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.”[1] 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.[2] 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.[3] 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.”[4] 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.[5] 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.[6] 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!



[1] http://www.dictionary.com/browse/millennial-generation

[2] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/04/25/millennials-overtake-baby-boomers/

[3] http://labs.aam-us.org/buildingculturalaudiences/the-millennial-museum/

[4] http://labs.aam-us.org/buildingculturalaudiences/the-millennial-museum/

[5] http://www.museumhack.com

[6] https://www.dma.org/visit/dma-friends

7 thoughts on “#Millennials@#Museums

  1. museumpeople

    Thanks for your ideas and observations about Millennial audiences. One thing I have noticed, anecdotally, is that members of the Millennial generation are so diverse, they don’t like to be lumped together. You note that when stating that it is difficult to generalize this generation. One thing that does seem to unite this group though is they are very comfortable with digital communication technology and social media. They are used to expressing themselves and want their ideas and opinions to be heard. I think museums would do well to invite this generation to co-create programming that is particularly relevant to them and ensure their programs and exhibits are interactive.


  2. klvholmes

    I appreciated that you noted both in your presentation and here in your blog post that although the Millennial audience knows and often loves to express themselves via social media, it is not the end all be all of a museum experience. I know personally I do not want to have to download an app to gain access to new and exciting information about a museum that I am visiting. On the other had I always appreciate access to free wifi!

    Although I might be in the minority among Millennials, I appreciate taking photographs in a museum. But I also understand and respect that some things should be experienced in the moment and cherished through a memory. We also discussed as future Millennial Museum Professionals, we will be asked what do ‘the Millennial’s’ want to see or how can we attract more Millennials to our space? I appreciated that brainstorming with our colleagues and addressing this group as multifaceted was an acceptable approach because honestly no two people are the same.


  3. zhuoweiliu

    Thanks for your share post about the Millennials. They are a generation has obvious individuality and open vision for the future. They are deeply loved and enjoy their life. Additionally, they prompted the service technical upgrades in museum. At the same time, I believe the Millennials will become backbone to push some changes of the museum in future.


  4. julianavenegas

    I think you make a few interesting points that really have me thinking about how museums can cater to the millennial population. First off, I agree that museums can and should offer Museum Hack-like tours. That is a potentially easy fix! Additionally, you mentioned that millennial have ‘engaging content right at their fingertips’; this is true, but that doesn’t meant that we need technology to be engaged. Again, if museums reexamined their approaches in terms of programs and tours, they may be able to better serve this population. I’m thinking that museums can start offering mini programs that are easier to create and facilitate, and work with the idea of engagement. Shorter programs could mean the ability to switch from program to program within a museum, and potentially have some real world applications to keep millennial engaged.

    Anyways, I think your post is spot on, and can spur a lot of discussion within museums!


  5. tenebristic

    I completely agree with you that the DMA’s free membership doesn’t instill the value of philanthropy. As a student and resident in the area, I appreciated when the DMA removed the fee to go in because I’m not yet at a point where I can invest in a museum membership. I do appreciate that the DFW museums partner so well and many offer reciprocal benefits to DFW museums as well as others across the country.

    One other thing that I would appreciate as a museum-goer and not all that engaged by technology (as Juliana mentioned) is an app that all museums in the world (big ask, I know) have an interface on so I don’t have to download the app for every single museum I visit, especially if I’m only going to be there once.


  6. katebreichert

    Oh, Millennials… You did a great job addressing a very topical audience that always seems to at once both defy and embrace it’s generational identity! I’ve found that it’s really easy to meet up against push-back when referring to “millennials” in trying to program for them (us) or understand them (us) better, because the term carries with it a lot of conflicting connotations (tech-obsessed but nostalgic, entrepreneurial but bad at “adulting,” etc.) that makes targeting them seem impossible or futile. I’ve found that in my own thinking about why we need to be reaching out to and engaging millennials in the work that we do, I keep coming back to the simple fact that millennials are now our largest generation, and the driving force of our workforce in the coming decades. We need them to be engaged, thoughtful, and ready for the challenges we face in our society.


  7. tkhorst

    Thank you so much for taking on millennials! While it is very difficult to generalize this generation, I think that since millennials are all entering adulthood, they are experiencing similar life changes. I think millennials would benefit from/appreciate “how to adult” classes (I know I certainly would). These classes could cover practical topics like how to budget, pay taxes, buy insurance, write a resume, cook for yourself, etc. As stewards to their communities, museums could be appropriate places to host these classes. Perhaps they could even connect each lesson with a piece in their collection.



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