The Museum Network

Social media has changed the way we communicate with one another.  Museums have to tap into this world of user created content to engage and expand its audience.  Today’s techno savvy museum audiences are no longer satisfied being passive consumers of content, they expect to be part of the creative process.   Social networking sites, such as facebook and twitter, bring together like-minded individuals and provides them with an outlet to share their likes, dislikes, opinions, thoughts, feelings, and outbursts with the rest of the internet.  Museums in the 21st century can use these technological tools to gather its audience on a global level and create a community around its collections and educational mission.

Facebook, with its more than 500 million members, is now the unquestioned ruler of social networking sites on the planet.  Most people log on to their facebook page to stay connected with their family, friends, colleagues, and online groups.  Numerous museums have their own facebook page as a way to pass along information to those in its network.  Museum like MoMA in New York (604,000 followers), The Met in New York (360, 000 followers), the Philadelphia Museum of Art (115,000 followers), and the Smithsonian Institution (74,000 followers) have large facebook followings.  Yet, those numbers appear miniscule when you compare it to that of some of today’s household names, such as Lady Gaga (22 million followers), Barack Obama (15 million followers), and the Jonas Brothers (5.6 million followers).

Twitter is another social networking site museums utilize to send out news on the information superhighway.  The micro-blogging site allows ones’ followers to receive, read, respond to and forward these 140 characters or fewer blurbs.  While 140 characters may not appear to be enough to covey a meaningful message, it is amazing just how much it can get across.  Like facebook, twitter is a powerful tool to inform followers about exhibitions, programs, event, and general news.  However, these blasts of information are limited to those who chose to subscribe to your feed.  Some museums have done well in cultivating an online presence via twitter.  The MoMA has some 360,000 subscribers to its feed, the Met has 150,000 subscribers, the Smithsonian has 219,000, and 22,000 people subscribe to the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s twitter feed.

The inherent benefit of using such social media tools and website is it invites the museum visitor to join the conversation.  With each facebook post and tweet, followers have a place to comment on what is being said by the museum.  Now the museum’s constituents are able to have new and substantive conversations and learning experiences with the museum without having to be within the museum’s walls.  Asking a question, posting a picture, or a adding a video are popular ways to use these tools, since they are great ways to engage the audience, spark a discussion, bring attention to the museum’s collection, spotlight the day in history, feature an emerging artists and much more.

And isn’t creating this conversation what museums aim to do?


Future Outreach: Approaching the Single Parent Family

More than a quarter of all children in the United States under 21 lived with a single parent as of 2007 according to the US Census.  This is a significant portion of the population to whom museums often neglect to devote specific resources.  Single family homes, on average, do not have the financial resources of a “traditional” two parent family.  These families can arise out of adoption, divorce, death, incarceration, sperm donation, surrogacy, or other reasons.  Single parent families can do and do include children of all ages.  As with any family, a museum may be a positive place to spend family time together. Often, single parent families may look to meet-up with other families and museums may provide a place to do so at.  This is an area of outreach that museums have an opportunity to step forward and do something for.

My research has shown very little outreach to single parent families from museums.  There are a number of zoos and children’s museums around the country that offer discounted membership rates for single parent families such as the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, the New Children’s Museum in San Diego, the Cincinnati Zoo, and the Brevard Zoo in Melbourne, FL.  The New Children’s Museum reported to me that there are currently 126 active single parent memberships of about 4000 total memberships.  They may also have single parents purchasing two adult memberships and naming a caretaker or grandparent as the second adult.  This may not seem like a large percentage, but it comes at minimal cost and helps the families who take advantage of it. Some of these families might very well not be members without this option. There are also a few institutions that offer customizable memberships based on the number of people, but these aren’t quite the same as offering single parent family memberships as the first two people tend to be a bit more expensive.

Beyond these institutions whose primary audiences are family groups, there are not many institutions who offer discounted memberships to single parent families despite offering family memberships. Some of the places that do include the Midwest Museum of Natural History, the Burpee Museum of Natural History, and Liberty Hall Museum.  Unfortunately the vast majority of institutions offering family memberships assume two parents even though that is true of less than 75% of families. Even most family oriented institutions like the children’s museums and zoos mentioned above lack a single parent option. By offering single family memberships at lower rates, it is possible that museums may be able to increase their membership totals. Sure, they could bring in less money due to the lower rates, but isn’t the goal of museums to reach more people? And by reaching more people, it’s possible to make back that money.  A future study into how effective offering single parent memberships is would be very helpful. This study could look at how many people would obtain memberships with the option available that might not otherwise, and what sort of financial impact it has on museums.

