How Annual Timeframes Hurt Cultural Organizations

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Special Exhibits vs. Permanent Collections (DATA)

Special exhibits don’t do what many cultural organizations think that they do. If fact, they often do the opposite. Read more

Eight Realities To Help You Become A Data-Informed Cultural Organization

Is your organization integrating market research into strategic decision-making processes yet? Here are eight important things to keep in Read more

A Quarter of Likely Visitors to Cultural Organizations Are In One Age Bracket (DATA)

Nearly 25% of potential attendees to visitor-serving organizations fall into one, ten-year age bracket. Which generation has the greatest Read more

People Trust Museums More Than Newspapers. Here Is Why That Matters Right Now (DATA)

Actually, it always matters. But data lend particular insight into an important role that audiences want museums to play Read more

The Top Seven Macro Trends Impacting Cultural Organizations

These seven macro trends are driving the market for visitor-serving organizations. Big data helps spot market trends. The data that Read more

#dayoffacts

People Trust Museums More Than Newspapers. Here Is Why That Matters Right Now (DATA)

Actually, it always matters. But data lend particular insight into an important role that audiences want museums to play right now.

“Are museums perceived as experts – and are they trusted? To what extent?” These are the questions that I hoped to shine a light upon when I requested a topic-specific data cut on cultural organizations from the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study. The NAAU is an ongoing study regarding market perceptions of visitor-serving organizations and it currently quantifies feedback from over 108,000 respondents. The resulting data reveal important takeaways for museums today – and specifically underscore an important role that the market expects museums to play. As a heads-up, the data below is cut for the United States market and not only high-propensity visitors. In other words, this isn’t simply “what people who believe in climate change” think about museums.

The data and analysis in this article contribute to several debates taking place in the visitor-serving industry right now from crowd-curated exhibits and the “education vs. entertainment” debate, to implications regarding participation in last week’s March for Science. Knowing how much people trust museums is important information for developing relevant and sustainable organizations. But data reveal that being trusted comes with the responsibility to communicate action and recommend mission-driven behaviors.

Hey museums, you have the superpower of public trust. Like your superpower of being facilitators of shared experiences, you may not even realize the importance of this superpower. Remember: Your organization may declare importance, but the market determines relevance. Here’s what the market thinks about cultural organizations when it comes to credibility, trust, and their duty to the communities they serve.

 

Museums are highly credible sources of information

Aquariums, art museums, history museums, science centers/museums, natural history museums, and zoos are highly credible sources of information. And, as the data indicate, these values aren’t merely “good,” they’re rather fantastic! With values in the upper-seventies, there is a strong level of agreement with the statement “[Entity type] is a highly credible source of information.”

While the strength of the sentiment may or may not surprise you, what is notable are the perceptions of museums as credible sources when compared to NGOs, federal agencies, and even the daily newspaper. Yes, folks, museums are trusted more than the daily newspaper.

The NGO category includes non-governmental organizations that are not museums. The mean values at 64.2 for NGOs and 61.3 for state agencies indicate a relative level of credibility – with perceptions largely influenced by the degree to which the respective NGO or agency conforms to the respondent’s worldview.  For example, no matter what the integrity of the information published by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an avowed climate change denier is unlikely to find the NRDC unassailably credible. Federal agencies (with a mean value of 51.4), represent an even more bifurcated public view – which makes sense in our current partisan condition.

These data tie into the never-ending “education vs. entertainment” priority debate within visitor-serving organizations. It’s a never-ending debate because there isn’t a clear winner. Data suggest that cultural organizations need to be both entertaining and educational in order to succeed, though they play different roles in the visitor experience. It’s also a never-ending debate because – although the two may be unstoppable when they team up – the topic has become stupidly polarizing among some industry professionals. It’s divided within some organizations (e.g. education vs. marketing departments) and outside of them (e.g. topic-experts vs. museum consultants). Again, they play different roles, but we really should write a ‘thank you’ note to whomever invented that silly/awesome word “edu-tainment.” (Anybody know his or her address?)

