best derived as the result of data-based price analyses) wherein the optimal price to visit an organization maximizes revenues without demeaning attendance potential. Along these same lines (and for the reasons stated above), I’d like to offer up a concept that is increasingly critical for the long-term health and vitality of many VSOs:

The amount of revenue that your organization secures is more important than the amount of attendees that walk through your door.

Many executive leaders and board members have a shockingly hard time understanding this necessary – and completely pragmatic – evolution in visitor-serving “business” practices. Many have been hardwired over time to think of success as the number of people that walk through the door. (Why do we even think this way anyway?! It’s an outdated preoccupation with a relatively meaningless nonprofit output.)

The most direct and savvy way to reap the benefits of your labors cultivating evangelists and working to increase your reputation?  Utilizing it to increase your revenue. And when attendance plateaus at the time that your brand is at its most premium, the most efficient way to do this is to adjust your admission price accordingly.

 

3) Optimized pricing will necessitate conversations about affordable access programming that serves lower-income and other underserved constituencies (in other words, programming that actually works)

If your organization has been value-advantaged (“leaving money on the table”) when it comes to your admission price, then raising the price of tickets may, indeed, increase the barrier for low-income households to attend your organization. Because affordable access is often a key part of many organizations’ missions – or even required in order to be eligible for certain grants and government funding opportunities -  getting smarter about pricing will mean getting smarter about affordable access programs as well.

Experience at IMPACTS has shown time and time again that many affordable access programs are extremely inefficient. Specifically, many affordable access programs achieve startlingly little in terms of providing targeted benefit to low-income households and, instead, allow discounted access to those who would otherwise be able and willing to pay full price. These programs are neither capturing low-income households, nor are they increasing revenues so that museums may more effectively and efficiently fulfill their missions. They are glorified discount programs that organizations offer so that they may check off a symbolic box of “affordable access.”

As visitor-serving organizations realize the need to pay attention to pricing and maximize their investments, there will be incentive to re-evaluate affordable access programs so that they actually work. Namely, that they provide an opportunity for low-income households and other targeted underserved audiences to visit the organization without concurrently discounting admission for those who would be willing to pay full price for your unique experience.

All of this is a long way of saying that nonprofit organizations are finally going to have to think about money and stop defending outdated nonprofit dogmas that tend to demonize revenue as a “necessary evil.”  Museums, zoos, aquariums, performing arts and other cultural organizations are big business – accounting for $135 billion in annual economic activity and more than 4.1 million jobs.  Instead of considering volume of visitation as a key performance indicator, we ought to instead focus on meaningful outcomes and recognize that our collective ambitions to achieve social good require revenues.  In other words, there is no mission without money. 

 

*Photo credit: Telegraph, AP (The photo choice has nothing to do with the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s pricing!)

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page (or ) Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter

Posted on by colleendilen in Arts, Big ideas, Branding, Community Engagement, Exhibits, Management, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Public Service Motivation, Social Change, Social Media, The Future, Words of Wisdom 2 Comments

The True Benefit of Ask A Curator Day (And Why It Is Not What Museums Think)

The ability to ask questions to curators at 622 museums via social media (during initiatives such as Ask a Curator Day) has relevance and importance – but probably not for the reasons that most museums that participated might think.

#AskACurator DayOver 622 museums in 37 countries participated in the third ever Ask a Curator Day on September 18th by taking questions and actively conversing with online audiences via social media platforms using the hashtag #AskACurator. While Ask a Curator Day has taken place annually since 2010 (with a break in 2011), some other social trends have taken/are taking place that necessitate the evolution of the meaning of this day to us museum folks – and the meaning of this day to the museums that we work in or support.

Museums’ most critical stakeholders aren’t one another – it’s the market that actually matters. Let’s look at Ask a Curator Day from the perspective of our potential visitors and donors. Here are some things to keep in mind:

 

1. Museums do not get points for making their experts accessible because high propensity visitors already expect museums to be accessible (way, way more than once a year).

Real-time access to experts in institutions is not particularly special anymore. In fact, it’s now expected at all times by the members of the market that display the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that suggest a likelihood of visiting a museum (read: your potential visitors and donors). (As many know, here on KYOB I call these people “high propensity visitors” – or HPVs – and we gather quite a bit of data on them at IMPACTS.)

Museum high propensity visitors are generally “super-connected” with access to broadband at home, work, or on mobile. They profile as the kind of folks who are connected to one another – and they expect the museums that they visit to be connected, too. 42% of individuals using social media expect answers to the questions that they ask online within one hour – whether or not it is Ask a Curator Day.

Social CRM (“social care”) is a big deal for visitor-serving organizations – and this aggressive (and growing) expectation to be accessible and responsive 24/7 may be one of the most difficult adjustments for nonprofits and companies alike on social media.

