This November marked the 2017 edition of Communicating The Museum, an annual gathering of the best communications professionals the museum world has to offer. It was held in Los Angeles, and the theme was ‘Museums Beyond Walls’ to address their changing role in society.
The conference brought professionals from Europe, North and South America and Asia to talk about their respective challenges, share best practices and compare notes. They defined their role in their community, got an earful about the ‘attention economy’ and considered the implications of technological innovations like virtual reality.
The last few years have seen a shift in how audiences visit museums and how museums perceive their role in society. The old guard will tell you a museum is a “library…a collection of works of art“, while the new guard sees a civic and social space alongside the old warehouse.
A lot of this change revolves around a desire for experience and the need for relevance. It’s a competitive world for people’s attention and younger generations aren’t as engaged with museums. Millennials are spending less on things and more on experiences so for a visit to the museum to be impactful (and entice more visits down the road), especially if the motivation for going is social, exhibitions need to be accessible and they have to tell a great story.
Here are a few highlights from the conference:
Michael Govan is the Director at LACMA: he says turn the world upside down and let it be chaotic!
Marty Kaplan nails it: “attention is power and everything is entertainment”
The director of the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes tells it how it is: “it doesn’t matter how many come to the museum. It matters how many people return.”
Travelers vs. Tourists: “travelers are art-focused tourists”
Museums are evolving: from a receptacle for art to a civic and social space
“Simplified hot-takes”: where is traditional art journalism and criticism going and is it giving way to visitor reviews and word-of-mouth?
From London with love: “have a bar, have people, have money to support the arts”
And finally: “culture precedes change!”
I think museums have never felt so good and great things lie ahead for them and their audiences. As for the work that lies ahead, I can say after these few days with the industry’s best that the right questions are being asked by the right people.
So let’s meet at the museum this weekend for brunch and an exhibition!