Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Recommended: Nina K Simon's Tips for Museums and Community

Nina K Simon's recent Museum 2.0 blog post on ways museums can build community outside of—gasp!—web tools and technologies has been getting a good number of props on Twitter. But her points are so good and relevant to the places I usually deal with that I wanted to highlight a few of them here as well.

2. Be free, nearly free, often free, or free for locals. Community centers don't ask you to cough up a $20 every time you come to hang out. While free admission has not been shown to shift the overall demographics of museum visitors on its own, it sets an expectation that this is a place you can use whenever you like, for as long as you like. It's not a recreational destination you visit once a year. It's a place you can use.

3. Be open at times that your "community" is likely to come. I was at San Diego's Balboa Park two weeks ago for a workshop and spent a glorious evening wandering the gardens, outdoor concert halls, and sports fields. There were thousands of people in the park for plays, free music, and beautiful scenery. And none of the museums in the park was open. Extending museum hours makes it easier for people to integrate museum-going into their evening recreational time and diminishes the prepare-to-visit-destination behavior.

4. Open your doors really wide. Lots of museums look like fortresses against the streetscape. They are protected by expansive parking lots or metal gates. The more museums can be porous to the outdoor environment and continuous with other neighborhood venues and businesses, the more easily people can flow into them as part of their day.
Make time for staff to hang out with visitors. There are many museums that require all staff to spend an hour a week working the floor or the front desk of the museum. These programs are usually used to help staff have a better sense of front-line needs and challenges, but they're also an obvious way to help all staff literally "connect" with visitors. Recently, I've been talking with one art center about turning their "floor hour" into an "art hour" where staff can do whatever creative activity appeals to them and might help them relate to visitors. Not all staff want to actively lead tours or programs, but if "connecting with community" is a core part of your mission, then all staff should have some aspect of their performance evaluation tied to making nice.

To read the rest of the post, click here.

Image of the Cincinnati Art Museum from its site

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