 

2. But museums do get mucho points for having topic experts and Ask A Curator Day reminds folks that we have a lot of these superlative people (and that museums themselves are superlative).

Reputation is an important driver of visitation for both high propensity visitors and the overall market. Expertise – which contributes to a “superlative” connotation – elevates reputation and also increases visitor satisfaction through the mitigation of Point of Reference Sensitivity. In other words, “expertise” helps people differentiate your museum experience as one of a kind.

To many of those working in the museum industry, the fact that their museums possess topic experts is no surprise. To the general market (who isn’t likely thinking about your museum every single day), something like Ask a Curator day is a nice – and important – reminder of museums’ social value.

 

3. Ask a Curator Day symbolically benefits the industry by reminding the public that museums are accessible, open to participation, and attune to audience expectations.

Because the market already expects your museum to be responsive via social media channels, audience benefit may be less about the “unique” opportunity to ask a curator anything about a museum’s collection and more about taking part in a community initiative to celebrate museums and the experts that work in them.

I hope for our audiences’ sake that, moving forward, Ask a Curator Day continues to represent a celebration of open, evolving, forward-thinking museum culture – and that we never mistake the initiative as an excuse to stay stuck in the past, relegating audience engagement to one day of the year and making access the thing that is rare and “special.”

In many ways, September 18th was a symbolic day for the museum community – and the visitor-serving organizations that made a coordinated effort to “show” their willingness to be receptive to audiences in real-time may deserve some kudos. They’ve symbolically played a role in elevating the industry.

Though not every day gets the same hype and publicity as Ask a Curator day, I know many museum social media managers who woke up the 19th – just as every day before – with the same energy and enthusiasm for connectivity that existed on the 18th.

Really, every day is increasingly Ask a Curator Day…without the attention of a trending topic on Twitter.

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page. Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter!

Posted on by colleendilen in Arts, Branding, Community Engagement, Exhibits, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Social Media, The Future, Words of Wisdom 1 Comment

Personal Branding and Museum Directors: A Look at Two Industry Leaders

There are plenty of benefits to having a personal brand, just as there are incredible benefits to hiring someone who has a personal brand. It allows you to be a thought leader, have a voice, and necessitates keeping a pulse on the online community, social trends, and evolving communication methods.  Perhaps most importantly, though, having a personal brand allows you to be a better storyteller. CEOs with strong personal brands carry their social missions into their online identities and can be incredible assets for telling the kinds of stories that spawn change. They become spirited leaders of not only an organization, but of a cause. And the person, the organization, the cause, and the constituents are all beneficiaries in this personal-branding-for-social-change love-fest.

For most cultural nonprofits, there’s an un-tapped opportunity to build credibility, authenticity, and infiltrate your story with a professional demographic… and that opportunity lies in nonprofit’s CEO or a public-facing department leader. 

Personal branding– also connection with brands and building networks online- -are big for the Gen Y crowd, but most nonprofit CEOs are not Millennials (yet…although I think this may take longer than Tierney’s proposed decade to occur due to merging nonprofits, late-retiring boomers, and other reasons). Folks build a personal brand to engage, to network, and to establish credibility as a thought leader. It makes sense that some of the biggest tech CEOs have personal brands like Mark Cuban (of too much to name), Marc Andreessen (of Ning), Craig Newmark (of Craigslist), and Guy Kawasaki (of Alltop). A large portion of their work takes place online, but increasingly, a large and important portion of all nonprofits’ work will take place online in the form of storytelling, online engagement, and building transparency- an already- important public attribute.  We can learn from these tech and social industry leaders and their brand management. I’d say that they are good places to start, but museums already have some professionals with well established web presences.

An interesting thing about working in museums is that they have different departments and different opportunities for engagement. For some institutions, the leader in the online space is not the CEO at all. Here’s a very (very) select and diverse group of professionals with clear personal brands, and who successfully bridge personal and professional to be advocates for their museums. Their tribes range in size, they have different tones, and they appeal to different folks. Here are a few:

In many situations, professionals who run social media or have tech roles within the museum are social tech savvy, so keeping an eye on them can be a cheat-sheet for current happenings. So where are the museum directors? I’m glad you asked. Here are two, stellar examples of museum CEOs with terrific personal brands. Both of the museum directors below use their personal brands to their- and their institution’s- advantage.. and they do it in different ways.

