Market to Adults (Not Families) to Maximize Attendance to Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Marketing to adults increases visitation even if much of your current visitation comes from people visiting with children. Here’s Read more

Why Those With Reported Interest Do Not Visit Cultural Organizations (DATA)

Data suggest that a sizable number of people report interest in visiting cultural organizations…and yet over thirty percent of those Read more

MoMA Sees Reputation Boost After Displaying Muslim Artists (DATA)

Here’s what market research reveals about MoMA’s decision to display artwork from artists hailing from the Muslim-majority nations affected Read more

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 Read more

Data Reveals The Worst Thing About Visiting Cultural Organizations

The primary dissatisfier among visitors to both exhibit AND performance-based cultural organizations is something we can fix. What is the Read more

People, Planet, Profit: Checks and Balances for Cultural Organizations

It’s a time of change and evaluation for cultural organizations – and that’s a good thing. The societal current Read more

politics

MoMA Sees Reputation Boost After Displaying Muslim Artists (DATA)

Here’s what market research reveals about MoMA’s decision to display artwork from artists hailing from the Muslim-majority nations affected by the original travel ban.

Here’s the scene: In early February, The Museum of Modern Art in New York rehung parts of its permanent collection with works by artists from the majority-Muslim nations whose citizens were blocked from entering the United States as a result of the end-of-January travel ban. The action received a lot of press.

Data suggest that high-propensity visitor confidence in cultural organizations is at a low point right now, as it was when MoMA made this highly-visible decision in support of its mission. With some cultural organizations taking stands (e.g. MoMA), some doing what they can to avoid political conversations, and some having the priorities of their board leadership called into question as being at-odds with an organization’s mission, it makes sense that people may be wondering what we stand for – and how committed we really are to the missions that we espouse as our raisons d’être. When folks visit a museum, what are they supporting? Who are they supporting? It is in this prevailing context of low visitor confidence that MoMA prioritized the display of these components of their permanent collection.

Cue: Me. Calling up our IMPACTS founder to tag data on how the market responds to MoMA’s action.

At IMPACTS, we collect a lot of data. The data that I share here on KYOB is mostly nonproprietary data informed by the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study (NAAU) that is constantly in-market and has responses from over 108,000 adults. In addition to the NAAU, IMPACTS tracks audience perceptions and behaviors as they relate to 224 visitor-serving organizations in the US (and several overseas as well). These 224 organizations include museums of all kinds, zoos, aquariums, symphonies, theaters, science centers, botanic gardens, and other visitor-serving organizations. Tracking perceptions of these organizations helps us inform our client organizations, alert us to trends, and spot case studies that are actually effective. One of those 224 organizations is MoMA.

MoMA is not a client organization…but at least one client organization considers MoMA amongst its comparative set and has asked IMPACTS to quantify numerous criteria concerning MoMA (and other organizations) as a means of contextualizing their performance against that of their peers. As far as I know, MoMA is not aware that IMPACTS has been collecting this data (…until now. HI THERE, MoMA!)

(Note: Although I’ve revealed myself as an even deeper industry spy in this post, I will not call out not-awesome practices by specific organizations with IMPACTS data here on KYOB. Our industry desperately needs to discuss its failures in order to evolve. Perhaps we even need a whistleblower. I, friends, am not that person. I’m sharing this data because it’s positive, informative, and may be particularly helpful for the cultural industry during a time when we may need market data most.)

Here’s the data and an analysis of what these findings mean for cultural organizations.

 

What affect did this action have on the reputation of MoMA?

A very big one. Here are some select metrics for which MoMA experienced a notable change in their recently observed performance. The data are examples of scalar variables that quantify a level of agreement to a statement within a continuum ranging from strong disagreement to strong agreement. These types of metrics inform an organization’s reputational equities, which, in turn, inform the market’s perceptions of latent constructs such as trust, value, authority, etc. These particular data derive from a tracking study that quantifies the perceptions and behaviors of approximately 800 Tri-State area residents per assessment period. For MoMA, baseline reputational equities recently increased big time (“big time” obviously being a sophisticated math term).

