Museums need to innovate to make it through the next 2 years

From the beginning of the pandemic for museums across the country getting people through the door has been a challenge. Many turned to online exhibitions, but it was difficult to monetize them.

“There were 360-degree videos of museum spaces on the Internet, virtual tours, almost anything that museums could come up with,” said Michelle Moon, who advises museums through her company Saltworks Interpretive Consulting.

Moon points to “Cocktails Cocktails” from the Frick Collection in Manhattan, New York, which will feature a recipe for a cocktail (sometimes, yes, Manhattan) accompanied by a video lecture on the artwork from the collection.

The crowd under 21 is also important. Moon said school attendance accounted for 40% of some museums ’revenue before the pandemic. She worked with the Naper settlement near Chicago to create a kind of virtual tour for students.

“It contains really beautifully made videos with actors in costumes depicting scenes from history, reproduced primary sources that students can study,” she said.

Internet access has also helped lesser-known museums expand their reach.

“A small museum can be visited by 30, 40 or 50 people to listen to a curator’s talk, suddenly visited by nearly 1,000 global visitors,” said Sheila Hoffman, who teaches art history at the University of Massachusetts.

Despite this success, monetizing their online content has been difficult.

“The models we already see on, say, YouTube or the network of influential people who get clicks and advertising – it works badly for museums that are still entering this arena,” Hoffman said.

According to consultant Michelle Moon, attending a virtual school also does not bring the same income as a personal visit.

“It’s hard to say whether the same number of yellow bus trips are coming back,” she said. “School time has been lost over the last few years, so many school districts are under pressure to keep these children in the classroom to study.”

Laura Lot, who heads the American Alliance of Museums, said museums – especially in big cities – are not expected to return to pandemic attendance at least until 2024.

A poll conducted by her organization shows that 17% of American institutions say they are unsure of their future and may be threatened with closure forever. This is a crucial time, Lot said, because when museums close, they don’t usually return.

“What would be lost are community centers that store artifacts and stories,” she said. “And those third places where people who are so dear to us as a society can gather.”

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