 

Nina Simon (@ninaksimon)- Director of the Museum of Art & History in Santa Cruz

Leveraging thought leadership to build community and elevate the museum. It’s no surprise that many (if not most) of the professionals online keeping updated blogs and personal brands are consultants and writers. This makes sense, as consultants’ credibility often depends upon their symbolic capital. Nina Simon was a writer and consultant before taking up her relatively new position as Director of the Museum of Art & History in Santa Cruz. Her blog, Museum 2.0, has thousands of dedicated readers and her book, The Participatory Museum, is a hit. The Smithsonian has called her a “Museum Visionary”, and with cause– just check out her projects and publications! The coolest thing about Nina Simon’s career is that it happened in large part because of her deciding to establish a web presence. In fact, she credits her blog for much of her career path and success. Here’s (a few of) the many things that Nina Simon did right that leveraged her brand (and reputation) in the long run:

  • Nina Simon built a brand
  • She carved out a timely niche (participatory museum experiences)
  • She became an expert (the expert, arguably) in her niche
  • She built a strong community and made herself known as the go-to person for her niche
  • She embraced multiple online platforms, utilizing Twitter, Blogging, Facebook, and became involved in various committees and online communities
  • She became the Director of the Museum of Art and History in Santa Cruz
  • She told everyone
  • Now all of her followers and communities have this museum on their radar and the museum gets to benefit from the symbolic capital of having an established thought leader and author leading their institution (and their brand).
In one of my personal favorite posts by Nina Simon, she says that getting hired for her was a matter of “what you want, how aggressive you are, and what ideas you can offer.” It’s the ideas and aggressiveness that have and continue to set Nina apart from the crowd.

 

Max Anderson (@MaxAndersonUSA)- Director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art (until January)

Being the face of an institution reinventing online engagement and making it a priority. Max Anderson was named CEO of the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 2006. This last October, he announced that he was leaving IMA and moving to Dallas to head up the Dallas Museum of Art (effective January 9, 2012). Anderson was the Director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art for only five and a half years– but those were particularly good years for the museum and online initiatives. In fact, under Anderson’s watch, the IMA was credited with significantly pushing social technology forward for museums and the larger nonprofit industry. For a moment, let’s forget the fact that Max Anderson added over $30 million to IMA’s endowment through gifts and pledges and more than doubled museum attendance…and focus on the topic at hand, here: the man has a web presence. Perhaps they are related. Most importantly, he led the way as the museum took up three initiatives that arguably changed the world of museums and social media:
  1. Anderson led IMA in creating its famous IMA Dashboard in 2007. This initiative was well-timed and has gained significant and much deserved recognition for leading the way for online organizational transparency in all sectors.
  2. After receiving a suggestion from blogger, Tyler Green of Modern Art Notes, on Twitter, Anderson promptly bet famous works of art on the 2010 Superbowl… through his personal Twitter account. The initiative displays the importance of listening to an online audience, acting quickly, and well… just being cool. Unfortunately, the Colts lost the Superbowl, but the IMA held up their end of the bargain: they lent Turner’s The Fifth Plague of Egypt, 1800 to the New Orleans Museum of Art for three months. We’ve all looked to this as a great example of online engagement and local community cultivation ever since. And now these bets are becoming tradition.
  3. Artbabble is a community that showcases video art content in high quality format from a variety of sources and perspectives. It was created so others will join in spreading the world of art through video– and it’s working. The initiative now has over 30 museum partners throughout the world and a cool, online-friendly tagline: Babble on.

Max Anderson not only aided his museum through his own personal brand, but he gained recognition for the institution as an online community-building leader during his time at IMA. He was an advocate of social technology and information-share. Here’s a bit of what Max Anderson did right to help create and elevate his brand:

  • He came into IMA as the Director
  • He realized the potential value of online engagement relatively early (he’d dappled with some online information-share initiatives in the past)
  • He supported efforts to engage online communities through new initiatives
  • He used social media himself (fearlessly, in the case betting artwork on the Superbowl)
  • He  made information about himself and IMA accessible
  • He encouraged IMA to take up initiatives in the online space and made a (good) example out of the institution

 

Both Nina Simon and Maxwell Anderson are considered thought leaders in the area of museums and social media. And in fact, by very large measure, both of their successes stem from their personal/professional involvement in the online space. Through this involvement, both Simon and Anderson have moved their organizations forward and propelled them into the future… through two relatively different approaches.

Want to figure out how to take the first step in branding yourself as a museum professional? There are a lot of resources out there to help– but I’ll post some of my very favorites on Thursday (December 8th) to help get you started and outline some basics.

In the meantime, please comment and share examples of your favorite museum and nonprofit directors (or department leaders) involved in community engagement. There are some great examples out there and I’d love to hear your favorites.

