Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Does E-Philanthropy Work?

The big question that everyone has been asking of e-philanthropy is does it work? Finally, there are some real results coming out and the answer seems to be a very qualified yes. Online giving through social media is consistently criticized for resulting in dollar amounts that are "too low per donor" and that "donations tend to be transactional, not relationship-based or one-time donors."

However, this does not mean that this approach to fundraising should be avoided or ignored. It just means that it will start off slowly in terms of results. But experts all seem to agree that online giving and engagement is growing and that non-profits should start exercising this form of fundraising sooner rather than later, if for no other reason than so that they will be prepared when philanthropy 2.0 suddenly does go big. Build the relationships today, raise the money tomorrow.

Lessons to Learn from the For-Profit World

Despite the fact that portions of the for-profit sector have created our current economic debacle, there is a lot that non-profits can learn from the for-profit world, particularly to help them out right now.

For example, strong fundraising is more important right now than ever. In order to help with the effectiveness of our fundraising efforts, we might want to learn from Microsoft's great video on the Advertiser vs. the Consumer. Network for Good has made it even easier for non-profits, remaking that classic video for the non-profit world.

Tony Hsieh took a small start-up, Zappos.com, and built it into a $1 billion business. In a recent talk he gave, he credits his accomplishment on creating an organizational culture that "encourages transparency, happiness, and passion for customer service."

-- "Zappos is committed to WOWing every customer."
-- Word of mouth helps to build repeat customers.
-- "Twitter helps build company culture."
-- "People may not remember exactly what you did or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel."
-- Commit to transparency (Twitter is a part of this, as is Zappos Insights where they share information on how they run the company)
-- "Hire slowly, fire quickly. Invest in training and developing your employees."
-- Think long term (sustainability)

Entitlement, Bail Outs and Getting Real

Harsh words from Todd Cohen over at Inside Philanthropy:
Fueled by their sense of entitlement, nonprofits and foundations find plenty to complain about rather than taking the tough steps required to advance their mission...The economic crisis has handed nonprofits and foundations a rare opportunity, maybe a final chance, to stop their sobbing, get rid of their entitlement mindset and build market-driven business models.

To cope in the real world, nonprofits and foundations need to get real.

Instead of looking to foundations and government to bail them out, nonprofits need to get their own houses in order.

And instead of squealing like stuck pigs over the loss in the value of their endowments, foundations need to dig deeper and invest what is needed to help nonprofit equip themselves to take on the social and global problems they exist to address.
What do you think--do you agree?

What Does it Mean When the Plants Start Twittering?

# Thank you for watering me!2:42 PM Mar 30th from web

# URGENT! Water me!2:06 AM Mar 27th from web

# Water me please.12:40 PM Mar 25th from web

These are actual tweets from Pothos. Pothos is a plant. That's right, a plant. As of this posting, Pothos has 3,139 followers on the increasingly-popular social media site, Twitter.

How does Pothos tweet? According to the Huffington Post,
Botanicalls, a device that sends wireless signals to Twitter. It's made of soil moisture sensors that transmit information (too much moisture? too little?) through a circuit board to a microcontroller, just like a mini-computer.
Granted, this is kind of neat, but why am I posting about this here? Well, quite simply, because I am of two minds about this.

First, if using Twitter is so simple a *plant* can use it (think of those old Castro Convertibles commercials for the sofa beds so easy a child can do it), then clearly non-profits can get with the program and start tweeting.

But on the other hand, as Neatorama puts it, "Twitter is all the rage these days, sure, but plants Twittering? Has this fad gone too far?" Should non-profits being trying to make serious use of Twitter as a social networking tool if it is being trivialized to the point of being used by plants?

Or is this just indicative of a growing concern in the business world--the mixing of the professional with the personal? Are the lines between the two blurring--and should they be? Are thee benefits to the new fuzziness that is ensuing from professional networks in online spaces designed for socializing, such as Facebook and Twitter?

Jason Dick blogging over at A Small Change raises this valid point:
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told not to mix personal with professional. But that is exactly what we ask our volunteers and board members to do all of the time. How many of your top supporters ask their co-workers and business associates to partner with you?

Where do you feel the line should be? How do you maintain it in your own life and online personae and interactions? Does Pothos invalidate the use of Twitter for serious purposes?

Public Radio in Baltimore Helping out Non-Profits

Once again, I love seeing this sort of thing--non-profits helping out non-profits. WYPR in Baltimore will be giving free air time to local arts groups for the next six months, including the Walters Art Museum and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History.
"It's all about the economy," said WYPR President and General Manager Anthony Brandon. "It's a time when arts and cultural institutions are under constant economic pressure. It's important for us, as a community, to understand and support that which keeps our city alive."
I couldn't agree more!

Bergamot is Saved!

According to the Save Bergamot Station Facebook group, the County Supervisor for the District stated
that he does not, and will not, allow the use of Bergamot as a site. Period.

If the County Supervisor for our District is protective, and the Expo
Authority's chief operating officer says (in yesterday's LA Times) that
Bergamot Station was "never studied. It's a non-starter", then...

That's it. It's over. Bergamot's safe.
Well, good.

Top five Most-Visited Museums Worldwide

Louvre, Paris: 8.5 million visitors
British Museum, London: 5.9 million visitors
National Gallery of Art, DC: 4.96 million visitors
Tate Modern, London: 4.95 million visitors
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: 4.82 million visitors

Source: NY Times

Two-Faced Nefertiti

Just a quick note to file under, "Cool!" CT scans of the bust of Nefertiti (currently housed in the Altes Museum in Germany, until the Neues Museum re-opens this fall) have shown that she has a different face carved of stone underneath her stucco exterior. No one knows why the changes were made and most likely never will. But the knowledge of what lies beneath will help to better care for the fragile bust.

Way to Go, Ford!

Ford Bell, president of the American Association of Museums, sent a letter to the editor at the NY Times published yesterday. In his short but strong letter, he explains that
Allowing a museum to peddle its collection to cover operating debts would be like allowing a financial fiduciary, such as a bank, to raid assets held in trust to cover a hole in its own balance sheet.