Entertainment value is critical for an organization’s solvency and success, but organizations that veer too far on the “entertainment” side of things risk losing the reputational equity of credibility. And it’s an area in which museums shine.

 

Museums are trusted

Not only are museums viewed as highly credible sources of information, they are also trusted entities overall. This type of trust is not to be taken lightly, and it’s a testament to organizations that stand by their missions to educate and inspire audiences.

This is important information for all museums contemplated in these data, and it is especially worthy of an extra look for zoos and aquariums. Zoos and aquariums are trusted by the market at-large…and rather significantly so. I point this out because it lends context to some of the debates taking place in the zoo and aquarium world regarding captive animals. Certainly, IMPACTS data reveal stark trend lines regarding perceptions of exhibits such as dolphin shows, but the market at large still largely trusts zoos and aquariums to evolve and make value-based decisions driven by their missions. This is not an excuse for zoos and aquariums not to listen up and evolve alongside market perceptions of “right” and “wrong” (to the extent that they may/may not be evolving). It’s the opposite. It’s a reminder not to let people down.

It may be argued that museums are trusted because they employ and/or consult topic experts and thus provide expert content. That might be it, friends! Regardless: Trusted, they are.

These data also provide aid for thinking about crowd-curated exhibits. The market views museums as expert sources of information. While crowd-curated exhibits certainly can be an effective way to engage the public depending on how they are administrated and actualized, they also risk perceptually undermining a museum’s own hard-earned trust and credibility. Engagement is super great! Engagement that results in a greater loss of equity than the payoff (especially when there are other avenues for engagement) is not super great.

 

Museums are not seen as having political agendas

Here’s how these data fit in with the rest: They underscore that museums are seen as factual and impartial – more so than government agencies and the daily newspaper.

Are museums trusted because they are not seen as having political agendas? Maybe, but you can only stick the landing there if you jump to some conclusions. While I am sharing this alongside trust and credibility metrics, I’m not yet certain of the exact nature of the relationship between being political and being trustworthy as it relates to visitor-serving organizations – and neither are you. (If you don’t have data, then you have an opinion. That’s cool, but it doesn’t count here. Mine doesn’t, either.) There’s more to these values – and they are interesting and worth putting on our thinking caps to explore.

“Political” may understandably correlate with having connection to or trying to influence policy. This may be the reason why aquariums and zoos indicate a higher level of agreement with the statement, despite having lower levels of government funding and more earned revenue imperative than other visitor-serving entities. Some zoos and aquariums encourage audiences to vote in a certain direction (e.g. in favor of plastic bag bans). It makes sense that NGOs may have the strongest perception of having a political agenda – they openly do things like encourage people to fight global warming and feed the homeless. Federal and state agencies being perceived as having a political agenda seems to make good sense, too, from where I stand.

Confidence in cultural organizations took a plunge after the presidential election, and it remains low. The New York Times reports that we are divided in terms of consumer optimism: Some of us have great confidence in the economy, and some of us don’t. Unfortunately, those who profile as high-propensity visitors to cultural organizations largely fall in the “don’t” category. The reason for this dip seems to be concern that organizations are not standing by their missions (e.g. science museums remaining oddly quiet when confronted with “alternative facts” concerning climate change, or concern about board members that don’t support an organization’s mission running the show). In sum, this may not be a matter of “being political,” but rather one of integrity.

Indeed, taking a political stand for the sake of taking a political stand seems like it may be mission drift for most organizations. However, recent happenings suggest that when your mission is pinned against a “politicized” topic, standing up for your mission wins. This is illustrated by the data-informed success seen at MoMA when they highlighted artwork by artists from countries impacted by the original Muslim-majority nation travel ban.

Museums are viewed as impartial entities, and this may be because they are trusted to present the facts with expertise. Where things get messy is when an organization’s very mission becomes politicized. Or perhaps more simply: when facts become politicized.

 

People believe that museums should recommend action

This data set is probably the most important. People believe that museums should suggest or recommend certain behaviors or ways for the general public to support their causes and missions. Got that? People think that it’s the job of museums to recommend behaviors. That’s huge, and it’s likely tied to the combined force of the high levels of trust and credibility that these organizations possess.

