Tuesday 18 May 2010

Getting them through the doors

Today Will Cary tweeted about LACMA's Project Membership - an effort to sign up 10,000 new members within 10 weeks. Prizes for joining include a trip to Hawaii!*

In the tab next to Project Membership I had a NYT article open that I had clicked through to from ArtsJournal. Titled 'Giving Museumgoers What They Want', Carol Kino's article is about the revamp of the Oakland Museum's exhibition spaces.

According to the article, director Lori Fogarty saw the renovations as “a huge opportunity to rethink how we’re engaging the community.” Community engagement is obviously embedded in the museum - from the numerous advisory councils to welcoming people to invite museum staff to their events.**

What I found just as interesting were the details about the changes made to the galleries after extensive visitor research. For example, individual wall labels had been done away with when the museum opened 40 years ago, but asking visitors now revealed people wanted to read stuff - as long as it was interesting. So more labels have been added, "some with background information, others with more personal observations by conservators, scholars, local artists and writers, all of which are signed."

Another aspect of the redevelopment which I really admire is the decision to focus on providing faster-moving exhibitions and collection installations for the local community, rather than long-lived exhibitions for the tourist market:

Part of the plan Ms. McLean and the museum staff devised involved creating exhibits that could be modified easily. Unlike San Francisco and New York, “we’re not a tourist destination,” Ms. Fogarty said. “We need to have our local community come back, so our big challenge is to have people see that there’s something different every time.”

In the history galleries, that means presenting the objects and environments on inexpensive plywood stage sets that can be broken down quickly and redesigned. In the art collection galleries, it means ensuring that the work and the wall texts change frequently.

*Ironic use of exclamation mark. Museum membership should surely feel a bit more special than joining up for a discount card - unless that's basically what your membership offer consists of.

** This page has a nice touch - listing areas that the museum can provide expert speakers and commentators on - smart media move.

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