It would be inconceivable for a financial trustee to subvert a trust to serve its own interests. It should be equally inconceivable for a museum to raid the collections placed in trust with it.
Way to go, Ford--thanks for defending our Code of Ethics!

Franklin Institute

The Franklin Institute has been one of my favorite museums ever since I was a little kid when my parents used to drive all the way from NYC to go visit (it's one of my dad's favorite places, too).

Living on the West Coast now, it's not as easy to just hop in my car for a visit, but last fall I had the pleasure of once again exploring the Franklin while in Philly for the ASTC conference. While I was there, I fell in love with the Franklin all over again. My dad was thrilled when I told him that I'd ridden the old train in the basement.

In just a few weeks, I'll head back to Philly again, first for AAM and then a week or so later for the installation of Star Trek: The Exhibition, which will be hosted by the Franklin. The Franklin has a history of taking on cool, blockbuster exhibits; it has presented King Tut, Real Pirates (saw that there last fall and it was awesome!) and opening this week they have Galileo.

I'm a huge fan of astronomy--I've been gazing at and wondering about the stars and space again since I was a little kid--and I have to say, from the articles I've read and from Derrick Pitts appearance on the Colbert Report, I think it's going to be a fun show.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Movie Attendance is Up, Why Are Arts Orgs Failing?

It began with a simple tweet,* "@Afine one in ten arts orgs are on the brink of collapse but movie attendance up - is this a marketing problem?"

The result was three blog posts (here, here and here), numerous comments and a great in-depth, online discussion regarding the business models of arts organizations.

But many people involved in the discussion all came to a very similar conclusion: arts organizations are on the brink of failure because they do not listen to their communities.

Brian Reich, one of the commenters on Allison Fine's blog opines of arts organizations:
...they don’t ask the audience what they want, or try to understand how to fit their work into the busy lives of the people who they seek attention from. They measure success by the amount of money raised or open rates on their email and not the inspiration they offer, people they feed, or happiness they bring. That simply won’t work.

Non-profit social media guru Beth Kanter in her blog responded by suggesting that perhaps what arts organizations needs are social capital impact studies to accompany economic impact studies. Her commenters then posted links to three models for such studies: the MLA London Knowledge Transfer Programme, the Center for Creative Community Development (with a case study from Mass MOCA) and the U-Penn Social Impact of the Arts Study.

What I particularly like about the C3D model is that they offer organizations tools for "evaluating and articulating impact." I wonder if this is a little like an AAM self-study.

But what I find really troublesome about this whole discussion is that sentiment expressed by Brian Reich and shared by so many that arts organizations (this includes museums) are failing their communities by refusing to acknowledge them. The Excellence and Equity report was produced by AAM in 1992. That's more than 10 years ago! I know that change happens slowly, but I would have liked to think that museums at least would have stepped up to the plate more by now in terms of not community inclusion and participation. It should be standard by now in museums: find out what matters to your community and address that!

Which brings me back to a topic that I just can't seem to shake these days: if it is certain that roughly 10% of arts organizations will fail, if it is certain that a portion of those failed organizations will be museums, should we as museum professionals take action to ensure that those museums that are addressing the needs of their communities be spared? Will the museums that aren't meeting the needs of their communities simply be culled through a process almost like natural selection? Should AAM aid in the culling by changing the standards and criteria for accreditation to better reflect the future needs of communities rather than the perhaps out-dated assumptions we have about what museums are and do?

These are some hard questions in many senses, but I think they really do require examination.

*For those not up on their social media lingo, a "tweet" is what you say on Twitter.

Non-Profits and the Economic Stimulus Plan

Michael Seltzer has a very useful post over at the PhilanTopic blog that serves as a basic FAQ for nonprofits hoping to benefit from the Economic Stimulus Act. Questions he addresses include: "How do I find out which types of programs are eligible to receive funding?" and "Where can I turn for assistance and counsel?"

Looking at Open Content

One of the biggest fears museums face when looking into social media is that of losing control by opening up their content. Over at Smithsonian 2.0, Michael Edson posted about a couple of events that he feels may help the Smithsonian to embrace the idea of open content: 1. The faculty at MIT just voted to "mandate open access distribution of their scholarly articles." 2. U.S. Congressman Mike Honda (D-San Jose) guest blogged on the O'Reilly Radar Blog, stating, "Instead of viewing the public as a customer for services, I believe that we should empower citizens to become our partners in shaping the future of our nation."

How about in your museums? What are the fears of social media? How is the question of open content being addressed?

Save Bergamot Station!

Holy crap, how did this escape my notice until now--a day too late!! Bergamot Station, a unique area in Santa Monica filled with art galleries and home to the Santa Monica Museum of Art (not to mention a sweet little cafe where I sometimes like to get a breakfast burrito or a sandwich) is seriously being considered for use as a light rail maintenance facility? What?? Someone please tell me this is an April Fool's Day joke!

Now, I recognize that Bergamot Station began life as a trolley yard, so it makes a certain amount of sense, but as a home to the galleries, it has become an important part of the LA cultural landscape and I can't advocate removing that. If they have a plan for relocating the galleries of Bergamot Station, that might be okay, but simply disbanding it should not be an option.

On the plus side, at least we will finally be getting the ocean-to-Exposition Park light rail line that they have been talking about since before I even moved here (and when I did first move to SM I was working in Exposition Park...)

Reality Check

In the past couple of years, transparency has been a much bandied about term in the philanthropic sector. What it means, why it's important, how it can be implemented have all been discussed at length by theorists and practitioners alike. But now, Guidestar has come out with a publication stating just exactly how NOT transparent nonprofits still are.

The thing about transparency, especially right now in our present economic climate, is that it helps inspire confidence and trust in an organization. Donors want to know where there money goes once it leaves their checkbooks. Donors also want to know that they aren't giving money to a sinking ship. Refusing to be transparent can and may be taken as a sign that there is something to hide, that if a people knew what was really going on with an organization, they would never support it financially. Well, guess what folks, are they really supporting you financially now? So what have you got to lose by opening up and trying to build relationships based on trust?

Hat tip to Katya's Non-Profit Marketing Blog for the heads-up re: the new study.