*Photo credit

Posted on by colleendilen in Arts, Blogging, Branding, Community Engagement, Leadership, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Social Media, The Future 2 Comments

Curator 2.0- The New Duties of an Evolving Job

The occupation of curator was recently ranked one of The 50 Best Careers of 2011 by U.S. News & World Report. While we may find this true over the course of the next year, one thing becomes more and more certain and we continually embrace the information age: the role of the museum curator is changing.

Traditional curators are extremely knowledgeable about art/artifacts. New curators may have to be extremely knowledgeable about people.

Curators decide what to show the public and manage how visitors will experience art and artifacts.  They are the gatekeepers who decide which artworks will be presented… but engaging visitors no longer stops with choosing which painting to hang on the wall and telling docents and interpreters to help build the bridge between academia and public understanding.  Curators will need to become increasingly involved in the bridge-building process.

We are in the midst of an incredible time of information-share, user-generated content, and social technology. Everyone’s a curator.

Museums will need people who can help visitors curate for themselves in creative ways.

According to the U.S. News & World Report article,  “The Labor Department projects the number of curators will rise by 23 percent over the next several years, well above the average rate for all careers. By 2018, there should be about 2,700 new positions added.” I argue that a good portion of these positions added will not be asked to serve the role of traditional curators.

The upcoming need for more curators is great news for museum professionals- especially since the employees that museums need to curate content to optimize visitor engagement may not be the traditional PhD’d curators of the industry in the past. We may find that new curators are specialists in people and communication. We’re already seeing these changes take place in the museum field. For example, Allison Agsten is the Curator of Public Engagement at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. She was hired in order to help make the museum more interactive. She’s not a traditional curator; her background is in communications. But in many ways, she is the traditional curator- evolved. Museum marketers, object conservators, museum interpreters, and program producers may be filling some (perhaps most?) of those 2,700 curator job openings as museums heed the call of community engagement and social technology opportunities.

Specialists and academics are critical for museums and similar institutions to have on staff and their importance will not diminish. However, museums of the future may find that they need people to actively build and maintain the bridge between the academic realm and the sphere of public understanding. They will need people to not only choose works of art for display, but to chose them with a new focus on conversation and audience engagement.

Thanks to emerging tools, the walls between highly academic museums and the communities these institutions serve is more easily scaled , and museums will likely continue to become more interactive. The institution that keeps up the wall may one day wake up to find itself isolated. They’ll need a curator to help lift people up… which, we are learning, will require touching them.

The curators of the future may not look like the curators of the past.

Posted on by colleendilen in Arts, Community Engagement, Exhibits, Jobs, Management, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Social Media, Technology, The Future 4 Comments

5 Ways That Social Media May Replace NYC as the Center of Creative Development

Elizabeth Currid's book, The Warhol Economy, discusses the elements that produce NYC's one-of-a-kind creative industry. But what if these elements don't belong only to NYC anymore?

I let out a laugh when I saw last week’s Onion article, 8.4 Million New Yorkers Suddenly Realize New York City A Horrible Place to Live. It seemed especially silly to me, as I’d just finished Elizabeth Currid’s, The Warhol Economy- a book that identifies the unique characteristics that have made NYC an international mecca of creative production. Despite the fact that the book raves about the benefits of NYC’s unique environment for artists and the career development of creatives, the Onion article got me questioning the future of this city.

Some of the key social and economic qualities that have made New York City so successful as a place for creative and cultural career development have been (and, I would guess, will continue to be) replaced by online social networks. “Every generation has its own neighborhood,” Zac Posen said of NYC to Currid during an interview mentioned in the book. I predict that for Generation Y, and perhaps increasingly for the generations following us, that neighborhood will not be Chelsea or the West Village. It will be online.

Here’s how social media and online networks match up to the key elements that secured NYC’s reputation as an international center for creative development:

 

1. Low economic barriers to entry in the community

Utilizing social media is catching on quick, and is a relatively cheap endeavour. The rise of New York City as an international hub of creativity also arose from low barriers to entry. Namely, the recession of the 1970s created cheap rents that allowed artists to focus more time and energy on their artwork instead of taking up second jobs to make ends meet. Artists bought up low-rent spaces in many of the same neighborhoods, resulting in communities of creatives with a little more time on their hands and getting a little more bang for their buck. All you needed then was a little bit of money (to afford rent), something to say, and the ability to relocate to New York. In order to enter an online community today, the barriers for entry are even lower. You don’t need to move to New York. You just need a little bit of money (to afford a computer) and that same something to say.

