So I (over)heard a conversation recently between some relatively high-powered ad-type people, and the topic was LA’s museums. And how they were suffering from record-low attendance. The situation was so dire, in fact, that these ad-type people were working with a cultural organization of some sort (I have no idea which one) to possibly create a giant ad campaign that would raise awareness about LA’s museums, and that would drive people back through the gallery doors.
Of course, this is all hearsay, and prudence requires I not go into detail about the idea or the campaign, but it did make me stop and think–why don’t (most) people go to museums any more? What could get people back in the door?
My first suggestion is to drop membership fees. I mean, I used to work at LACMA and even with my disturbingly detailed awareness of that institution’s holdings and the importance of its collections, I still don’t have a membership–let alone the Muse membership I wish I could afford, that would grant me access to all the museum’s coolest events.
Clearly LACMA’s hungry for members: just take a gander at all the carrots they’ve added in to this membership pitch I recently found in my inbox (click to embiggen). But in this economic climate, it’s unrealistic to expect folks to drop a cool $90 for the basic membership–and an additional $50 for Muse. Muse events, like their costume ball, Young Directors’ Night, Muse ’til Midnight and more–are designed to appeal to a younger, hipper crowd and innoculate the museum against the attrition caused by the rapid graying of its members; (click thru to continue)
…but it’s important to remember that the majority of the young, hip crowd does NOT have much in the way of disposable income. LACMA, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.
There’s other issues playing into the museums’ conundrum as well: the impact of “blockbuster exhibitions,” some of which nowadays are “curated” by behemoth event-production companies like AEG; the conflict over what role a museum plays in a city (archivist? educator? entertainment? family destination?); and the balance between wooing crowds with sexy exhibits like Van Gogh (LACMA) or Murakami (MOCA) and the institution’s commitment to the more prosaic, less flashy elements of its collection; it’s all a huge challenge.
What do you think? Would you get a museum membership if it came with all these perks (see image)? Or would they have to lower their fees? What could get you in the doors and get you to really care about what the museum’s doing?