A little over a year ago, the new Broad Contemporary Art Museum opened on the LA County Museum of Art campus, transforming it completely. I remember at the time, that a giant crane dangling a locomotive that would actually spout steam on the hour had been planned as an in situ art piece by Jeff Koons, but there had been some delay so that piece wasn't ready for the grand opening. Frankly, I just thought it sounded sort of dangerous, but if the engineers could find a way to ensure that the train stayed suspended in the air rather than falling onto the heads of unsuspecting art lovers, well then, I guess that would be fine; as an art concept I was sort of indifferent to it.

But I just learned from Art for a Change that indeed it was engineering that caused the hold-up, for which I'm grateful. If this puppy is really going to happen, I want it to be safe! What I also learned from Art for a Change is that the price tag on this piece of art is $25 million. Wow. It would be the most expensive single piece ever commissioned by a museum. Again, wow. And especially right now. A third time, wow.

Vallen's blog post is fairly vitriolic, but his point is still taken: that's a whole lotta dough to be shelling out for one piece right now as other museums close their doors or lay off their staff. Maybe Train, as the piece is entitled, is actually the Little Engine That Shouldn't.

A Sobering Look at the Real Numbers

Mark Vallen over at Art for a Change wrote a very eloquent yet sobering post earlier this month putting the economic crisis and the President's spending plan in perspective: $50 million for national arts spending in the stimulus package and "$11 billion a month for the next year and a half despite the planned draw down of U.S. forces in Iraq."

Vallen also begins a list of museums that are laying off staff or closing their doors, similar to the list I began, but his is more detailed and mentions a couple I have not, such as the Walters Art Museum which "laid-off seven of its 150 employees, imposed a salary and hiring freeze, and cancelled [sic] a major exhibition of works by French painter Jean-Leon Gerome - an exhibit that would have been a collaborative project with the Musee d'Orsay in Paris and the Getty in Los Angeles."

When you look at the budget cuts for just the 8 institutions Vallen mentions, it becomes painfully obvious that $50 million just won't go very far. Closures will be inevitable. Guess Elizabeth Merritt of the Center for the Future of Museums is right; since it isn't a question of if but when, how many and who, maybe we need to start figuring out how to orchestrate this strategically so that the overall value of arts organizations as a whole is not diminished for the public.

Another Non-Print Periodical

Yesterday I posted briefly about The Thing Quarterly, a quarterly art object-based periodical. Well, it appears that there is a similar sort of experiment going on in the UK. Tim Siedell over at Bad Banana Blog posted about Matter. According to Tim,
The people behind Matter view the service as a type of magazine, delivering interesting content (not crap) to interested households.

According to Matter's own marketing,
Matter is a box full of FREE things you might like… to keep

Matter is a new way for companies to talk to you by giving you real, physical things you might like to keep, use or give to your friends.

Matter is a box full of nice things delivered to you on a Saturday morning. Inside the box is a selection of items from different companies–which might be useful, entertaining or just fun.

Obviously this is not for someone like myself who is an incurable pack-rat and whose home is already stuffed to the gills, but for anyone else (sane) this frankly looks cool. Sadly, it is currently only available in the UK.

What other sorts of non-printed-page "periodicals" or "magazines" are out there? And let me take this one step further (since I think the Brooklyn Museum already is with their 1st fans Twitter Art Feed), how can museums use these unbound (ha!) ideas to revitalize their own approaches to their publications and communications with their communities?

Friday, March 27, 2009

What *Can't* Disney Teach?^

Heh. Looks like the museum field isn't the only one out there trying to learn lessons from Disney. Game-design lessons from Disneyland.

^Tongue-in-cheek, folks.

The Thing Meets 1st Fans Twitter Art Feed

Just a quick note because I think it's neat when different parts of my life sort of intersect. I just received in the mail issue 4 of The Thing Quarterly, a self-proclaimed object-based periodical. Every few months, another piece of art in the form of an everyday object that somehow incorporates text arrives at my doorstep.

Back in the museum world, the Brooklyn Museum just announced that they will be collaborating with Brooklyn-based writer Jonathan Lethem, having him on the museum-based Twitter Art Feed.

Basically, the idea behind the 1st fans Twitter Art Feed is to use popular micro-blogging social networking site Twitter as a conceptual art space. Each month, the museum invites another artist to participate, sort of like a virtual artist in residence.

Assumptions about Museums

Over at the Center for the Future of Museums blog, long-held assumptions about what museums are and do are being raised and questioned including:

-- Everything currently in the collections will stay in the collections
-- Everything that fits the collections plan will go into the collections
-- Growth is good, necessary and inevitable
-- Museums as organizations tied to a particular place
-- Museums will always be tax-exempt non-profit organizations

It's a pretty thorough post in terms of laying out what the assumptions are that we need to rethink, but what it doesn't offer is any discussion of what questioning those assumptions will mean in real life to museums and those who work in them.

For example, what will happen to our current collections skills and practices if museums move away from having permanent collections in the traditional sense? What will happen to museum funding if museums move away from the idea of incessant growth? Funders tend to want to pay for increases, be it in participation in programming or number of programming, funders verify the success of what they pay for by numbers that go up. And what will happen to all the museums that are currently accredited if the criteria for accreditation suddenly and radically changes as the entire concept of what a museum is alters?

I'm certainly not against scenario exercises or questioning assumptions, but I'd love to hear some more in-depth thoughts on how the scenario for museums will change as we question these assumptions.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Fighting to Save the End of the Trail

The End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, along with the Stevens-Crawford Heritage House and the Museum of the Oregon Territory closed on March 9 when their parent organization, Clackamas Heritage Partners, suspended operations due to financial troubles.

Disclosure time, here. I am a fan of the Clackamas Heritage Partners and a friend of their Executive Director, David Porter.

I know a lot of museums and cultural sites are having trouble right now, but with this one there is something immediate that you can do to help: join the Facebook cause.

Lucy Not in the Sky, Not with Diamonds

The New York Times recently reported on the less than stellar response Seattle had to its visit from our oldest ancestress, the hominid remains dubbed Lucy. The article suggested any number of reasons why what should have been a blockbuster show with lines around the block instead had half the expected visitorship: poor marketing, the Christmas-time blizzard that left Seattlites all-but homebound for nearly a week, the bum economy and even the negative image that Americans have of Ethiopia. These are all very valid excuses and I hate to be a wet-blanket, but the real reason why this show did not--and in my mind will not--succeed is that other than Lucy herself, the show just wasn't what I had expected.

