The United States has always been a country of immigrants. From the first Paleo-Indians who arrived by foot across what would become the Bering Strait 15,000 years ago to modern migrants traveling by car, boat, or plane, America has always been a place of settlement for those seeking a better life. That is not to say that the country has always been welcoming of its immigrant population, however. Generations of Irish, Chinese, Mexicans, and countless others can attest to exclusion, mistreatment, and outright hostility from the country’s establishment, and even today immigration is a hotly contested subject in American politics. What few can dispute, however, is that recent immigrants and their families are becoming an even greater slice of the American pie-and by 2050, increases in Asian- and Hispanic-American populations are expected to help make the United States a minority-majority nation for the first time since the country’s founding.
But what does this mean for museums? The answer, as can be expected, is complicated. As any museum professional can tell you, the traditional visitor to most museums is older, white, and upper class. More importantly, however, visitors are often drawn by a connection to the institution, either culturally or personally. In 2008, for example, nearly 90% of National Park visitors said that they had previously visited another NPS site-a key personal connection to the Parks. Immigrants to the United States obviously lack that personal connection, and the cultural connection may be tenuous at best. The end result is that in most cases, museums struggle to attract immigrant audiences-and if the population trends continue, the resulting drop in visitors could be disastrous.
That’s not to say that museums in the United States are doomed to wither away in the face of declining attendance, of course. Several institutions, such as the Queens Museum of Art, have managed to attract a far more diverse audience than other museums through specially-designed exhibits and programming created with an “institutional dedication to reaching out to the Spanish-speaking population.” Other museums have achieved similar results through comparable efforts, and if anything the future of those institutions is brighter than ever.
For many museums, attracting immigrant audiences will not be easy. By their very definition immigrants are a diverse audience with few (If any) personal or cultural connections to the area, and depending on the specific group could require special accommodations that a museum may not have the resources to provide. If museums are to survive to serve future generations, however, they must keep well in mind who those future generations may be.
 Joel Kotkin, “The Changing Demographics of America”, Smithsonian Magazine, August 2010
 “Connecting People and Parks Committee Report”, National Parks Second Century Commission,
 Robin Cembalest, “Latin American Art is Booming but Museums Struggle to Attract Latino Audiences,” Fox News Latino, November 9th, 2011