In this e-blast, MMC talks with Eric Nelson, Executive Director of the Nordic Heritage Museum, about expanding and broadening the Museum's appeal as it prepares to move to a new site in Seattle's Ballard Neighborhood in 2017.
This is the first 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?
EN: I define relevance as a sense of value, that individuals who are not of Nordic descent will find the Museum worth visiting and supporting.
MMC: How are you achieving relevance now?
EN: We are celebrating the stories of immigrants and their children, and telling what is essentially an American story that connects history with contemporary culture. There is currently a great enthusiasm for Nordic design, fashion, fiction, and food; issues of environmental sustainability are of interest, as is the immigration crisis in Europe. Our goal is to facilitate a conversation, locally, nationally, and internationally. For example, we have fostered a trans-Atlantic dialogue by partnering with European immigration scholars and the University of Washington to develop a conference that appeals to the general public as well as academics.
MMC: Do you use audience research?
EN: We decided to do an audience survey to test our assumptions. We learned that even though we have been pummeling audiences with contemporary programming, people still have the image of our museum being full of dusty spinning wheels, like grandma's attic, rather that the image we have of ourselves as a current bridge to Scandinavia. Much of the public still sees us as a heritage organization, although we do expect this to change when we move to the new museum.
MMC: What is your biggest challenge?
The strong reality is that our core support comes from people committed to their heritage, people who have a personal connection to Scandinavia. We must continue to appeal to that base, while widening our reach to new audiences. We are meeting this challenge by partnering with organizations when appropriate, such as the Jewish Federation Holocaust Museum in connection with a focus on Raul Wallenberg and social justice in Nordic countries. We are also diversifying our financial support beyond our traditional base through earned income, and grants from foundations and government agencies. Creating a sense of relevance requires good thinking and creative people driving programs, and of course great marketing. We may embark on re-branding - dropping "heritage" from our name. We are launching a
, and we want it to be relevant for many years to come.
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