Consider that recommending action is not the same as “being political.” Recommending things like cutting down on single use plastics (as a zoo or aquarium may advise) or contributing funding for art programs that an organization carries out (as an art museum may recommend), may not be seen as necessarily “political” to the market, but rather seen as an organization walking its talk in terms of supporting its mission. The data doesn’t specifically support museums recommending protesting (for instance). The data support organizations leveraging the trust that the market has in them to suggest behaviors that underscore their missions – which the market perceives not to be innately political.

Museums are becoming forums for community engagement on important issues related to their missions, and that may be a terrific thing. Museums are heroes for their missions, and there’s incredible potential to lead the charge in helping to actualize these missions. That’s an important superpower – and it’s an enormously humbling responsibility.

Museums, zoos, and aquariums are highly trusted to produce and output content and information. They are viewed as expert, factual, and impartial – more so than government agencies and even daily newspapers. The market – which generally doesn’t like to be told what to do in today’s connected world – is even willing to accept prescriptive recommendations from museums.

Museums are experts. Museums can make expert recommendations, and people believe that they should do just that. To shirk this market-determined capability for influence may be the greatest blow to an organization’s mission of all. Data suggest that museums may play a role in leading us all toward a more educated, connected, and inspired world…if they are willing to take up the calling.

 

(Credit: The header photo on this article comes from the Field Museum’s totally watch-worthy #DayOfFacts video.)

 

Like this post? Don’t forget to check out my Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

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 Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 7 Comments

Five Videos That Will Make You Proud To Work With A Cultural Organization

Let’s pause and celebrate the hard and important work of working with cultural organizations.

Talk of defunding the National Endowment for the Arts seems to be making this winter season feel a bit gloomier. Moreover, the last several weeks of KYOB posts have revolved around important, data-heavy topics that can be challenging to wrap our minds around: Negative substitution of historic visitors to cultural organizations; low visitor confidence levels; the importance of checks and balances for cultural organizations; and data about the most dissatisfying aspect of a visit…pant, pant. It’s all critical information and – even though data can be tough to swallow sometimes – it’s only by being curious and acknowledging the realities of our sector that we are able to put on our thinking caps and charge forward with our important work of educating and inspiring audiences.

Speaking of feeling inspired…I think that this week calls for a break to reflect on the social good and hard work that folks working for and within cultural organizations do every single day. Our work – your work – is damn important.

(That’s the first time I’ve ever sworn on KYOB! I feel good about it.)

Like a true nerd, there are many things (aside from a long list of beloved cultural organizations) that make me giddily geeky and, if I’m honest, a bit emotional. This famous speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V, everything Paul Revere, this Carl Sandburg poem about Chicago, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin East are a few, very quick examples that I think my friends might call me out on immediately if they were in the room where I am writing. I know you’ve got yours, too! I’m talking about topics, spaces, and works of art that move you and make you glad to be alive.

I’ll get back to sharing new data next week. This week I want to share some of what makes me tick in hopes that it may help keep you ticking along, too – should you need a boost. With the recent Oscars on the brain and YouTube being about to overtake TV as America’s most-watched platform, here are five videos that I find myself coming back to over and over again as a person who works with cultural organizations. These little videos make me geeky, proud, and pleased to be doing the work that I do. I hope that you, cultural organization-loving folks, may feel the same way.

There are many excellent videos by, for, and about cultural organizations. There are many great cultural organization scenes in films – like this famous scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. There are also many great cultural organization, association, society, and alliance videos – like Indiana Historical Society’s hilarious Hot Pepper History. (Am I a horrible person that I think that video is laugh-out-loud funny?) There are also many great videos outside of the sector providing thought fuel about cultural organizations – like this video on what art museums are for by School of Life. And, hey, I cannot leave out my own Know Your Own Bone Fast Fact videos! I could be linking to videos from different sources for a long, long, long time. But I won’t. Instead, I’ve narrowed this list down to only five – and it was hard! I aimed for variety…and I also aimed for videos that are truly worth a watch. (I also decided to stay away from any client created videos to keep things fair.)  These are videos to sit down in front of with a cup of tea (or a glass of wine) and enjoy while, hopefully, patting yourself of the back for your hard work in making the world a better place. Let’s interrupt the regularly-scheduled data dump to share resources to inspire one another this week, shall we?