There is more to outreach than membership rates though.  Single parent families could use programming for them specifically.  There are some instances of single parent family programs having events at museums such as Lakewood Church’s “Single Parent Christmas Bash” at the Children’s Museum of Houston, or a “Single Parent Pizza Party” that happened this past October at the Portland Children’s Museum.  Neither of these events is associated with the museum, but they are occurring there.  The Kaleidoscope Children’s Museum hosts “Single Parent Saturday Nights” and offers special pricing to those who come.  Events like these draw in more visitors, and provide a useful service to the local community.  There are single parent family groups all across the country, and I’m sure that they would love to take advantage of events offered for them.

I believe that single parent families are an area ripe for museum outreach.  There are a number of institutions that already work with them that museums could easily partner with.  Adjusting membership pricing is an easy step that every place offering family memberships can offer.  Plenty of museums already offer general family programs; taking the next step and pushing for more single parent involvement would be an easy next step. I even feel that the will to initiate these programs would exist if awareness of the issue was out there.  The museum community just needs to take the idea and try to do something with it.

If you have any examples of museums or related institutions providing outreach to single parent families, we’d love to hear about it. Please leave a comment letting us know about what resources are out there.

PTSD and the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial

Katie Henry, the Coordinator of Education Initiatives & Resources, at the New Jersey Vietnam Era Museum and Education Center, provided a long list of activities and programs that the museum has for audiences with PTSD.

  • we have over 50 Vietnam veteran tour guides who speak about their experiences as a form of therapy for their PTSD.  Many of the veterans often state that they were unable to talk about their experience for over 40 years and they now see the opportunity to talk to students as a way to promote their legacy.  These tour guides led over 10,000 students a year in addition to other tours for multigenerational audiences.”
  • “There have been lectures that focused on PTSD in the past…However, PTSD is usually discussed in most of our lectures seen many of our lectures are led by Vietnam veterans even if it is not the main focus.”
  • “Our permanent exhibit also has a small section on PTSD and… we have resources about PTSD on our website.  We also have PTSD support groups here every month.  They use our space and often schedule their meetings when we have a lecture/event so they can attend.”
  • “We also have a Resource Library that has an extensive collection of books on the topic of PTSD that are available to our visitors.”
  • “We actually have a three day workshop that will take place next week that helps with PTSD.  It is called the Combat Paper Project.  It is a traveling exhibit and workshop program that was started by Iraqi veterans in which veterans take their uniform or another personal artifact and make it into pulp to form paper.  This creates a new artistic medium and is meant to help participants reconcile their military experience”
  • “We are also interested in hosting this workshop to promote younger veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan to come to our museum.  I am eager to promote our museum as a community center which is something that has been becoming more and more an important mission to museums”

For more information about these programs and the museum, check out their website.

Meetup: New Possibilities for Young Professional Outreach

While researching how museums are engaging young professionals I stumbled across this web page:

Organized by a young professional in L.A., this is an example of young professionals are creating their own opportunities to socialize at museums. Members can suggest Meetups at different L.A. museums and then experience different exhibits and educational programs together. Past Meetups for this group have included time for discussion of the exhibits, dance lessons and visits to exhibits that require hands-on participation. According to the group’s Meetup page, the next event is a special invitation to the Santa Monica Museum of Art for a private tour and gift shop discount.

According to the Meetup website, “Meetup’s mission is to revitalize local community and help people around the world self-organize.” There is a monthly fee for organizing a Meetup, around $12 dollars a month, which, unless this cost is split between members, can add up to a significant yearly commitment. If this cost is split among members though, Meetup could be a great option to explore museums and network without the price tag of a young benefactor program and opens up programming opportunities at all the local museums.

This is an interesting example of how young professionals are interested in visiting and socializing at museums. If you do a search for museum groups on the Meetup home page you’ll find museum groups in most major cities. If museums like the Santa Monica Museum of Art reach out to these groups by offering special tours and savings it could be another way for museums to forge a connection with this demographic.

Museums and Young Benefactor Programs (Part 3)

Miss Part 1 or Part 2?


Museums tend to use young benefactor programs as a framework for programming for younger adult audiences. Creating an air of exclusivity by offering special social and educational events, these programs connect young professionals to the museum through leadership and volunteer opportunities, and by using the funds raised through dues and parties to help meet the museum’s financial needs. Museums hope to cultivate lifelong learners and lifelong donors. Yet in the recent economic climate young professionals might not be as ready to make a financial committment to a young benefactor program even though they are interested in the networking and educational opportunities. Museums should still devote resources to engaging this audience through ongoing programming. If there is one thing I learned while working at the telefund at my undergraduate university, it was that alumni were more likely to donate money if they had a positive experience at the university than if they had not. Since museums do not have an alumni network they should try to create new ways to positively influence and connect with young professionals so that when the financial times improve, young professionals will immediately think of their local museums when they want to give back.