 

2. Production with no real regard for economic growth

There are more than 900,000 blog posts put up on the Internet every 24 hours. Why do we blog? The answers may be shockingly similar to those of “why do we make art?” Some people blog for emotional release or to create a connectedness with the world. Some people blog to make money, but a lot more people (including myself), blog to create symbolic capital. In other words, to gain or maintain regard as a professional in the field you’re writing about. (I utilize my human capital to discuss social capital on this blog to build my symbolic capital! Yes, these are the things your brain comes up with when you are in grad school…) In fact, according to Pew Internet and American Life Project, to make money is the least common reason why people blog. The main reason? Creative expression. Social media and online expression share the same emotional (and similar economic) fuel that drives NYC’s creative community.

 

3. Utilizing and building weak ties

In her book on NYC’s creative economy, Currid cites the work of Dr. Mark Granovetter who has published significant studies on the importance of “weak ties.” He found that the ties that were farther away  from us (versus our close-knit friends) were most influential in creating success. People with the most weak ties are in the greatest position to “diffuse innovation.” While having social exchanges with random folks on the street in New York City does create weak ties, it’s much less hard to imagine how social media promotes these kinds of relationships. Also, social media makes it easier to track weak ties. One needs only to check their @replies on Twitter to get a good sense of the weak ties they’ve created. Social media is a large network of these weak ties. And more than that, they are more easily tracked and weak ties can more easily grow stronger through social networks than meeting someone on the street in NYC- a method that has worked for generations before.

 

4. The ease of peer review and access to gatekeepers

Listen to the story of any great artist in NYC and they will tell you the stain of people that they met that helped them get to the top. In NYC, there are places where ‘the cool kids’ hang out. There are places to see and be seen. It’s not a stretch to say that there are a hierarchy of sites upon which bloggers and social medialites aim to be mentioned or linked. My boyfriend’s startup sees a greater rise in visitors when it’s mentioned on Mashable than when it’s mentioned on a random blog. The higher the site is on the totem pole, the more likely your work is to be seen by gatekeepers- key people in your industry with the power to aid you in achieving success. This is the same way it works in posh nightclubs, bars, and museum events in NYC. The reason online interactions may have the upper-hand? They are remote.

 

5. More creative people leads to economic productivity

You don’t need to be in New York anymore to have access to the most influential gatekeepers, or to get attention for your cause or story. The game is changing. In New York City, the above factors created ideal conditions for the spread, sharing, and development of creatives. Similarly, on web, the above factors create ideal conditions for the spread and development of creatives– but also for non-creatives. In a sense, New York just got bigger. Now it’s the entire world. Or rather, anyone with a computer or access to the library.

Social media networks have other advantages that NYC (or any physical location) lacks. This may change our idea of location as ideas are spread freely with no regard to physical region. For instance, time plays a different role. You don’t have one chance to hand over your business card- as you might when running into an ideal client on the street that you may never see again. You can send a message (or respond to that message) at your leisure. This may lead to more strategic communications. Also, places with more people see more economic activity, and for that very fact, it is a good idea to know what’s happening online.

*These five points are based upon select points in Currid’s The Warhol Economy: How Fashion, Art and Music Drive New York City. Check out the book to learn more about how they relate to NYC’s economy and social structure.

Posted on by colleendilen in Arts, Big ideas, Blogging, Book Reviews, Social Media, Technology, The Future, Uncategorized 2 Comments

Celebrating One Year of Know Your Own Bone

The original header when I started KYOB in 2009

I began this blog one year ago and it’s come a long, long way in the last twelve months! Throughout the last year, this has been a place for me to share ideas, gather my thoughts, and even do a bit of research. In one short year, Know Your Own Bone won me an award, earned me phone conversations and guidance from Penelope Trunk, got articles re-printed in popular magazines, hooked me up with the Nonprofit Millennial Bloggers Alliance, gave me the opportunity to write an advance review for the Harvard Business Review, was picked up by wonderful thought leaders, and allowed me to connect with many talented professionals.

Upcoming: Speaking of connecting with talented professionals, please tune in to Rosetta Thurman‘s BlogTalkRadio show, All Nonprofits Considered, from 12 – 1pm EST next Monday, July 12th. I will be discussing the current culture of nonprofit leadership in museums and the arts with young arts professional, Ian David Moss. Please join the chat room and help contribute to the discussion next Monday!

I know many bloggers often feature “best of” posts that link back to previously written articles. Until this point, I’ve never done this in a post. In celebration of my one-year anniversary with Know Your Own Bone, I’ll highlight some of the various types of posts I’ve written. These are certainly not “best of” posts, just a little survey of the themes I’ve covered over the last twelve months. Create a page with all of Know Your Own Bone’s “best of”s, you suggest? That sounds like a great task for year #2.

Thanks to all of you who check-in on Know Your Own Bone again and again- especially those of you who subscribe or who have reached out and commented or shot an e-mail or two my way. I love hearing from you all and I am beyond grateful to have such a great group of intelligent and insightful readers!

