Last week an article was posted in the New York Times that discussed how museums engage millennials. The general idea of the article was that using new technology like iBeacons (written about here by Cliff Stevens two months ago) will attract millennials. Unfortunately, this article fell into several classic tropes when addressing both millennials and museums.
The Times piece focused entirely on one museum, the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It seems as though when major media outlets discuss museums, they only focus on art museums, ignoring the differences between an art museum and science, history, children’s, and other types of museums. Different museums attract different audiences, and each museum has to decide who their audience is, who they want to be in their audience, and how to reach those two groups. This also applies to how different museums are reaching out to a younger audience.
This article, along with a few others in recent memory, seems to think that flashy new technology is the way to get millennials into an institution, be it corporate or nonprofit. While I agree that emerging technologies should be embraced and used in museums, there is a bit more to it than just adding an iBeacon to your galleries. I would like to see more articles and studies that address how technology like iBeacons serve the mission, engage guests in a meaningful and compelling manner, and add to existing exhibits and programs.
Finally, the title of the article is Museums Turn to Technology to Boost Attendance by Millennials. In the article, the word “millennial” is used once toward the beginning and that’s it. Too often, museums admit that it is time to increase their millennial customer base, but seemingly do little to find out what will actually draw that crowd in. Sure, your museum may have an app, but what does that app actually accomplish? Does the technology you’re using actually add to the museum experience?
Check out the article and share your thoughts with us. As a millennial, what attracts you to museums? What is your institution doing to attract a younger audience? Does your development department recognize the importance of courting the millennial generation?
If museums face an uncertain future, you wouldn’t know it from “Henri Matisse: The Cutouts,” which recently drew 664,000 to the Museum of Modern Art. The show was so thronged that MoMA kept its doors open round-the-clock on the closing weekend last month.
But blockbusters like Matisse may be deceptive. Art museum attendance dipped 5 percent from 2002 to 2012, according to the National Endowment for the Arts. Museumgoers 75 and older were the only age group to increase over that period. The guardians of posterity must be concerned about the future, no matter how long the lines may be.