 

 

This kind of bump is a statistically big deal. I included data that dates back to January 2014 so that the magnitude of this bump can be seen in context. The thing to note is the change that was observed concerning MoMA in 2017. This data does not suggest that MoMA is – or is not – the best or most admired art museum. (I haven’t included that context.) Rather, what’s notable here is the significant bump that screams, “something big just happened – and the market likes it a lot!”

This observed increase in reputational equities correlates with MoMA gaining major attention for its decision to highlight artwork by artists from countries affected by the original travel ban. To be clear: These data do not intend to infer causality between the curatorial decision and reputational outcome. These data simply quantify a positive perceptual shift among the US public concerning MoMA. However, one might reasonably wonder: What else could have taken place in the same duration to cause the greatest increase in reputational equities in the last three years for MoMA? In my time working with IMPACTS and tracking metrics, I’ve not seen anything near a bump this big take place “just ‘cuz.”

MoMA’s reputational equities increased in early 2017 while visitor confidence in cultural organizations on the whole was in a general state of decline. Why does reputation matter? As it turns out, when it comes to motivating onsite visitation, reputation matters a lot. This said, take a look at MoMA’s “intent to visit” metrics below. Intent to visit is a different metric than interest in visitation. Intent means that these folks state an intention to visit MoMA. Interest often conceptually removes true barriers to visitation. (“Yes, if I ever get to New York, I am interested in visiting the Statue of Liberty!”) Intent is a more reliable signal than mere interest of actual attendance. These data indicate the visitation intention of people profiling as high-propensity visitors to visitor-serving organizations (Heads-up: Those are the folks who have the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that indicate an increased likelihood of attending a cultural organization).

 

How does this inform other cultural organizations?

Do we know the durability of these increases in reputational equities and intentions to visits? Nope. Indeed, in our fickle, competitive, news cycle-driven world, these attitudes may prove fleeting. (I will keep on eye on it to see how lasting these changes sustain.) However, these data are important because they shine a light on what the market may want and expect from cultural organizations during a time when elements of the market risk divisions on matters of cultural, political, and social opinion.

These data represent the market. They’re not about “only people who already like MoMA” or “only people who are against a travel ban” think of MoMA. Assuming that the increase in reputational equities that MoMA has experienced is (at least in part) due to its recent curatorial decision and attendant press, we could have just as easily observed that perceptions remained consistent – or, even, that people disapproved of MoMA’s position. These data point to a potential conclusion that may make some cultural organizations uncomfortable: Perhaps the market wants us to take a stand. More than that, the data may underscore something more fundamental for cultural organizations: Standing up for your mission matters.

What was important about what MoMA did may not be that it was responsive to a timely matter of broad concern, but that it proved that the organization walks its mission-talk. Parts of the mission statement of The Museum of Modern Art read that “…The Museum of Modern Art recognizes that modern and contemporary art transcend national boundaries and…seeks to create a dialogue between the established and the experimental, the past and the present, in an environment that is responsive to the issues of modern and contemporary art, while being accessible to a public that ranges from scholars to young children.” As I wrote a few weeks agoCultural organizations are not political organizations – but they are social organizations – and they exist in the prevailing context of the United States right now regardless of political preference. When we aim to completely avoid the reality of the world in which we live, we please nobody. Worst of all, we risk alienating the very people who support our missions in the first place!

Keep in mind: In the last three years contemplated in the data, several other campaigns, announcements, and programs likely took place for MoMA. This is nowhere near the only thing they’ve actively done to promote their reputation as an admired entity in the last three years! It may not be the bump alone – but also the bump in the context of the last three years – that is deserving of attention. It strikes me as a distinct possibility that the cumulative efforts of MoMA in knowing themselves may have created an institutional preparedness that was prerequisite to seizing on this moment. At a time when many organizations might have divided or stalled or gone silent (even when making a decision around their mission), MoMA moved forward rather loudly and proudly. MoMA’s relatively quick decision likely required a keen internal knowledge of the institution, its priorities, and what it stands for.

