Dynamic, Relevant, Essential: Sustaining Vibrant Museums

Few would dispute that our culture is continually evolving. During the past two decades, massive forces have reshaped both industry and society as we shift towards an ever more fluid economy of information and automation. In the midst of these changes, a key question is how museums can evolve their businesses to sustain long-term financial stability without compromising their social and mission impact.

For much of the last century, many museums have relied on a combination of earned, philanthropic, and endowment revenues to fuel their work. Today that natural equilibrium has changed entirely as museums face increased competition for the attention and charitable dollars of their visitors. Individual donors, foundations, and government funders expect to see measurable impact for their support–a metric which many museums are not able to provide. Increasingly, long-standing support from federal, state, and local governments is under threat. Perhaps these same changes can create opportunities for museums to re-examine and revitalize their work.

Today’s museums are re-examining their role and connection to communities in new ways. There is a growing understanding that our institutions’ long-term viability and financial sustainability is inextricably linked to our ability to be relevant, magnetic, and inclusive. Digital technologies are refining and improving traditional functions such as ticketing, marketing, and fundraising – in addition to driving personalized experiences and new abilities for museums to connect with increasingly tech-savvy audiences. Innovative partnerships with for-profit companies and within mutually aligned sectors like health and education may provide museums access to the financial and technical capacity to help them scale their work.

At the 2019 AAM Meeting and MuseumExpo in New Orleans, we will explore how museums are meeting these challenges head-on. We will learn from each other’s trials and errors and connect with colleagues who can help us grow and tackle our own challenges. Together, let’s explore how we can:

  • Build new mission-related income streams around the core businesses and talents of museums
  • Demonstrate to donors and funders that museums provide essential social, economic, educational, and community good.
  • Champion museums amidst changing expectations from federal, state, and local governments.
  • Become truly inclusive in our operations, leadership, and engagement with diverse communities.
  • Create mutually profitable collaborations and partnerships with for-profit companies and with nonprofits in other sectors – especially in health and education.
  • Craft business strategies around digital content and engagement that extend the reach of museums beyond their gallery walls
  • Explore shared service models to optimize key functions in human resources, finance and accounting, information technology, and marketing, both to contain costs and improve capacity and outcomes.

New Orleans is a perfect venue for exploring the sustainability and vitality of museums. It’s nearly impossible to find a better example of resilience and a vibrant culture amidst change and challenge than New Orleans. The Big Easy, as the city is known, has persevered through natural disasters, economic down-turns, and societal changes like so many cities in the US, but has done so while preserving its historic culture, charm, and vibrant character. What a great example for museums! Come experience with us some of what makes New Orleans special and help us to identify and amplify strategies to sustain dynamic, relevant, and essential museum communities everywhere.