I was jumping out of my skin to go see Lucy's Legacy: The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopia, so much so that I flew to Houston to see the exhibit where it first opened at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. I kinda wish I'd seen the da Vinci exhibit that had been showing there instead.

Importance and Controversy: Why I Wanted to See the Exhibit
A little backstory on Lucy and the exhibit. Lucy is the oldest set of fossilized hominid remains ever found, making her essentially our oldest know ancestor at roughly 3.2 million years old. She is a truly one-of-a-kind. That's pretty darn exciting. She was unearthed in 1974 in Ethiopia and the people of Ethiopia take great pride in her, referring to her as "Dinkenesh," meaning "you are beautiful," suggesting someone precious and magnificent.

Since her discovery, scientists have been trying to learn all that they can from her, and despite the fact that they have been at this for more than three decades, they still have a long ways to go. Needless to say, they weren't too pleased about Lucy being taken away from them to go on tour for who-knows how many years.

The people of Ethiopia weren't all that pleased about Lucy leaving them, either. She is part of their cultural patrimony and as I said, a source of national pride. Some Ethiopians felt that she was sort of snuck out of the country without their consent for this tour, despite the fact that it was arranged in part by the Ethiopian government.

Museum professionals and paleoanthropologists were also upset by the proposed Lucy tour because the remains are so fragile, damage of some kind is almost inevitable. As a museum collections professional involved with traveling exhibits, I'd have to concur with that assessment. And once Lucy is damaged, well, like I said, she is one-of-a-kind. Prominent museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, declined the show and others came out in vocal opposition to the very premise of the exhibit.

To top it all off, transporting Lucy out of Ethiopia violates a 1998 UNESCO resolution signed by top scientists that states that fossils should not be removed from their country of origin unless there is some overwhelming scientific reason to do so.

All of this controversy only made the exhibit more delicious to me--I had to go see this show! So maybe my expectations were too high, or maybe they were just misplaced.

The Reality of the Exhibit
Lucy herself in her hermetically-sealed transparent coffin was breath-taking. I still believe firmly in the power of the authentic and she is the real deal. But you wander through a lot of real estate before encountering Lucy and that floor-space is most consumed with selling Ethiopia. Huh? I thought I was going to an exhibit on physical or paleo-anthropology, not a travelogue about the nation where some important remains were found. Apparently, I was wrong. There was nearly nothing on human evolution and physical anthropology.

So, in short, I think that the developers of this exhibit quite simply got their audience completely wrong. People who are excited to go see Lucy the remains don't want to learn about Haile Selassie, they want to understand why three decades is not enough time to learn everything Lucy has to share with us and to better understand how she fits in with and informs our understanding of who we all are and how we got to be here at this evolutionary point in time. We want anthropology, not a travel brochure.

Sources for the Backstory on the Controversy:
OC Register
Washington Post
National Geographic
Rice University
International Herald Tribune

Libraries in AZ Helping Museum Attendance

I think this is just awesome. Six library systems in the metropolitan Phoenix area will be offering museum passes that patrons can check out for free just like they can check out books!

Apparently the system that will provide library patrons with free admission to 15 museums and cultural attractions in the Phoenix area is based on a set-up already seeing success in Minneapolis, the Museum Adventure Pass, which was used by 500,000 in its first year. Detroit seems to have one, too.

Both the Minneapolis and the Detroit ones are sponsored by Macy's. Wonder if the one in AZ will be, too.

One Museum That Really Stands to Benefit from the Financial Crisis

While most other museums around the country are viewing our current economy as a disaster, one museum in New York sees it as an opportunity for a new exhibit. The Museum of American Finance opened an exhibit yesterday called "Tracking the Credit Crisis," examining the events that led up to the recession. Although Leena Akhtar, co-curator for the exhibit, readily admits that, "You cannot really document history until well after the fact," the exhibit hopes to explain the current financial situation in terms that anyone can understand.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Transparency to a Fault can be a Good Thing

I personally can't handle shopping at Trader Joe's, precisely for one of the complaints mentioned in this catchy little ditty: the parking situation is always abominable.

But as Jeff at Donor Power Blog points out, complaints such as parking coupled with the homemade quality of this cellphone video is exactly what is so great about this unauthorized ad: "It's not marketing," he says, "It's relationship."
Relationships are multi-dimensional. They include positives and negatives. In a good relationship, the positives outweigh the negatives.

The only places where no negatives exist are the fake worlds of advertising, marketing, and branding.

And nobody believes them any more.

Does this make those who are afraid of giving too much power and control of our messages to others through social media feel less frightened?

Thoughts Inspired by Phialnthropy 2173

The always thought-provoking Lucy Bernholz over at Philanthropy 2173 posted recently on a series of random topics of interest.

Too Many Nonprofits
Lucy poses the question of whether "this economic moment be one in which the age-old trope about "too many nonprofits" passes on, as more and more npos merge or go under?" Good question. Elizabeth Merritt, head of the Center for the Future of Museums recently mused in a blog post whether 20% of museums should be "allowed—even encouraged—to fail?" She goes on to mention that similarly the historic preservation field is already initiating
a serious conversation throughout the historic site community of professionals and volunteers about the choices we must make to ensure that our sites provide maximum value to our society and thus remain relevant and useful for future generations.
Really this topic is one that deserves its own discussion, but the key point made by both Elizabeth and the Forum on Historic Site Stewardship in the 21st Century is that museums and historic sites need to be proactive about the situation--before the decisions are taken out of our hands, we must address hard questions such as
• How do we ensure that valuable cultural, scientific and artistic heritage in the collections are protected and remain in the public domain?
• What or who determines which museums close? ... simple natural selection doesn’t always work...

So would this be like a controlled burn in order to avoid the devastation of a wild fire and keep the forests safe?