I’m not saying that the key for our sector to overcome low visitor confidence is to “get political.” Certainly, being political may prove unnecessarily divisive or inappropriate – and that could potentially result in negative reputational equities. It’s time for some organizations to make their own, appropriate moves to prove that we actually stand for the things that we’ve claimed to value for decades. I’m not talking about curatorial activism or political advocacy – I am talking about being unapologetic for honoring your organizational values and mission. Your mission is the very reason for your existence! It’s incumbent upon cultural organizations to do three things that were a whole heck of a lot easier last year than they seem to be right now: 1) Know yourselves; 2) Know your audiences (or, your own bones); and 3) Remain relevant by connecting the first two items.

I’ll keep reporting back on data as I’m cleared to share it. After all, that’s my mission and that’s what I stand for.

 

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, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends Leave a comment

People, Planet, Profit: Checks and Balances for Cultural Organizations

It’s a time of change and evaluation for cultural organizations – and that’s a good thing.

The societal current condition in the United States is bringing to light several challenging – and likely incredibly beneficial – fundamental questions about cultural organizations, including who we are and what we stand for. Are these necessarily the same questions that we would have chosen to confront at this moment of our own accord? Probably not…but, confronting these (perhaps inconvenient) challenges may be long overdue for many cultural executives and board members.

As I wrote last week: We’re not political organizations – but we are social and cultural organizations – and we exist in the prevailing context of what is happening in the world around us. Negative substitution of the historic visitor is taking its slow toll on attendance numbers, and visitor confidence is low right now. (I know, I know: Select organizations are experiencing modest upticks in attendance – but, in general, these modest increases are not keeping pace with population growth. Adjusting for population growth can be a bummer that can turn our “increased attendance party” into a “pity party.”)

It’s time for a check-up. It’s time to ask ourselves some difficult questions in order to make sure that our organizations are prepared to tackle strategic issues that may or may not confront our organizations during periods of change. It’s time to make sure that we are prepared.

Enter: Colleen (hi there) and some brief thought-fuel informed from conversations with colleagues over the last few weeks as we revisit visitor-serving organization basics, explore strategic plans, and challenge fundamental questions at a moment in time when knowing who your organization is and what it stands for is critical.

 

The triple bottom lines for cultural organizations

In order for us visitor-serving organizations to “work,” we generally need to master three, key areas that serve as our triple bottom lines as nonprofit organizations: People (community), Planet (mission), and Profit (or, more accurately, revenues). Our success depends upon all three of these core areas of people, planet, and profit, and we’re only as strong as our weakest core area. Each “bottom line” category may spawn some interesting – and likely beneficial – strategic conversations:

 

 

Profit (Revenue)

Revenue aids your organization in cultivating visitation and building community, and is necessary for investments in your mission. Hold the cringe, mission-focused folks! If we cannot keep our doors open and be financially sustainable, then we cannot fulfill our purpose. Revenues make it possible for us to pursue our missions. We need to care about solvency. Some organizations are more dependent on the gate while others are more dependent on grants and government funding. Regardless of how your organization keeps its lights on, less money usually means less mission delivery.

Questions to consider: What if grants and government funding become less available? Does your organization have enough market appeal and business strategy to exist on its own? After all, the market determines our success, regardless of how we keep our doors open. Are we approaching access opportunities in a way that is most beneficial to our solvency? It’s an important time for organizations to understand access basics and reconsider their engagement funnels. In a simplified nutshell: Likely visitors attend your organization by paying your optimal admission price; likely supporters visit by way of membership or donor groups; and lower-income and other under-served audiences visit by virtue of your organization’s investment in targeted access programs.