 

1) People Will Come. Field of Dreams (1989)

This one’s for those of you who genuinely love the content that your cultural organization shares with the world. You don’t need to like baseball or to have seen this (excellent) film to get goosebumps watching this scene. There’s a feeling in this clip – a yearning to share something so meaningful and yet struggling with the practical means to share it and just knowing that it will change people – that’s easy to relate to if you work for a cultural organization.

 

2) Spark. Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance (2009)

Many organizations, associations, and alliances create videos today and many of them are inspiring. Some videos simply stand out – and this one does to me. This video by the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance shares clips of people talking about their “spark” moments at cultural organizations in Philadelphia. It moves me, because I’ve been sparked and I get it. I totally get it. I’ll bet that if you’re a cultural organization lover, you get it, too. Perhaps this video is so powerful because it highlights what other people say about cultural organizations instead of what cultural organizations say about themselves. (Here’s the data on why that’s important.) Either way, this hits a nerve that makes me watch it while nodding as the video goes on and thinking, “Yes, yes! Cultural organizations are awesome!”

 

3) To Quote Whitman. Dead Poets Society (1989)

Stick with me for a moment here, because I’m going deep. I’ve recently been working on a project with IMPACTS colleagues called “The Remarkable Project.” It’s being led by Jim Hekkers, the former managing director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and our team has spanned the globe visiting numerous organizations in the quest to uncover what makes a visitor-serving organization “remarkable.” The project has involved a great deal of data, but also has explored the trickier, “softer” things that make an experience remarkable (including that elusive feeling of inspiration). For me, the thing that ties together every remarkable experience that I’ve had at a visitor-serving organization (or anywhere else) summons the same feeling: The excitement and awe and wonder of being alive. For you, it may be something completely different that comes close to communicating a remarkable experience at a cultural organization. For me, it’s something like Walt Whitman’s Oh Me! Oh Life!

 

4) Art History. John Costello (2013)

It’s time for the more “underground” – but every bit as relevant – video contribution to the list. Interestingly enough, my uncle made this video to promote enrollment in an AP Art History Course that he teaches in Colorado. The video is simple, and I think that’s why it moves me. It’s simply a series of famous artworks with written questions. Of course, this is a video highlighting works of art, but I think the “so what?” that it touches upon works for all types of mission-driven, visitor-serving organizations. Each type tells important stories and gets to the bottom of key questions that connect us to one another, to our communities, and to the world at large. I often re-watch this video. Like art itself, it resonates with me as forever timely.

 

5) #DayOfFacts. The Field Museum (2017)

I spy a museum proudly executing its mission with integrity. Over 280 scientific and cultural organizations celebrated #DayofFacts on February 17. A lot of great things came of that day: organizations standing up for their missions, protecting facts, inspiring audiences…and this video by The Field Museum. It just makes me so dang proud to work with mission-driven, visitor-serving organizations. Data suggest that organizations walking their talk matters. I’m goosebump-filled by 0:06 of this video, choked up at 0:42, and…sheesh…I’m not teary at 0:52, you’re teary at 0:52. “Facts are welcome here. And so are you.”

 

Thanks for watching and allowing me to share this little list with you. If you still have some bandwidth and more tea (or wine) in that cup of yours, head on over to my YouTube channel and check out some fast fasts for cultural executives. Now that I hopefully have you feeling a little bit mushy, I figure some data-talk might balance things back out a bit! On that note, I have new data coming to you next week and we’ll hop back into our regularly-scheduled analysis.

If there’s a video that inspires you and keeps you going as a cultural-organization lover, I’d like to see it! Please link to it in the comments so that others can enjoy it as well. I’ll end this post with another classic to help us all rise to the occasion during the final, dreary days of winter: “I’m made of wax, Larry. What are you made out of?”

 

Like this post? Don’t forget to check out my Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

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 Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Miscellaneous 4 Comments