Volunteers and Nonprofits
Lucy in her post also briefly mentions new approaches to bringing in volunteers for organizations--particularly since in this economy volunteers may be highly transient, the question then becomes are there ways in which an organization can make short-term use, possibly even online, of new volunteers? She mentions the Jayne Blog where the idea of "crowd-sourcing" volunteer projects is discussed. I think that this could be very useful for museums in terms of lessening the time-cost of social media projects, for example by having other people upload photos of museum events and so on, but obviously this kind of volunteering can never help with the real hands-on needs of museums, such as giving tours or helping with collections. But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe in the future it will be just as useful for volunteers to make podcast tours or "tag" collections.

This takes me to the third topic raised by Lucy's post:
"Minimum Viable Product"
Lucy describes "minimum viable product" as the products that go to market with only the most basic features, but with the intention of engaging in an iterative process of further developing these products through listening to the needs and desires of the consumers and watching how consumers use these products. What does crowdsourcing volunteer projects have to do with minimum viable product? Well, because in an ideal world, a museum's forays into social media would count as a minimum viable product, with volunteers and members and hey, even just the general public coming together to crowdsource the content and helping to turn the museum's blog, Flickr presence and so on into a rich dialogue. At the heart of it all, this is really just about expanding the lines of communication.

Las Vegas Loses One Arts Org, Gains Another

Well, not too long ago I mentioned that Las Vegas seemed committed to its growing museum population, and while the Las Vegas Art Museum is now closed, Las Vegas is now going to break ground on the new $475 million Smith Center for the Performing Arts. Apparently this new multi-purpose center will be specifically geared towards locals rather than tourists in hopes of creating a richer cultural scene for those who actually live in the Vegas area, as opposed to the art endeavors at the casinos that have been aimed at tourists.

Win-Win for Supermarkets and the Mystic Aquarium

This is awesome; I am so excited about win-win situations like this! Thanks to a new partnership between ShopRite and the Mystic Aquarium and Institute for Exploration, the Aquarium will save $16,000 per year in food for the animals and the grocery corporation will reduce its waste. The program will consist of ShopRite donating produce that is bruised or otherwise visually unappealing to consumers, but that is still edible and nutritious.

Of course, this sort of use of previously believed "unusable" foods is not new. Food Not Bombs has made "food recovery" a key part of its logistics for nearly thirty years.

Getting to the (Abnormal) Heart of Love

Maybe it's the helpless romantic in me, maybe it's the museum geek in me, or maybe it's just an unholy combination of the two, but I love reading about love events in museums--particularly when the museum has an unexpected focus. For example, a few years ago I remember reading about how a Japanese parasite museum was apparently all the rage for dating couples. Well now the Mutter Museum in Philly will be hosting a single event courtesy of Meet Market Adventures. I had the pleasure of visiting the Mutter this past fall and let me tell you, it will indeed be an adventure! The medical museum (whose website aptly boasts that it is "disturbingly informative) holds collections that consist of medical anomalies, some of which are definitely not for the squeamish.

How Informercials Can Help Us All

Whether you hate them or watch them obsessively in the wee hours of the night, infomercials are pretty recognizable in terms of their formulaic presentation, and this guy argues that their formula is one that can bring success to any organization! Watch the video and see what you think.

According to Rohit Bhargava, the key components to an informercial are:

1. Have a backstory.
2. Show the product in action.
3. Use real testimonials.
4. Make a specific offer.
5. Give a reason to act NOW.

Frankly, this formula does look pretty much spot-on to me in terms of building a case for a fundraising campaign. Thoughts?

Hat tip to Donor Power Blog for this one.

Big Gift for the Field

Congratulations to the Field Museum on its new $7.3 million gift to establish the Robert A. Pritzker Center for Meteoritics and Polar Studies! And props to the Tawani Foundation and James Pritzker for the endowment and the donation of $3 million worth of meteorites. That makes the Field's collection the largest non-government meteorite collection in the world! According to this article, although the Field has not really been known for its meteorite collection in the past, the first issue of the Museum's periodical, Fieldiana, back in 1895 was on meteorites. It's nice to see that even in these desperate times, there are still big donors out there--especially ones with a sense of history!

Barnum Museum and a Festival

Here's an example (and there are many) of museum news that interests me intersecting with other elements of my life.

A few years back, the women in my family (there are quite a few of us) had an online book club. One of the books we read was Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. No spoilers here, but I will say that the book was pretty sad but I loved the ending. The basic plot of the book follows a young man's journeys as a vet for a traveling circus during the Depression and the book earned a soft spot in my heart because it reminded me of not one but both of my grandfathers.

The second piece of this story is that it came to my attention a couple years ago that the city of Bridgeport, CT was trying to figure out how best to make use of its Barnum heritage in terms of the Barnum Museum and the annual Barnum Festival.

Not sure what the City of Bridgeport finally decided to do, but now it seems that the Barnum Museum is participating in One Book, One Middletown's celebration of Water for Elephants. The museum will host a seminar on the life of PT Barnum tomorrow.

Side note: I like the very prominent and direct fundraising appeal on the museum's website: "You Mean A Lot To Us And We Need Your Help!" At it's most basic, that's what all nonprofits need to convey to their supporters.

Evangelical Groups are Still Okay in the Economy, What About Museums?

According to Jeff over at Donor Power Blog, evangelical organizations are actually doing okay during the recession, and on top of that, they are also employing specific strategies to their fundraising approaches to help keep their heads above water during this trying economic times. This is according to a survey from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.

Some of the strategies that they are now employing include increasing one-on-one contact with key donors, changing the style of their message and specifically developing materials that address how the organizations are responding to the economic crisis.

So what about museums? Anyone have stats yet about how their fundraising yields are comparing with the past few years? Have any museums been making changes in their messages or approaches to fundraising? What has been working? What hasn't?

E-Newsletters a Waste of Time?