Relevant context: Contemplating these opportunities and how they relate to your organization (for starters), can help channel discussions about how your organization keeps itself afloat. While nothing has happened yet, funding from NEA, NEH and other government-supported sources may be in peril. Additionally, US-based institutions may benefit by remembering the difficult situation recently faced by many museums in Europe when austerity measures reduced government funding. While we may not ultimately lose significant funding and government support as a sector, it would be irresponsible to not consider these possibilities and what they would mean for our organizations. No matter how your organization keeps its doors open (admission revenues, donations, government or foundation funding, endowment dividends, etc.), now is a good time to do a check-in and play the “what if?” game.

 

People (Community)

People keep our doors open and also make our missions possible, as many organizations have missions that revolve around people and communities. The need to be welcoming has never been greater for cultural organizations because our historic audiences are leaving the market at a higher rate than they are being replaced (a phenomenon called negative substitution of the historic visitor). Many organization types are confronting challenging negative attitude affinities, meaning that people don’t feel that these types of organizations may be “places for people like them.”

Questions to consider: Who and what matters most to our organizations? Whose opinion do we care about: Emerging audiences upon whom our future depends, or the sensitivities of unlikely visitors who might be put-off by science or culture? How do we mobilize people and communities to serve our missions – and, when it comes to cultivating communities during periods of conflict and social division, what roles do we play? At our core, cultural organizations are hubs of human connection. That is our superpower. To what extent do we nurture our community and provide a space for discussion, and to what extent do we avoid this very role for fear of polarization? Is inaction also an action? It appears to be. Do we truly welcome all, or do we welcome only certain audiences? It’s time to be honest about this.

Relevant US context: It’s been reported that we are currently a nation divided and hate crimes have increased. Now may be a time when cultural organizations are called upon to stand up for emerging audiences, and, in the process, cultivate them as attendees and supporters. Some organizations are already defending communities, though those are still tending to be the organizations whose participation is logical (i.e. the Holocaust Museum). If social polarization continues, it may be likely that all kinds of visitor-serving organizations will need to fight harder against appearing unwelcoming.

Ours has perhaps become a Protest-of-the-Day society where a pithy hashtag defines the movement of the moment as folks figure out how to organize to make their stances known. This risks reaction – or, even worse, inaction – from cultural organizations frightened by the perceived risks of audience alienation. However, what we sometimes fail to recognize is that our efforts to remain impartial may be discordant with our missions – and may risk alienating the very people most likely to engage with our organizations. Consider the below data from the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study that organizes the US public’s intent to visit a cultural organization by their belief that climate change is mostly due to man made activities.:

What these data suggest is that a person who strongly believes in the science indicating man’s role in climate change is 1.76x more likely to visit a cultural organization in the relative near-term than someone who denies man’s role as a primary contributor to climate change. In fact, the data suggest that persons who don’t believe that man is responsible for climate change are generally less likely visitors to cultural enterprise – which makes sense: If one doesn’t believe in man’s role in climate change – or even in the science of climate change – then why would one waste their time and money visiting a natural history museum, aquarium, zoo, science center, or science museum where science plays a central role in the organization’s mission and programming?

We live in an era of incredible personalization, and this increasingly means self-selection. Significant portions of the public choose to engage with activities and information sources that conform to their existing worldview. As the public becomes less omnivorous in its consumptions, organizations risk becoming unappetizing to people by choosing the bland middle ground.

 

Planet (Mission)

Our missions are the reason for our existence. They motivate people to visit and support, and they also bring people together. Nearly all cultural organizations have missions that revolve around people (educate, inspire), and some also go beyond this to include messages of conservation or preservation. Having a mission doesn’t just make us feel good. Organizations that highlight their missions financially outperform those marketing primarily as attractions. An organization being perceived as “walking its talk” is critical for success.