These are some recommendations for ways to make young benefactor programs more accessible and to fill a need for young professional programming.

A Different Kind of Model

The Young Professionals Tower Club at the Creative Discovery Museum in Chattanooga, TN calls itself “fundraising, social and career networking club which supports Creative Discovery Museum” a offers similar leadership and networking opportunities as other young benefactor programs. The difference is that there is no annual fee to join the Young Professionals Tower Club. Members become part of the fundraising team and help plan events to raise money to help children visit the museum free of charge and to support other educational opportunities. Members attend quarterly dinner meetings and take part in fundraisers like annual phon-a-thon parties, mystery dinners and parties. The Young Professionals Tower Club engages young professionals in similar social and leadership opportunities while using their willingness to volunteer as a way to help raise funds for the museum. Perhaps other museums could look at creating fundraising teams of young professionals, while still offering them exclusive educational programming.




Cut or Reduce Membership Funds

In response to the recent economic crisis, my undergraduate university’s alumni club made membership free for the first year, allowing recent grads to experience membership benefits without worrying about the extra cost. Museums could consider a similar opportunity for first time members of their young benefactor programs and either waive or reduce the annual fee. This might be especially appealing to recent college graduates looking to put down roots in a new city.

Create a Volunteer Corps

In addition to offering a young benefactors program, museums could offer a volunteer corps for young professionals. This group could help museums with their volunteer needs and in return, museums could organize happy hours after volunteer events to fulfill the social networking interest. Museums could also provide special educational programs that will help volunteers cultivate the knowledge they need for certain events and exhibits. These educational programs could  be very hands on and group work centered to give young professionals a different context for socializing while maintaining the museums mission.

Create a Young Professionals Advisory Board

Another way museums could connect young professionals in an ongoing manner would be to form an advisory board. An advisory board would give young professionals leadership opportunities and a say in some of the museum’s programming. As an example, The University of Michigan Museum of Art’s Student Programming and Advisory Board only requires a monthly time committment and gives students the opportunity to plan programs at the museum. Programs include an annual celebration and student performance nights. Advisory board members also get the opportunity to interview visiting artists for a podcast. This is something more museums could do for a young professional audience to engage them creatively and make them an active part of museums.

Young benefactor programs offer many amazing opportunities but museums need to find ways to engage young professionals who are not able to make that financial committment, in a meaningful way. As these suggestions show, there can be many ways to create sustained programming for this audience that will help them make positive memories of their experience with museums, something that could encourage them to become donors when they are more financially secure.

Museums and Young Benefactor Programs (Part 2)

Miss Part 1? find it here

Survey and Analysis: Spotlight on Several Young Benefactor Programs Across the Country

These programs represent just a small sampling of young benefactor programs. There are many more out there that follow a similar formula. These programs are targeted at young professionals ranging from 21-40 years old.

Smithsonian Young Benefactors
Washington, DC
Annual Fee: $70
Defined on their website as a “charitable, educational and cultural organization” the Smithsonian Young Benefactors program provides many opportunities for young professionals to mingle at happy hours around town, behind the scenes tours, and at the exclusive holiday party held at the Castle. Other membership perks include discounted Resident Associates educational programming, as well as 10% off purchases at Smithsonian gift shops and restaurants. In addition to the annual fee, which supports educational endeavors for children at the Smithsonian through the Culture4Kids foundation, members are encouraged to volunteer at various events and with the Office of Accessibility Services. Finally, Smithsonian YBs can find leadership opportunities within the program and shape the YB activities by joining one of the seven standing committees.

While some of the Smithsonian YB events are free, others, like the Jolly Holiday Party, have an additional admission price. This year the price is $70 for members and $95 dollars for nonmembers. The Jolly Holiday party is one of the events open to the general public.

On the blog The DC Ladies, new member Lindsay Boroush raves about her experiences with the Smithsonian Young Benefactors thus far, “Overall, joining this group was a great decision. Not only does it provide excellent networking opportunities” it also “reminds you of all the great museums you have access to living in DC.”


The Mint Museum Young Affiliates
Charlotte, NC
Annual Fee: $60 for the basic membership ($45 for students) plus $25 for the Young Affiliate add-on

The Mint Museum Young Affiliates membership includes free admission to The Mint and membership to 49 Southeastern museums, discounted or free tickets to Young Affiliates or Member events, volunteer opportunities and a 10% discount at the gift shop. The Young Affiliates sponsor monthly happy hours and a monthly educational series known as Artitudes. Artitudes activities relate to The Mint’s mission as an art museum through hands on artistic activities like art classes and wine tastings. Fundraising events like The Black and White Gala ($70 for members, $95 for nonmembers) and Derby Days help raise funds to make new acquisitions for The Mint Museum.