Here’s to the start of another year of Know Your Own Bone, with even more thoughts on the evolution of museums and nonprofits, community engagement, and social change. Cheers!

Posted on by colleendilen in Arts, Blogging, Lessons Learned, The Small Stuff 2 Comments

Let Museums Evolve: A Case Against Brooklyn Museum’s Recent Bad Press

A meet up at the Brooklyn Museum. Photo by Amy Dreher.

How do you quantify a social mission? The Brooklyn Museum recently underwent a mild media smack-down because they tried something new—and while many outcomes (the most important ones, some argue) were positive, the museum was painted negatively in a recent New York Times article.

I have argued before that allowing nonprofits to evolve to meet (let alone succeed) business goals and compete with for-profit companies requires more than just innovative thinking from within the sector- it requires acceptance from the general public. This is where nonprofits often run into trouble because gaining this acceptance necessitates a change in the way that the public perceives certain nonprofit organizations.

The New York Time’s article, ‘Brooklyn Museum’s Populism Hasn’t Lured Crowds,’ opens with not-so-great statistics: the goal of the museum was to triple its attendance by 2014, but attendance has actually dropped 23% in 2009. A decreased attendance is never good– but to those with an eye to the museum-world, those aren’t the notable statistics in the article. The Brooklyn Museum is actually succeeding in areas where other museums would like to succeed, and is in the position to serve as a positive model for attendance and interaction.

There are two things, in particular, that the Brooklyn Museum is doing well. These are not “attendance is down, but ____ is up” items. Regardless of overall attendance, these achievements deserve positive attention on their own, and the success of these items is being skewed by popular perceptions of what museums should be according to museums’ past reputations, which limits progress for these institutions. Here’s how the museum is breaking barriers:

  • The Brooklyn Museum audience has increased in diversity. Museums have a general reputation for being stuffy places, accessible only to the upper-middle class and above who are interested in displaying their intellect. Museums across the country  have done many things to battle this stereotype, and though it may be far from the truth that museums are now only for the white and wealthy, the myth’s origins often keep folks away. While the Brooklyn Museum’s overall attendance numbers have not sky-rocketed, there has been  an increase in diversity– a highly-sought after increase within the industry. In fact, the article reports that over 40% of all visitors were  people of color, and the average age of visitors is a surprisingly young 35 years of age. The museum is doing something right. It’s the responsibility of other museums looking to increase their number of diverse visitors to gather more information, and perhaps take a cue from this museum.
  • The Brooklyn Museum has increased interaction among visitors and community members. The museum is taking on another stereotype here: the idea that museums should be quiet, serious places reserved for only those who already have a deep interest in art. The article strangely quotes Robert Storr, the dean of the Yale University School of Art, saying, “Star Wars’ shows the worst kind of populism. I don’t think they [the Brooklyn Museum] really understand where they are. The middle of the art world is now in Brooklyn; it’s an increasingly sophisticated audience and always was one.” Ouch! Featured in the article just after the mention of the museum’s younger, more local, non-white audience, this quote speaks volumes! The quote is interesting, because including it assumes that New York Times readers understand that the museum should be geared primarily for that artistically-literate and “increasingly sophisticated” audience (and who is to say the young, the locals, and those of color are not those people).

Moreover, the article somehow uses the museum’s First Saturdays against them. This a program celebrated for its richness of diversity (age, sex, race, background in art). It draws in the community– and even if the general non-Brooklynite public doesnt,  the museum’s director at least  knows how important that is. Arnold Lehman says, “If that environment could be replicated…on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, then I could easily retire and say we’ve succeeded and people think of the museum as a place to be of significance in their lives, not necessarily to see an exhibition.” Lehman is transcending boundaries. He doesn’t want the museum to be a stale place for exhibits, but rather a breathing and living institution that meets the needs of Brooklyn’s true community.

Though we can say “over 40% of museum visitors are people of color” and understand that that’s great, there’s no way to truly quantify the value of diversity– or of community conversation, or personal engagement. Is reaching a more diverse audience (directly related to the mission) more valuable than the number of people walking through the door (directly related to the monetary health of the organization)– a number upon which foundations often use to gauge museum success? There are arguments for both sides.

What is clear, I believe, is that if we want museums (and other nonprofits, for that matter) to continue to grow, culturally feed our communities, and remain forward-thinking institutions, then we must allow them to pursue these goals without being limited by outdated perceptions of institutions of the past. Let’s let them help us grow.

