Hello Museum People,
The Millennial. Born between 1981-1997, the millennial generation can be defined as someone “brought up using digital technology and mass media; the children of Baby Boomers; also called Generation Y.” The millennial’s age range today is from 18-35; each experiencing different life changing experiences: high-school graduation all the way to family growth and mid-level career opportunities. What I’m trying to convey, is that it is very difficult to generalize this large and diverse population. Millennials are so large, that there are now over 75.4 million millennials in the U.S. today, surpassing their parent’s generation the Baby Boomers at 74.9 million people. So now, what does this have to do with museums?
Overall, museum visitorship is declining – specifically by 58 million from the years 2002-2012 according to a National Endowment for the Arts’ 2015 study. As the baby boomer generation ages out, who will replace them? As one of the largest generations alive today, museums should be taking an active interest in attracting and engaging their future generation of supporters and visitors, the millennials of which only 13% are visiting museums.
Living through a tremendous period of technological advances from the creation of the Internet to smart-phones, many of the traditional programming styles featured by museums may not be of interest to this generation who is used to highly engaging content always at their fingertips. A marketing report commissioned by Goldman Sachs states, “millennials have grown up in a time of rapid change, giving them a set of priorities and expectations sharply different from previous generations.” Knowing that the millennial generation is so different, how can museums reach them?
Many museums are experimenting with different types of programs that target millennials, but are they actually working in communicating and fulfilling their missions with these new programs? One way museums have tried to get this younger generation in the door is by having late night, party-type events. Here in DC, there are multiple museums that hold late night programming for younger generations: Phillips after 5 at the Phillips Collection, SMITHSONIAN at 8 at various Smithsonian museum locations, and Jazz in the Garden by the National Gallery of Art, just to name a few. Events like these typically have live music, food, and alcohol. These events clearly are popular, otherwise the museums wouldn’t keep hosting them but do they really help teach and convey the mission of the museum?
Another way of reaching and engaging audiences is by remixing the traditional museum tour. For-profit company Museum Hack has created an entire business by taking the museum tour and making it fun and engaging. Taking the slogans, “this isn’t your grandma’s museum tour” and “Museums are f***ing awesome” they have branded themselves as being completely different from the types of programs museums can offer. But are they really something that museum’s can’t offer or have they just not adopted this style yet? In my personal opinion, I believe that this is probably the best and most cost-effective way of engaging millennials (and other generations) that directly connects with the mission of the organization.
Adopted only a few years ago, multiple museums have created free membership programs to not only engage millennials but other generations as well. Most notably, the Dallas Museum of Art was one of the first institutions to create a free membership program that also has a reward component attached to it – meaning that you earn points by doing things such as attending programs, snapping pictures, etc. and have the opportunity to redeem things from the shop, restaurant, and parking garage. I believe that this type incentivization is not healthy for developing the next generation of museum supporters, because it does not instill the values of philanthropy.
Now, it is easy to assume that because millennials have grown up with all things digital that they’ll want to see all things digital in a museum. To some extent yes, many millennials want museums to be tech friendly to match their tech friendly experiences everywhere else they go (i.e. acceptable photo policies, wifi, and opportunity for social sharing), but that doesn’t mean that as a group everyone wants to see all the newest tech just because it is tech. As technology can be an extremely expensive investment that often becomes outdated in just a few years, museums need to strategically think and evaluate whether or not technology is the correct answer to fulfilling their mission to the public.
For my museum audience class, I asked my peers (many of which are part of the millennial generation themselves) to look at a hypothetical case study. The directions were: a university museum wants to reach millennial students and alumni; has an interested board member who wants to support new initiatives aimed at reaching new millennial audiences; and they are the Curator of Education with $2,000, one other full-time staff member, and a multi-purpose room. What I found extremely interesting in the discussion was that it is extremely difficult to generalize an entire generation – which is true! While that was one of the biggest challenges that everyone had with the case study, no one had targeted different audiences within the millennial segment in which they were asked to program around. I wanted to present a very real situation that museum leadership may or may not task their education department, and hopefully foster an opportunity to apply learned skills to a real situation while gaining new perspectives – I know I learned something new!