Tag Archives: New Museum

Museums: Don’t be scared of the re-brand! (Pt. 2)

(You can read Part 1 by clicking here.)

Sometimes Re-branding is Necessary

It is imperative that museums constantly reevaluate the messages they project about themselves to the public, what can be considered branding. Re-branding is a part of revamping or even creating an identity for the institution. Thor writes that re-branding:

“is not simply a marketing initiative. It’s a holistic process that must consider and represent every aspect of any organization. Branding is not just about how you want to be seen. It’s about showing the world what you are and what you believe in…your brand must capture your vision, mission and values, not just a subset” (para. 6).

DeLouise suggests, “Re-branding is always an act of imagination. The question to ask if you want to re-brand is “will this propel our mission?” (para. 5). Also called brand repositioning, this process can be difficult and time-intensive. Notwithstanding the financial burden, a museum may not have the resources necessary to change the public’s mind about who they are and what they offer. If an institution is going to re-brand, this not only means a overhaul of its current messaging, logo, graphic standards, and communications processes, but also requires the organization to strategically determine how they are going to persuade visitors and non-visitors to think about their museum in a different way, away from the frame of previous experiences and impressions.

VanAuken (Branding Strategy Insider) offers the following conditions under which an organization might re-brand:

  • “Your brand has a bad, confusing or nonexistent image…
  • Your organization is significantly altering its strategic direction…
  • Your organization has acquired a very powerful proprietary advantage that must be worked into the brand positioning.
  • You are broadening your brand to appeal to additional consumers or consumer need segments for whom the current brand positioning won’t work.”

VanAuken operates from a commercial standpoint, but his ideas resonate with museums, which also struggle to establish a reputation due to a bad image. The catalyst for change may be that the organization wishes to alter their focus from being an institution known for putting on blockbuster exhibitions to one that showcases more regional art and artists. Many non-profits want to reach out to a younger demographic like Generation Y, individuals born between 1977 and 1998. Appealing to a new segment of the population may require a museum to change its brand so that it is more easily communicated across electronic media platforms like a Facebook fan page, an e-newsletter, or a blog.

How does a museum ensure that its new brand will thrive? As with any investment, monetary or otherwise, the return-on-investment is not always guaranteed, but there are ways an organization can strategize for brand success. Brothers Chip and Dan Heath (of “Made to Stick” notoriety) use the term “stick” to describe ideas that are “understood and remembered, and have a lasting impact—they change your audience’s opinions or behavior” (p. 8). In the twenty-first century, institutions should rely on an integration of traditional and guerilla marketing techniques to communicate a new identity to the public.

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It’s not about adaptation, it’s about revolution

ljkay_flickrAs museum professionals, we discuss, plan, and implement programs, exhibitions, and events that we believe will best engage our public; more often than not we’re tentatively feeling our way around when it comes to transforming our museums into community hubs of activity. The public forum atmosphere that is so coveted and sets the museum up (however temporarily) as a place where people feel welcome, involved, and engaged, is generally achieved as a result of attractive programming or fancy exhibitions. Unfortunately, these short-term solutions are notoriously unreliable ways of retaining constituency loyalty or sustaining public involvement, not to mention they often carrying hefty dollar signs. What, then, can we do to transform our traditional art museums into modern-day public forums, places that can be entertaining and educational, places that encourage active engagement and not simply passive experiences?

The first question that comes to my mind is 101-level stuff: why do we visit an art museum? To see the art! Exhibitions are a big deal and can be a huge draw. The first step towards moving away from merely adapting our programming for temporary appeal and towards revolution and longer term solutions is to dissolve the traditional exhibition structure. I’m not picking on exhibit designers or curators. What I’m hoping to do is challenge our every-day way of thinking about exhibitions, drawing us away from settings that resemble for-profit galleries and towards those that act as collaborative environments that encourage learning, conversation, contribution, and innovation. What would this look like at your museum?

Museum as Hub is a partnership of five international arts organizations, and is offering a new model for curatorial practice and institutional collaboration in order to enhance our understanding of contemporary art (Source: Museum as Hub). Its focus is primarily on ideas of place, and it facilitates collaborations between museums and artists, who then create original pieces based on the areas they are representing. It has a local focus. The Museum as Hub space is being planned to “envelope” next year’s exhibitions, and is described as “a flexible, playful, yet functional space that is an active zone for viewing, discussion, and activity.” When was the last time you visited an art museum and they described a gallery space or exhibition in this way?Museum_as_Hub

Personally, my thinking on this topic revolves around a museum creating an online forum for the community where individuals can either suggest new exhibition themes or comment on ways the museum can use upcoming events to engage and involve the public. I’m also wondering how we could work with visitor-generated content in order for exhibitions to be partly community driven and partly curator/museum driven.

In a recent email about community-curated exhibitions and social networking for the creation of exhibitions, Janet Marstine asked if these methods are helping us be “more socially responsible and helping to create a more relevant and democratic museum?” Or are they simply ploys to gain attention from the community for a short time, but the majority of programming and exhibit planning would continue to rest with the administration and board?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic, and your brainstorming on the many ways we can transform and revolutionize our art museums into contemporary public forums.

(Images courtesy of ljkay via Flickr and MuseumLab)