Guggenheim Young Collectors Council
New York, NY
Annual Fee: $500

This young benefactor group is for the serious art enthusiast. YCC events include special discussions, arts and tours, visits to artists’ studios and private collections and auction previews. A portion of the membership dues goes to purchasing art for the Guggeheim’s collection, with a focus on upcoming artists. Members receive discounts on museum purchases and programs and free admission to all the Guggenheim locations, among other perks. Members also benefit from discounts on fundraising events such as the Art Affair Chinatown 2010 event, for which tickets are $200 instead of $250.


Curious about more young benefactor programs? Check out the Spotlight on Young Friends of the Philadelphia Museum of Art


Young benefactor programs present a variety of ways for young professionals to get involved with museums. Whether you are interested in networking, volunteering, or learning, young benefactor programs seem to offer it all. For your annual fee you get access to unique programming, fun happy hours, fabulous parties, and the feeling of belonging to something great. These programs can be a fantastic way to get started in a new city, with lots of opportunities to make new friends and explore the cultural offerings of your new home. While the happy hours and galas may not be mission based and raise again the Is Alcohol the Answer question, the donation required aspects of the young benefactor programs do raise money for good causes and help support the museum of your choice.

However, there is an accessibility issue with all young benefactor programs, affordability. Most young benefactor programs call for a serious cash commitment, with expensive party fees on top of the $70-$500 dollar membership dues. Much of the educational programming, although discounted in some cases, requires even more payment. This might not be something that recent college graduates or young professionals dealing with a tough economy feel they can afford.

According to a 2009 Wall Street Journal article, 2009 college graduates entered “the toughest labor market in 25 years” and that “those who land jobs will likely suffer lower wages for a decade or more compared to those lucky enough to graduate in better times, studies show” (Murray). Young professionals are making less money and struggling to find their dream jobs.

Yet just because young professionals may not be able to afford membership dues, they still might be interested in the networking, educational, and volunteering aspects of the young benefactor programs. While the membership dues are important to the museum, there are still ways museums can engage this audience that might encourage donations in the future, spread awareness of each museum’s mission and make young professionals feel like they are part of the museum, even if they cannot be financially.

Part 3 will offer several recommendations for young benefactor programs.


Murray, Sara. “The Curse of the Class of 2009.” The Wall Street Journal [New  York] 9 May 2009, A1 sec. The Wall Street Journal. 9 May 2009. Web. 29 Nov.  2010. <;.

Science on Tap

Smithsonian National Zoological Park v Buffalo Museum of Science

Science on Tap events are growing in popularity among young professionals. However, how mission based and relevant these events are depends on the institution.  This post will take an unbiased look at two Science on Tap events at different institutions, along with other related events at said institutions.

Example 1:  National Zoo-Science on Tap

For the first hour of the event, attendees buy beer and wine from the cash bar and chat with zoo scientists and animal keepers. The second half of the event allows the attendees to submit questions that they want answered by the zoo staff panel.  Members of the panel from the last Science on Tap event included primate, giant panda, bird, and small mammal keepers, the curator of enrichment and training, and pathologists.

Other related events:

Brew at the Zoo-With the cost of their ticket, attendees receive a commemorative mug and samples from more than thirty microbrews.  There is also live music and food available for purchase.  Proceeds from Brew at the Zoo help support animal care, education, sustainability and conservation science.

Snore & Roar-An adult version of the popular zoo overnight program, this experience offers participants a two-hour tour, zoo hike, wine and cheese, a tent to spend the night in and breakfast the next morning.

Example 2: Buffalo Museum of Science-Science on Tap

Admission to Buffalo’s event includes a commemorative mug with ten drink tickets that are good for one beer tasting each. There is unlimited food sampling, home brewing demonstrations and live entertainment.  Attendees can also learn about the science of beer, the sociology of beer and the history of beer in Buffalo.  The museum’s permanent exhibit and galleries are also open during the event.

Other related events:

Star Lights, Drinks & Bites-An evening of stargazing mixed with wine and beer tasting, Star Lights, Drinks & Bites is strictly for the twenty-one and older crowd. Proceeds from the event go towards the museum and the Tifft Nature Preserve.

Museum’s Attic- This fundraiser gives participants a chance to view the museum’s collections that are not on public display.  Events include behind-the-scenes tours, a treasure hunt, auctions, and of course food and drink.