I recently watched a tongue-in-cheek video about the museum profession called “We Love Museums…Do Museums Love Us Back?” A cartoon cat explained what a museum is from her perspective.
Among other things, she said we museum folks tell people what is “important” and was is “not important.” She described a museum as a temple where you go to worship objects. I laughed at first, then I realized we probably come across that way to many people.
It got me thinking about how our visitors actually see us, why they visit our museums and what makes them decide to spend their leisure time and extra cash sustaining our mission.
The answer is anything but black and white. There are lots of different reasons people visit museums.
Some are fueled by a lifelong desire to learn. They seek out museums wherever they go, to learn more about a community, an artist or a specific event or time period in history.
Others can’t afford to take an out-of-town vacation this year, so they’re staying home and checking out what’s in their backyards. With the skyrocketing cost of gas and movie tickets, a museum costs half the cash. And you can teach your kids something new along the way.
Others come when we do something that catches their attention. It could be a new exhibit on something they are already interested in or would like to know more about. Or perhaps an exciting and unique special event sounds fun.
To be honest, some are dragged to a museum against their will by a family member or friend. Ideally, we win them over once they get here. But sometimes we don’t.
It is important to examine why our visitors come, so we know what we are doing right and what we could do better to entice even more people through our doors.
We have to be on someone’s radar screen in order to get noticed. The easiest way to do that is to think of ways to appeal to many different audiences. Using your exhibits and programs, try several different themes, topics and formats. See which ones bring in the crowds and which ones fail to meet your goals.
Talk to your visitors. Find out why they came, where they’re from and how they learned about you. Then build on that information to increase your audience.