This is slightly old news now--I'm already falling behind!!--but Jeff over at Donor Power Blog recently mentioned an article from Third Sector Online that stated that "Email newsletters to supporters are a waste of time." This apparently comes from President Obama's digital strategist. But neither the article nor Jeff's post actually cites any hard data to back this up--other than the overwhelming success of the Obama online campaign. Neither does the article differentiate between the different sorts of newsletters and e-newsletters out there in the nonprofit world. For example, museum organization newsletters tend to have articles about topics relevant to their membership rather than just status updates on the organizations themselves. So, Mr. Gensemer, are those e-newsletters a waste of time, too?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Coping Strategies: The Beginnings of a List

Okay. So every day I read about more badness happening in the museum world due to the economy. But all of this "badness" is actually the implementation of coping strategies. What are these strategies and which museums are implementing them? Here's the beginning of a list, I imagine it will continue to grow.

Metropolitan Museum of Art
Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego
Detroit Institute of Arts
High Museum
Philadelphia Art Museum
San Diego Art Museum

Delay of Capital Projects
Cincinnati Art Museum
Indianapolis Museum of Art
St. Louis Art Museum
Museum of Tolerance

Raised Admission Fees
Art Institute, Chicago
Brooklyn Museum

Cancellation of Programs
Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego
Dallas Museum of Art

Selling Collections
Rose Art Museum, Brandeis

These could all be construed as negative strategies. But there are some more positive strategies being employed, too. It's just that these can tend to have a smaller economic impact. These strategies include creative fundraising idea employed at the Queens Museum of Art, innovative programming at MOMA and the Hammer, new advertising campaigns and reaching out to new audiences through the Internet like at the Brooklyn Museum.

Sign on San Diego
Dallas News
New York Times
Employment Spectator
Sign on San Diego
New York Times
LA Times
New York Times

More on Increased Attendance for Museums

What I like about this article is that, well, yes, it is happy news about museum attendance in the past year, but it also talks about the difficulties and inaccuracies with using attendance as a metric. First of all, what do we count as a visit? Do we count everyone who walks in the door? What if a staff member walks in the front door instead of the staff entrance the guard doing the clicking doesn't recognize the staff member? What about museum members? They aren't bringing in additional money with their repeated visits, at least not through admissions. What about other sorts of members who may have reciprocal privileges and can therefore visit the museum for free? What about school groups--do they get counted separately? So, yes, it is good that museum visit numbers are up, but what does that really mean when all is said and done?

Second, the article offers suggestions for why we are seeing an increase in attendance, such as the fact that astronomical gas prices have kept people closer to home--talk of "staycations" were all the rage this past summer, or citing the "Bilbao effect" (note: the Bilbao effect, when the architecture of a museum inspires and increase in visitorship, is a temporary effect and should not be counted upon for sustained increases!).

Video Game Heaven

Wow, this is another bit of news that is definitely for the geek in me. The Strong Museum is opening up a new exhibit of 15,000 gaming consoles and handheld gaming devices. That's a whole lotta gamin' goin' on. According to CEO G. Rollie Adams, the idea behind the new National Center for the History of Electronic Games is to explore how electronic games "are having a profound effect on the way we learn and the way we interact with each other."

Meet George Jetson...

More coolness in the news! Anyone see the flying car at MOS in Boston yesterday? As a sci-fi fan I'm always tickled when some technological advancement that is portrayed in the distant future in the novels appears in real-life today. Today a flying car, tomorrow a transporter?

Museums Beat Casinos, 54-32

More interesting reports regarding museums and the down-turned economy. According to the recently released economic census, museums saw a 54% increase in receipts between 2002 and 2007, whereas theme parks, casinos and other competing leisure time destinations only increased 32%. AAM President Ford Bell is quoted as citing the fact that more museums tend to focus on value-added (my term, not his) ancillaries to round out one's visit to a museum, such as improved dining and shopping experiences. But casinos and theme parks offer all of those "enhancements" (Bell's word) and enticements, too. So why the significant difference in the increases? Is it that the entertainment industry has been offering value-added experiences for longer, so they didn't have as far up to go? Or is that the American public really does love museums that much more than gambling and Mickey Mouse? I sure hope it's the latter rather than the former... What do you think?

The Ys Have It

Okay, this is cool for several reasons. First, it's about a woman with my name, who actually spells it the same way (with two ls and a y)! This is unusual. But so she must be cool if for only that reason. Except there are two more reasons why she is cool: she is a marine biologist working with stellar sea lions (awesome) and she has just been short-listed to be an astronaut. Way. Cool. Let's here it for aquariums, for stellar sea lions, for space and for women with my name--whoo hoo!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

What's up with Sports Museums?

So, two sports museums in two of the largest metropolitan areas in the nation have folded within a month of one another, and now the company running one of them, the Sports Museum of America in NYC, is filing for Chapter 11.

I would really love to know what went wrong here. I didn't visit either museum but I heard that at least the one in LA had a lot of heart. I don't think it's that the American public just isn't interested in sports museums--there are so many rabid sports fans out there, you'd think that a museum housing the equipment and uniforms of sports legends would be a no-brainer. Plus there is the fact that the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY has been going strong for ages--and it's not exactly in an urban setting with a large population.

So, seriously, what happened here, folks? Any thoughts? Any clues?

It's also interesting to note that these were both for-profit museums. Would they have managed to stay afloat had they been nonprofits or would that have killed them more quickly? I will be watching other for-profit museums (the International Spy Museum in DC, Pirate Soul in Florida, Museum of Sex in NYC) with interest to see how they weather this financial storm.

Visitorship Up, Revenue Down

More good news! Despite the Getty's financial woes due to the stock market, their visitorship is up--yay! That still doesn't help those who are being/will be laid off, and more admissions to the Getty doesn't necessarily translate into more revenue coming in since the admission price is well, free, but it does show that museums can maintain or even increase the number of people coming through the doors during these trying times.

Couple of thoughts, however. First is, the Getty's visitorship is up and their admission is free. Is that a point in favor of my argument that museums right now should be *lowering* their admission prices rather than *raising* them in order to increase the number of visitors?

Second, does anyone out there have any stats on how the economy is affecting *virtual* museum visits? Are more people going to museum websites? If so, are they stopping there, or are they translating into actual visits to the physical plant?

I Got a Bridge to Sell You...

Okay, so enough with all the bad news about what's happening out there in the museum world! Here is a creative approach to an old fundraising idea that really kind of tickles me: the Queens Museum of Art is "selling real estate" from their scale model of New York City! Maybe I just have the nostalgia factor going on, but I really like this idea and I kind of want to "buy" the old apartment I grew up in.

