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Why do you visit museums?

One of the most important parts of marketing is expressing the value of the product/service that you are endorsing. Pantene Pro V makes your hair luxurious. Gillette Mach 4 razors provide the closest shave possible. Timex watches can take a lickin’. If you want shiny hair, smooth skin, or durable watches these are the products for you.

Empty Billboard

Empty Billboard

As I’ve been writing the IMA’s 2010 marketing campaign, I’ve been trying to find ways to communicate the value of the museum experience. The IMA has a tremendous amount to offer the public: educational programs that range from films to horticulture classes, collections and exhibitions that span the scope of art history, 2 historic house museums (Lilly House and Miller House), ArtBabble and a bunch of other cool online initiatives,152 acres of gardens and grounds…The list is long, and well, that’s the blessing and the curse of marketing the IMA. It’s the breadth of offerings that makes it hard to distill the IMA experience into a sound bite or tag line for radio, tv, billboards and various other media channels.

I don’t think this is an IMA problem. In general, museums struggle to define the value of what they do to the average community member. Why would someone who has never been to an art museum before and who has no experience with art suddenly choose to visit? What can the museum provide to them? The benefits of a museum experience are complicated and personal. They depend on a myriad of factors, including expectations of visitor, fulfillment of expectations in previous museum trips, personal history, context, mood, etc. What one person may love about the museum, another may hate. What one visitor thinks or feels in front of a work of art, another may never know.

Often I wish I could put my personal reasons for loving museums on a billboard. I’d love to be able to tell folks about the time I walked into a gallery in the British Museum, saw the Parthenon Sculptures, and was moved to sobbing tears. I would like to tell them about a piece in the Denver Art Museum by an artist named Sean Landers that taught me about becoming an adult. I’d love to tell visitors that I don’t understand a lot of contemporary art, and that it’s ok that I’m confused by it. I’d also like to share that sometimes I go into the IMA’s American Galleries, sit in front of a portrait and make up a story about the life of the person in the painting. All of these things create my personal value of the museum experience.

While I know I’m not alone in some of my feelings, I’m certain that the “Meg-tested, Meg-approved” campaign I often dream about  is  NOT going to work. (Though my mom may think otherwise.) So, as I continue to work on the 2010 marketing campaign, I’d like to throw a bit of the thinking out to the group. Why do you visit museums? What is the value of the IMA? I have my answers, but I’d love to hear yours…

By the way, I just wanted to thank Nina Simon and her recent blog on Museum2.0. I found it helpful as part of this process. You may as well.

Filed under: Marketing, Musings

10 Responses to “Why do you visit museums?”

  • avatar

    That ‘doable evangelism’ as it pertains to museums is really interesting. Clearly getting people to your front door just isn’t enough. With the remodel/expansion, you did much to make the museum more approachable, but I sometimes find and hear that people are a little intimidated by the front desk – they may know that admission is free but they still have to ‘pass through the gate’. Perhaps in this case a greeter (damn WalMart for making us all cringe at that word) might help – someone with some knowledge about the collection and the art in the entry pavilion to assist the first time or casual visitor. Also, a welcoming atmosphere outside the cafe/gift shop. Maybe get rid of the desk and add a couch or conversation area. I’d like to hang out there (especially with a cocktail).

    Then there’s getting people to the museum in the first place – I recently took my girlfriend’s kids to the museum and was thinking about ways to get them excited. I asked the 7 year old if he new of any famous artists and he said ‘Van Gogh’. So the first thing we did was go look at a real Van Gogh. Then I asked him if he’d ever walked on art before – he said no so we went up and played on the Do-Ho Suh. Have you ever touched art in a museum? No. So off to the Turrell. What I thought was going to be a quick 15 minute trip with a kicking 5 and 7 year old turned into an hour long adventure.

    I’m rambling but I do think about these things. However you proceed, don’t forget that you’re by far the best game in town. The collection continues to evolve and seems to be becoming better every day, programming (from the lecture series to the recent PK to IIFF) is wonderful, and now contemporary design is integrated into the collection.

    All that and a five year old can still walk on a piece of art. Pretty cool.

  • avatar
    Jennifer Agee Says:

    While I would admit I certainly don’t visit museums, especially the IMA as much as I should, or could, I think museums can provide us a sense of our place in the world. Whether we are needing an escape, a chance to be provoked into thinking beyond ourselves, or to be inspired and carry a little piece of what we see or do in a museum back to our home or work. A museum allows connection to history, to the fact that while we may not think or appreciate the same piece in the same way, a difference, we all need and value what a museum can bring us, a connection.
    I recall a visit to the Roman exhibit – while I looked for the stories and the mythological symbols, my mother looked with an eye to what the lives of the people were, and my step-father was thinking about the tools they must have used. Different lenses for the same pieces, but we were able to connect and not only learn about the art, but about each other. So this growth is something else a museum can provide. And continuous learning is never bad.

  • avatar
    SJJJS Says:

    There are many reasons for visiting museums but I have to admit that one of them is simply because that is what educated (semi-educated) people do. They like art. They visit art. They go to see new exhibitions. They care about certain artists. They care that there is an article about some museum somewhere. They go, the gawk, the buy and eat. It is just that simple. Like brushing ones teeth. It is what you do.

  • avatar

    Interesting post.
    I think the whole area of “value’ for museums – galleries – etc – is a brilliant open space. One of my favorite entries into this topic Expressive Lives , ed by Samuel Jones , from the UK think tank Demos.

    I am also still very enamored by the work of John Holden and his seminal piece
    Cultural Value and the Crisis of Legitimacy

    By the by – your follow me link to Twitter isn’t working for me.

  • avatar
    Fan Says:

    I visit the IMA for a complete change of environment! It is really that simple. And of course a Beautiful environment.

  • avatar
    Dolores Says:

    Although I wouldn’t otherwise comment against another writer’s perspective, I found SJJJS’ remark that “that is what educated (semi-educated) people do,” a tad elitist. Many people find that elitist attitude (whether real or imagined) off-putting about museums in general.

    I visit art museums because I find beauty there, a sense of peace, and yes, escapism from an often dreary or assaulting world. The learning along the way is co-incidental. One doesn’t need educational degrees or formal arts learning to appreciate the beauty of an art museum experience; only an opportunity to feel welcomed into that world.

  • avatar
    IMA Says:

    I go to the IMA to experience joy, beauty and peace. physically being near
    the beauty of 100’s of years old, and the new 100 acres is a gift to our community. thnak you

  • avatar
    Rachel Says:

    As a stay at home mom, there’s only so many times you can walk around the neighborhood. The museum gives us a long pleasant walk with fantastic changing scenery.

  • avatar
    CoCo Says:

    The whole environment inspires me..the grounds, the building, the ever-changing floral arrangement in the front lobby. I believe one of the obstacles is the “shoulds” we hear in our heads, as though museums were medicine. Free admission to the IMA gives me permission to pop in when I only have 45 minutes; I don’t have to check off everything. I can try a new gallery or visit my favorites. I always leave energized, hungry to create something myself.

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