Posted on by colleendilen in Arts, Community Engagement, Exhibits, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofits, Social Change, The Future 7 Comments

8 Movies with Great Museum Scenes

It’s summertime and an interesting pastime has suddenly hit my weekday life: themed movie marathons with friends. (Is this an L.A. thing?) Though we rent a good amount of movies for each marathon, we often only get through 2-3. I’ve noticed that each friend pushes a theme related to his/her area of interest.

I push for movies with great museum scenes. It’s hard to find a good list of these online, so I want to share some of my obvious and not-so-obvious museum-scene favorites (in descending order from release date):

1) Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009)Larry and Kahmunrah “No Touch Zone” scene. Having come to life in the museum, Kahmunrah (Hank  Azaria) and Larry (Ben Stiller) have a  hilariously hard time reaching an agreement. “This is a no-touching zone!”

2) Hitch (2005) – The First Date scene. Alex Hitchens (Will Smith) surprises Sara Melas (Eva Mendes) with a sweet first date tour of the Ellis Island Immigration Museum (with a silly twist at the end of the clip). “You can’t really know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been.” “…Kinda deep for a first date, don’t you think?”


3) The Thomas Crown Affair (1999) - Returning the Painting scene. Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan) returns a stolen Monet to the museum in a slick method inspired by Magritte’s famous paining, The Son of Man. This famous scene is awesome– but it’s also a spoiler, so don’t watch it if you intend to see the movie (which I recommend).


4. Ghostbusters 2 (1989)Visiting Vigo scene. The Ghostbusters surprise museum staff members when they visit under the suspicion that the place is haunted, and Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) conducts an animated photo-shoot with Vigo the Cruel/Torturer/Despised/Unholy.

5. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) - The Art Institute of Chicago scene. Ferris, Cameron, and Sloane (Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck, and Mia Sara) visit The Art Institute of Chicago during their famous day off. The shots feature some of John Hughes favorite pieces in the museum.

6. Manhattan (1979)The Art Museum scene. Isaac (Woody Allen) just cannot get it right in this classic film.


7. Play it Again, Sam (1972) - Depressed Museum-Girl scene. Woody Allen does it again! After meeting several silly women, Allan (Woody Allen) decides to visit the art museum in hopes of meeting a more ‘intellectual’ girl to date. It isn’t quite the romantic connection he’d hoped for.“…What about Friday night?”


8. Vertigo (1958)Madelein in The Painting scene. In this haunting Alfred Hitchcock film, John “Scottie” Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart) is asked to investigate Madeleine (Kim Novak), who believes herself to be the reincarnation of a deceased woman. When seen in the context of the film, this scene in incredibly eerie and haunting.

For more famous movie scenes featuring museums, check out these films:

Please comment below to add movies to this list!

Posted on by colleendilen in Arts, Museums, Technology 10 Comments

Viva La Vie… Cultural Nonprofit Employee?

I was a long-haired, free-spirited high school student who made a crazy mess of my corner of the art room at the start of the twenty-first century. During that time of blasting Rent with my best friends– other teenage artists, actors/actresses, singers musicians, and writers– I often thought about how we represented our own little post-war New York City in which artists bind together to collaborate in pushing cultural and creative boundaries.

Over the last ten years, as my interest changed from art-maker to passionate power-of-art supporter, I’ve realized that life really is not (despite my teenage efforts) like the 1940s in NYC. How silly a thought that was!

Things are much more like 1910.

Advocates of social change may just be history (evolved and with a new call to action) repeating itself. What do 1910 New York Bohemians and 2010 nonprofit aficionados (especially those in cultural centers) have in common?  A lot, perhaps:

–We live again in a time in which stories and communication are key elements of business in cultural institutions. The original NYC Bohemians (1850 to World War 1) lived in New York City when it was a writer’s territory. Literature was the greatest form of expression; people were always reading or writing and talking about reading and writing. It is the age of William Carlos Williams, Dorothy Parker, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Theodore Dreiser. By that time, NYC had established itself as a publishing headquarters and business had an eye on writing, communications, and information-share regarding philosophies of the time. This is not unlike nonprofiteers utilizing social media to spread their messages. The connection is especially relevant for cultural institutions as the time has once again come to focus on stories to drive creative interest.

– Much like nonprofits are challenged with devising upcoming business strategies that measure social-outcomes in a financial-outcome world, 1910 Bohemians laid the foundation for the changes that were about to take place in decades to come. When you think of an early bohemian NYC, you probably imagine a world dripping with artwork– thoughts of Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2 and the Dada movement (which also included theater and poetry). However, NYC wasn’t at all the global hub for art, poetry, or theater at that time– that was Paris. By the time NYC secured their solid position in the global art scene in the 1940s with Abstract Expressionists, there had already been over 30 years of attention-getting creatives in town paving the way. “Bohemia is the place where trailblazers break new ground and plant the seeds of change,” this article eloquently states. And planting seeds of change is the goal of most passionate nonprofiteers.

