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MMC Q&A SERIES:
ENVISIONING AND IMPLEMENTING CHANGE
  Reimagining Relevance to Deepen Engagement
 
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art  in Bentonville, Arkansas, has made an impact nationally, yet  one of its greatest areas of focus is engaging the local community. MMC spoke with Robin Groesbeck, Director of Exhibitions and Interpretive Installations, to find out how they are continuing to engage both seasoned and first time art museum visitors. This is the second in a series of Q & A sessions MMC has held with museum leaders about implementing change.  The series will continue throughout the fall. 
  
MMC: What does "relevance" mean to you and your museum?
RG: To us, relevance is making connections between art and people's everyday interests, whether they are art novices or art sophisticates. We're half art museum, half community center, and we offer a large array of programs.
 
MMC: How are you achieving relevance now? 
RG: We focus on connecting people with art, architecture, and nature.  Many come to see the art, which is the largest collection in the region. For others, our natural setting provides an easy intro to the museum. Our extensive grounds provide a space to connect with nature, and are perhaps less intimidating than the span of American art history. We have an art trail featuring several outdoor sculptures, a James Turrell Skyspace, and areas where people enjoy taking pictures and family portraits. Outside our region, we're continuing to build partnerships throughout the state of Arkansas, looking for opportunities to loan works from the collection and collaborate.
 
MMC: What audiences have you identified and how do you engage them?
RG: Our area is becoming more diverse, partly as a result of efforts by some of the larger regional employers who are forward thinking about diversity. We want to deepen engagement with our local Latino/Hispanic and Marshallese communities, and we have formed ongoing program advisory groups with community representatives, to help inform our program development, and introduce the Museum in their communities by participating in a speaker's bureau.
 
MMC: What is your biggest challenge?
RG:  Crystal Bridges is located in Northwest Arkansas, which has a population of about 500,000. Our yearly attendance is around 610,000. We provide free general admission through a sponsorship. And we continue to add free offerings, for example, with  Frank Lloyd Wright's Bachman-Wilson House,which opened last year. Due to the expenses involved with large loan shows, we do have to charge for special exhibitions, and this means we are competing against ourselves for special exhibition attendance. That is one of our biggest challenges.
 
MMC: How are you using social media?
RG: We've been having fun with social media. Last summer, we presented side-by-side exhibitions of works by Andy Warhol and Jamie Wyeth, and we set-up an area where visitors could create "selfies" in the style of either artist. Earlier this year we presented the  Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip exhibition. We created a Spotify playlist of road songs and invited people to vote for their favorites. We also built a lounge in the middle of the show with a flat screen where visitors could upload photos of their own road trips tagged with locations.
 
MMC: How are you measuring your success?
RG: Our high general admissions numbers - which have been consistent since opening nearly 5 years ago - tell us we are meeting our goal of providing broad access to art, and many of our members visit 6 times or more per year.  Our strategy has been to change our exhibitions and art installations frequently, including in the collection galleries. Next spring we will be reinstalling the first suite of collection galleries, shifting from chronologically based to thematic installations to freshen the experience and invite guests to make new connections.

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