Questions to consider: What are we doing to make the world better? How? Will we have the courage to take a stand for our missions? To what extent are we willing to honor our missions, and what trade-offs are we willing to accept to defend our missions? Will we have trouble with our board? Will would-be donors be upset if we pursue our missions? Will our board members support our mission even if it contravenes their personal or professional preferences? (Which, of course, begs the question of if we should have board members who disagree with our mission in the first place?) Do we have any conflicts of interest that fly in the face of our mission? How can we resolve these conflicts?

Relevant US context: Science and culture are being politicized. Though we are not political organizations, there are choices to be made that may risk politicization. Some things that we protect and cherish as part of our missions may be threatened by government actions, including access to the arts, climate, oceans, animal species extinction, and even fundamental aspects of education. Nonprofit organizations have missions, and it will be important for organizations to have honest conversations at a board and leadership level about dedication to the mission.

 

For organizations to thrive, they need to have all three elements of people, planet, and profit in-check. Much of the change that could be triggered by possible policy changes would have been inevitable. Cultural organizations need to reach new audiences. In an increasingly transparent world, we need to be asking hard questions. These challenges and changes may not be “bad” at all! To the contrary, if anything, these changes may simply speed up the necessary evolution of the visitor-serving industry.

Again, it all comes back to people, planet, and profit. To quote School House Rock talking about our three-ring government, “Everybody’s act is part of the show and no one’s job is more important. The audience is kinda like the country, you know, keeping an eye on their performance.” Regardless of your political leanings and policy preferences, now is a good time to take a look at how your organization manages its people, planet, and profit – the checks and balances that ensure your future vitality.

 

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, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 1 Comment

Visitor Confidence Is In Decline For US Cultural Organizations (DATA)

An index specifically measuring confidence of likely visitors to cultural organizations? We’ve got that and, all things considered, it’s probably time to share it.

Alright, folks. Things are about to get particularly “math-y” up in here. Follow me, fellow nerds (or people who care at all about visitation to cultural organizations), because I’ve got some good news (a new metric), and some not-great news (what that metric indicates right now).

The Consumer Confidence Index (CCI) is a measure of US consumer confidence, which, in turn, is a measure of how the market perceives both the US economy and their personal finances. The metric is a pretty big deal. The process of quantifying consumer confidence involves querying members of the market about their current and near-term savings and spending intentions. In general, if market members are confident about the state of both the overall economy and their personal finances, then they tend to spend more (and, thus, save less). If persons are less confident about the economy and their finances, then they tend to indicate intentions to save more and spend less. The Consumer Confidence Index has become an important economic indicator, and has shown general alignment to actual economic performance. For example, consumer confidence often increases as the economy grows.

Several years ago, a client that operates several prominent visitor-serving organizations tasked IMPACTS to develop a similar metric as a measure of visitor confidence with a specific emphasis on high-propensity visitors. For not-regular KYOB readers: High-propensity visitors are those market members with the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that indicate an increased likelihood of visiting cultural organizations. Not only are these people the lifeblood of our organizations in terms of visitation, they are also critical to the sustained vitality of our organizations as they are the trusted sources who promulgate word-of-mouth endorsements to other potential visitors. Because likely visitors drive the cultural market, the attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors of likely visitors provide early insight into the overall “cultural economy.”

Technically, the metric isn’t “new” as we’ve been collecting data related to it since the start of 2012, but this is the first time that I’ve had the opportunity to write about it – or even felt a compelling urge to do so because it ebbs and flows with limited volatility. At least until the fall of 2016 it was trending upward. Until November 2016, there wasn’t much to report in terms of this metric except that visitor confidence was generally observed to be in a steady ascent over time.