– Bohemians focused on making change, not cash. Mostly, America was on the brink of great change, with folks on the forefront holding steadfastly to their philosophies. According to poet George Sterling, “There are two elements, at least, that are essential to Bohemianism. The first is devotion or addiction to one or more of the Seven Arts; the other is poverty.”  I’m not going to come close to calling museum and cultural nonprofit employees members of poverty– but it occurs to me that some bankers and for-profit CEOs might think of us that way. The seven arts? Those are the liberal arts in which most museums are masters: literature, languages, history, philosophy, mathematics and science.

– Scrappy, nonconformist, passionate… they aren’t necessarily qualities of nonprofiteers and museos– but for some they’re rather close. Resourcefulness (I’m using this as an elevation of the word “scrappy”) is of high value in the sector. Also, using unconventional methods and challenging sector constraints is an issue that the young generation of nonprofit professionals discusses frequently.

*I must credit Elizabeth Currid for outlining 1910 NYC culture so eloquently in her book, The Warhol Economy, that I felt compelled to make this connection.

Posted on by colleendilen in Arts, Big ideas, Museums, Social Change, The Future 1 Comment

Encyclopedic Museums Must Focus on the Present

An exhibit on the stairs at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (designed by Scott Reinhard) says it all.

As encyclopedic museums transform into active community centers, their focus on the past is directly at-odds with the booming and breathing nature of the urban communities that they serve.

Encyclopedic museums are missing an opportunity. The artwork and happenings of now represent museums’ most direct symbolic connections to the cities in which they are situated.

Traditionally, when you enter an encyclopedic museum, the Greek and Roman sculptures are to one side, ancient Egyptian artwork is to the other, and early European paintings are up the stairs in front of you.We look at art history backwards. We start as far back in history as possible and end up, if we’re lucky, in the back corner of contemporary art— but this is changing.

There are two issues working against museums that are putting current culture in the back corner:

1) Connection to Location: Community

  • The problem: We perceive encyclopedic museums to be euro-centric (because often they are), and American visitors touring American cities lose a potential level of connection to the works of art. Tourists visiting New York wish to experience New York– but the bustling contemporary New York art scene is not front and center at an encyclopedic museum– you have to go to the back, or visit an entirely different museum for that. Even New Yorkers visiting the Met are forced to transport themselves mentally outside of their city, and these museums  miss the opportunity to summon a sense of pride and community.
  • One solution: In a city with limited history like Los Angeles, current cultural happenings are extremely important. Michael Govan, the director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art called L.A. a “city of the present” in a panel discussion last Thursday. This is the driving theory behind putting Chris Burden’s Urban Light, 2008 (an installation of 200 vintage Southern California streetlamps) prominently outside of the museum on Wilshire Boulevard. Govan explains that you experience the present first. It is a nod to the community, and this installation (and thus LACMA itself) has no doubt become a cultural landmark for the city. Los Angelinos can recognize this installation immediately as something 100% L.A. (rather than 100% somewhere else and placed in L.A).

 

2) Connections to Time: Relevance

  • The problem: Encyclopedic museums risk losing the sense of immediacy associated with current cultural happenings.  There are many ways that museums are engaging visitors: social media, community-based programs, and even gambling works of art. But these engagement tactics will not keep museums current on their own if the museum’s basic structure is not built with societal relevance in mind. Encyclopedic museums need to always be at least acknowledging what’s happening right now.
  • One solution: The Art Institute of Chicago is a good example of an encyclopedic museum that has recently placed current cultural happenings at the forefront of their community efforts. The museum opened their new Modern Wing in May of 2009. The 264,000 foot building was created exclusively for 20th and 21st century artwork. The addition is so new, so green, and so ideal for events, that AIC has managed to create strong associations between their encyclopedic reputation and their emphasis on the importance of what’s happening right now. Not to mention, the addition makes AIC the second-largest art museum in the united states, building a sense of pride and community mentioned in point #1.

 

In sum, there’s often unrealized potential for personal connections in encyclopedic museums. It’s not that the connections aren’t there– it’s that they are in the back. They don’t need to be the main focus of the museum, but it is important for museum relevance and community that they are not forgotten. Encyclopedic museums embracing contemporary and experimental art/science will create a symbolic sense of pride for not only the prized artwork of the past, but for this brief moment in history in which we are living.

After all, one day everything that’s happening right now will be the past. We won’t know how to talk to our children about it because, even though we went to the museums and we lived it, we didn’t realize that right now was just as important as- say, 1640.

Posted on by colleendilen in Arts, Community Engagement, Exhibits, Marketing, Museums, The Future 5 Comments