A couple years ago, I did a nation-wide survey about a variety of fundraising approaches. One thing I learned from my respondents was that the "buy-a-brick/star/tile/piece of wall/etc." and the "sponsor an object/exhibit/specimen/etc." fundraising schemes while exceedingly cute and clever often did not amount to a lot in the way of actual dollars. However, there seemed to be a formula for those programs that did succeed: they were very specific in every way.

Being encouraged to "buy a brick" so that your name can go on a funders wall is very generic; there's nothing especially sexy about it--we've all seen those walls a million times over. But "buying" something that is really relevant to your constituents--like their own home in miniature, especially when often the real thing is not even available for sale, or astronomically expensive if it were for sale--is personal and appealing.

I hope this fundraiser does really well. $50 for an apartment, $250 for a single family home. $10,000 for an office building. Go invest in New York!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Deaccessioning in the News

Well, what do you know--a positive, thoughtful and enlightened article on the practice of deaccessioning! Christopher Knight all but sings the praises of LACMA for doing deaccessioning right, and strengthening their collection as a result. Nice to see some happy news!.

Losses for the Getty

Uh-oh. I mean, I guess it was bound to happen. *Everyone* has been hit hard in the financial portfolio--why not the Getty, too? But the Getty Trust tightening its belt could have far-reaching consequences, not just for its own staff, but for the museum world at large. The Getty Trust supports many other museums and arts organizations through grants and programs. If the Getty is hit too hard, I fear for what could happen to some of its smaller brethren as a result...

Meanwhile, the head of the Getty Trust announced definitively that with the operations budget cuts would come staff cuts. The result is this underground blog: http://www.silencedogetty.blogspot.com/ posted by anonymous employees of the Getty looking to be heard by an administration that they feel is looking in all the wrong places to cut costs. For me, perhaps one of the most cogent sentiments expressed on this blog was from a comment left by an anonymous reader stating that it made him/her sad that while "the getty has a staff that is worth more than all that money and art" that same staff was now in danger of being laid off. What I find sad is that the same could be said for almost any museum--the most valuable assets of the museum world are the most overlooked and undervalued--the unsung staff members.

Similarly, the Met in New York, another museum with an endowment numbering in the billions, has also announced lay-offs. I hope that those whom I have known there will all be okay...

More Dinos and Zoos

Looks like the Detroit Zoo won't be the only one to be visited by dinosaurs this May. The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo will also see a resurgence of the extinct creatures in animatronic form. Anyone else getting dinos soon? Will dinosaurs soon be a staple of zoos? How will that affect the rest of the living collections--will they be overshadowed by their giant robotic companions?

I Thought Taxes were Supposed to be as Certain as Death...

Well, I sure hope that the Dinosaur exhibit does well for the Detroit Zoo, because all major plans and projects are now on hold since they won't be getting as much tax revenue as they had thought.

The Big Feed at the Memphis Zoo

Every Valentine's Day zoos around the country offer "romantic" events revolving around the mating rituals of animals, from late-night tours to behind-the-scenes peeks at clandestine animal behavior. I've always wanted to go to one of those couples-only events.

And now, the Memphis Zoo has another event that I freely admit I would love to witness: the feeding of a 30lb pig to a python. I don't even eat pigs myself, but I am fascinated by the idea of a creature that can open its mouth wide enough to swallow a pig whole. I mean, wow! Where's the web cam, folks?

And judging by the reactions the Zoo is receiving, a lot of other people feel the same way. Ain't nature cool?

Once Again: When, How, Why and Whether to Raise Admissions

So, I've noticed out there that a number of museums are raising their admission prices, including, according to the Chicago Tribune, the venerable Art Institute in Chicago.

Given the present economic climate and the constant need for unrestricted operational funds for museums, this is not a terribly surprising move. But what I wonder is how the public will react. With most people tightening their belts right now and unemployment rates sky rocketing, spending is already focused more on the "essentials" rather than the "extras." Sadly, museums tend to fall into the latter category.

But wait, in the Great Depression, didn't movies do well? Despairing people seeking a little escapism shelled out the nickle to go forget their own troubles for a little while. Well, movies are certainly one of the leisure-time competitors faced by museums. What are the movies doing? Are they raising their admissions? Would it make more sense right now for museums to *lower* their admissions or offer more free days in order to raise visitorship?

I'm really not sure what the answer is here, but I will be curious to see what happens to the visitorship of those museums raising their prices--and to see whether or not movies raise theirs.

A Little Good News in Detroit

With every day bringing more bad news in the museum world, and with Detroit being known for its economic hardships, this article from the Detroit Free Press is doubly good news! I'm glad to hear that the Motown Historical Museum is doing well as it celebrates the 50th anniversary of Motown Records.

This isn't ground-breaking news, but it occurs to me that celebrations are a great way to increase visitorship. Certainly Disney recognized this as they extended the celebration of Disneyland's 50th birthday to last multiple years. And now Disney continues the celebration by celebrating their visitors, offering free admission on a person's birthday and asking of them, "What will you celebrate?"

So c'mon, museums, what will *you* celebrate? What excuses to celebrate can museums dream up these days--and what corresponding enticing offers and incentives to visit can they imagineer?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Food + Ghosts, Sounds like an Episode of Scooby Doo at the Georgia Aquarium!

Well, while the Georgia Aquarium may be undergoing a change in leadership, at least it looks like they've got some fun, new programming going on with the Titanic Last Supper and more ghost chasing with the Roswell Georgia Paranormal Investigations. I hope the event does well for the Aquarium--and for the Titanic exhibit, since I am a freelancer for its parent company, Premier Exhibitions!

McCain Tweets Against Museums

Holy cow! John McCain is on Twitter? I guess that pretty much means it's officially mainstream now. Time to get active on it again I guess. But using Twitter to speak out against funding for museums, wow, I can't get behind that. I'm glad that some of his colleagues replied in kind!

Exploratorium Outdoors

Kudos to the Exploratorium for thinking outside the box...comprised of the museum walls! According to the United Press, from Aquatic Park to Fort Mason there will be 20 outdoor exhibits showcasing art and the environment. The exhibits will also have an audio component courtesy of 90.1 FM.