 

The High-Propensity Visitor Confidence Index (HPVCI)

The HPVCI is a measure of high-propensity visitors’ sentiment concerning their participation in the cultural economy. Similar to the Consumer Confidence Index, IMPACTS developed a survey to quantify measures of broad market perceptions of the cultural sector and also individual prospective visitor intentions. These measures contemplated both immediate and near-term perceptions and intentions. Inputs informing the overall metric include macro measures relating to sector perceptions (e.g. attitudes about the overall perceived value of museums, zoos, aquariums, and the performing arts), and more specific measures concerning intentions to visit a cultural organization within a defined duration. The High-Propensity Visitor Confidence Index (HPVCI) quantifies these measures as a composite value, whereby the measure of January 2012 equals 100.0. (In other words, January 2012 was set as the index benchmark, and consequent months measure performance relative to the benchmark.) As a point of comparative reference, the chart below indicates both the monthly CCI and HPVCI for the three-year duration spanning January 2014 through January 2017. The CCI for January 2017 was 111.8, and the HPVCI was 92.8. During the indicated three-year duration, the average monthly CCI was 95.2 and the average monthly HPVCI was 103.0.

This chart is shared above, but let’s put it here again to avoid a “scroll up” situation:

What is interesting – and potentially alarming – for cultural organizations is the recent trend line indicating a 15.9% decline in HPVCI in the last four months (from 110.4 in September 2016 to 92.8 in January 2017). Indeed, the January HPVCI of 92.8 is the lowest observed HPVCI since the metric’s inception in January 2012.

 

Why this decline is alarming

Any measure that suggests a decline in usage or perceptions amongst our most key audiences is troubling. Also, the severity of the decline seems notable. During the analyzed three-year duration, the HPVCI has been largely stable with only modest observed peaks and valleys…until most recently. While the CCI includes representative market members from all demographic cohorts, high-propensity visitors tend to have higher educational attainment levels and higher household income levels than the overall US population. They are a more homogeneous, generally stable population, and, as such, may be less susceptible to short-term economic volatility. This makes it all the more concerning that this highly educated, financially secure audience has recently signaled declining confidence in terms of their intentions to visit cultural organizations. (Note: The CCI went down in January, too.)

Another reason why we should be concerned is because there is a lack of unique visitation to cultural organizations right now. We are especially dependent upon the “historic visitor” subset of the high-propensity visitor audience – and that subset tends to be the most educated and/or earning the highest incomes of this group. In general – and in spite of overall US population growth – the number of unique visitors to US cultural organizations has remained relatively stable over the past decade, which is a symptom of negative substitution of the historic visitor. “Unique visitation” is the measure of the number of individual persons who annually visit an organization, and differs from total annual visitation as individuals may visit more than once. For example, 100,000 unique visitors each visiting an organization two times would result in a total visitation of 200,000. In many instances, attendance to cultural organizations is not keeping pace with overall US population growth. This places an increasing burden on a finite number of people (i.e. the people in this metric) to “keep up the numbers.”

 

Why the HPVCI may be in decline

It’s time to acknowledge the elephant in the website article: There was a presidential election that coincides with the observed decline in the HPVCI. Like the CCI, the HPVCI measures perceptions related to the present situation and expectations. These data suggest that people with higher educational attainment levels have relatively low visitor confidence right now. During the election, news sources touted that education wars have replaced the culture wars and it’s worth noting that highly educated folks tend to be liberal. TIME even suggests that the newly inaugurated President has declared war on science. When we organize the HPVCI numbers by educational attainment, it’s clear to see that those high-propensity visitors with the most education are reporting the lowest confidence values. While all educational attainment cohorts indicated lower HPVCI from December 2016 to January 2017, the steepest declines were reported among the most educated persons.

This finding suggests that high-propensity visitors aren’t feeling so warm and fuzzy about a future visiting cultural organizations right now. In fact, people don’t seem to be feeling very warm and fuzzy in general. The American Psychological Association recently published a study indicating that the majority of Americans – both Democrats and Republicans alike – reported that the 2016 US presidential election was a very or somewhat significant source of stress. The study reveals that election-related stress is bipartisan, and bridges ethnic, racial, and age gaps. Moreover, it indicates that social media – the increasingly dominant means by which our HPVs are acquiring information – is a contributor to the observed election season stresses and anxieties.