This is certainly not the first foray into outdoor exhibits in the museum world, or transforming the natural world into exhibits, but nonetheless, I'm pretty excited about the Exploratorium's new project and I look forward to checking it out!

Banana Museum

Quite simply, I love learning about wacky museums. Like the Banana Club Museum in Hesperia!

Philly Mayor Supports the Arts

Well, hallelujah and thank you to the mayor of Philadelphia! With arts spending down around the country federally as well as at the state and city levels, it's good to hear about those who are keeping an eye out for arts organizations. Anyone out there keeping track of municipalities and states that are helping the arts and culture and those who are decimating them?

New CEO for the Georgia Aquarium--Again

It's been awhile since I last checked in with the news on the Georgia Aquarium, so I was a little surprised to read that they have just changed leadership for the second time in less than a year. Despite what aquarium founder Bernie Marcus had to say about this being a positive step, I can't help but think that that kind of frequent turn over in leadership means bad things are happening at the aquarium. A change in leadership can be traumatic enough for an organization (see Elaine Heumann Gurian's book, Institutional Trauma if you need convincing of that), but having that happen twice in a year has got to be unsettling. I will keep my eye out for more...

Detroit Zoo and

Just last month I spent some time working in Detroit. I met some great folks and had a good time but was overwhelmed by the cold (a high of 1 degree one day!) and was startled by the all-but deserted downtown. Seriously, there was no rush hour to speak of!

So I'm always happy to see positive articles about the cultural and scientific institutions in the Detroit metropolitan area. The Detroit Zoo in particular seems to get a lot of good press, like this article looking for volunteers and singing the praises of all the great work volunteers do for the zoo. Again, I'm always happy to see articles that talk about how important volunteers are!

But nonetheless, I have a question: does it strike anyone else as a little strange that zoos have jumped on the dinosaur bandwagon? I understand completely why they would; it has been shown time and time again that dinosaurs bring in the visitors.

But zoos are for living collections, or am I missing something? How do natural history museums feel about the increasing number of zoos either incorporating dinosaurs into their permanent exhibitry or else hosting dinosaur traveling exhibits? Do they feel that the zoos are poaching on their territory? How do zookeepers feel about the inclusion of "fake" (animatronic or models) animals being exhibited along side their real-life animals? Does the presence of dinosaurs enrich the zoo experience, or is it simply a money maker? Anyone have any thoughts?

Henderson Space and Science Center

The city of Henderson, NV, a bedroom community just outside of Las Vegas, was the fastest growing city in the nation a couple of years ago. Not so much now, but that is not stopping the Henderson City Council from moving forward on a new space and science center for the community.

I've been aware that the City of Henderson was interested in building a new museum of some sort for a couple of years now, ever since they first announced that they were looking for consultants to help guide them in the shaping of the new museum. I will continue to watch this project with great interest. First, because I happen to have family in Henderson, but also because, well, there is an extensive museum complex already in Henderson that could use some TLC. But it is county-run and I guess the city really wanted a museum of their very own.

Most people might not think of museums when they think of Vegas, but there really are quite a few already and the area seems committed to growing its museum population. Along with the Clark County Museum, the Liberace Museum, Nevada State Historical Society, Las Vegas Natural History Museum and the Atomic Testing Museum--not to mention the exhibition spaces on the Strip in the casinos: the Fine Art Gallery at the Bellagio and the Titanic and Bodies exhibitions in the Luxor--there is now the Neon Museum and soon there will be the Mob Museum and, of course, the Henderson Space and Science Center.

I jotted down these thoughts on the Clark County Museum and the Atomic Testing Museum about a year ago.

Delay for the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

At first I thought this story from the Arkansas Democrat Gazette was going to be just another tale of the money running dry on a museum construction project. Not so. No, the delay for opening the new pet project of Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton instead has to do with flood plains, FEMA, approval of construction plans, change orders and building permits. Oh dear oh dear. The opening has already been pushed back once, from 2008 to 2009 and now it's looking like 2010.

I met one of the staff members for the new Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art on a bus to an event at the 2008 American Association of Museums annual conference, held that year in Denver. The project sounded really interesting and like a lot of fun. The collection is impressive (and they are still collecting) and the plans for the building sound amazing. But perhaps they need to start attending the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museum's annual Building Museums Symposium...

Fresno Met Can't Pay Bills

This story from the Mercury News makes me really sad, not just because it's yet another museum on the brink of financial ruin, but for more personal reasons.

Just about a year ago, I chaired a session at the California Association of Museums annual conference with one of the staff members from the Fresno Met as one of my panelists. I was so inspired by what she had accomplished there--maintaining memberships and membership revenues despite the fact that they didn't have a building--and that construction that was supposed to last for one year lasted for three years!

To me, the story that the Fresno Met had to tell was truly remarkable, so it makes me doubly sad to see them now, a year later, in such awful trouble. What on earth happened? Was the timing just wrong thanks to the economy that completely tanked? Was it a matter of the fallacy of "if you build it, they will come"--that is, did the Fresno Met just assume that once the new building was open that they could relax? Whatever it was, and perhaps it was a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, I hated seeing this in the news.

Here I Go Again

Oh Lordy. Well, this is my fifth or so foray into blogging.

Previously I was on livejournal, wordpress and even here on blogger with the fabulous Orinda Group. Each attempt had its own whys, wherefores and motivations. This time I will admit that I am doing this because I am too lazy to properly use Zotero. That's right, blogging by laziness.

So what's this blog going to be about? It's going to be my way of keeping track of things that cross my path as I sift through hundreds of articles and blog posts each day.

Seriously, my browser bookmarks are out of control and, while I am eternally grateful to Foxmarks for making those bookmarks available to me on just about any computer I sit down in front of, what I really need to do is bookmark less and process more. Hence, this here blog.

Read it, if you like. Sometimes I will also just spout out randomly about museums, exhibitions, e-philanthropy or social media, but mostly it will just be a processing site for me. Sound boring? Then go ahead and move along. But feel free to check back in anytime there is something that strikes your fancy.

Oh, and hat tip to creativemerc, who suggested this url to me long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away.