So, it should come as no surprise that our high-propensity visitors – who are 1.43x more likely to vote than the average eligible voter, and who are relying on social media as an information source at a rate 1.45x greater than the balance of the US population – are stressed. And this, of course, stands to impact their outlook right now.

Also, there has been a lot of recent press concerning possible funding cuts to the arts that have the likely impact of negatively affecting perceptions of the “state of our state.” These types of doomsday stories may support lessened views on the outlook for our cultural economy. If the market believes that the cultural world is imperiled, it is not a huge leap to consider that some might instead choose to invest their discretionary time and dollars in competing enterprise or imagine doing something else – other than visiting – in the future.

 

So what?

The data suggest that the recent events have shaken the confidence of our most likely visitors – and we have an obligation to both acknowledge and respond to our surroundings to provide comfort, assurance, and a non-partisan sanctuary for the same values and ideals that underpin our missions. Organizations that highlight their missions perform the best financially. Last week, The Museum of Modern Art highlighted works by artists from Muslim-majority nations.  Parts of the mission statement of The Museum of Modern Art read that “…The Museum of Modern Art recognizes that modern and contemporary art transcend national boundaries and…seeks to create a dialogue between the established and the experimental, the past and the present, in an environment that is responsive to the issues of modern and contemporary art, while being accessible to a public that ranges from scholars to young children.”

Displaying art from Muslim-majority nations is not in itself a political statement – it is making good on the promise of MoMA’s mission statement.  Keeping promises builds confidence. MoMA is practicing its mission, not engaging in activism. We’re not political organizations – but we are social and cultural organizations – and we exist in the prevailing context of the United States right now regardless of political preference.

A possible “So what?” may be to stop pretending to be impartial observers and live up to our missions. Confidence may be in decline because we’ve been less responsive to opportunity. We may not be serving as the gathering spaces and treasured places of connectivity that our likely visitors need us to be right now. Where museums stand on issues, what they support, and who runs them (and what those people stand for) can be confusing during this divided time. While some organizations are taking stands when called upon (too many to link to, but not enough to carry sector perception), others are going above and beyond to avoid the conversation. For every MoMA making headlines in The New York Times about honoring their mission, there seems to be another organization also making the New York Times headlines that begs more questions about trust and who makes important decisions within cultural organizations. Sure, we can be places of sanctuary – but are simply being places of sanctuary and institutional (increasingly contrived) silence good enough right now? I’m not sure. We’re being called upon to know ourselves right now – the trouble is that many organizations simply don’t. That’s a big issue, and for many organizations, it’s a board issue.

Standing for absolutely nothing when called upon to take a position isn’t exactly confidence-inspiring. I’m not suggesting that all visitor-serving organizations turn to curatorial activism – nor do these data claim (let alone does the US tax code) support such a stand. I’m also not suggesting that organizations stand on a specific side of the political divide! That’s not necessary and that’s not what this is about. These data simply show that our most likely supporters aren’t feeling confident about participating in our cultural economy right now. That’s a problem – but it also calls upon us to be heroes and shine when our visitors need us most. It’s our time to flex our superpower muscles and serve as hubs of human connection, education, and inspiration for our communities and our neighbors. THAT could be where we stand, if we make the decision to do so – and that’s not political. It’s mission-serving. Let’s up the integrity ante in the way that works best for each organization. The market is demanding it of us.

To lovers of science, culture, and informal learning who are reading this not because you run a cultural organization, but because you love one: Now is truly the time to do what you do – to visit and support those organizations and special places that inspire you most during times of potential anxiety, stress, and transition.

In the words of the Avett Brothers, it may be time for organizations to decide what to be and go be it. 

 

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, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 2 Comments