In Lean Times, New Ways to Reach Out
“This is a good moment to refocus and reinvigorate,” said Thomas P. Campbell, who took over the helm from the legendary director Philippe de Montebello at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in January. “We want people to know we’re here and have been for 138 years. We’re a place of infinite experiences. Last year there were something like 20,000 different events from lectures to tours. A tour leaves every 15 minutes. It’s really quite phenomenal.”
Beneath all the upbeat talk lies the same kind of fear and uncertainty that is being felt throughout the business world. As reports of layoffs and budget cuts stream in from museums across the country, directors are struggling to do more with less. To reach new and bigger audiences, many are revamping their presence on the Web or trying new forms of marketing.
Most, if not all, are also expanding their public programs. More than before, institutions big and small have adopted the same mission: to transform once-hushed museums into vibrant cultural centers where the activities go far beyond what’s hanging on the walls.
“We can’t just be about art anymore,” Ms. Philbin said. “Museums are the new community centers.”
Whether visitors come to see a movie or listen to poetry, take in an art exhibition or attend a lecture, it doesn’t matter as long as they come.
“The better we are at serving our audiences, the more we will be appreciated,” Ms. Philbin said. “And people will want to give us money.”
With falling tourism, some of the larger (and richer) museums are starting ambitious advertising campaigns aimed at local — and younger — audiences. In New York, for example, both the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art are delivering not-so-subtle messages about their permanent collections.
A billboard near Times Square shows a couple kissing in front of Rodin’s sculpture “Eternal Spring,” accompanied by the tag line “It’s Time We Met.” The photograph, taken by Laura P. Russell of her parents, Gene and Cindy, is one of about a dozen being used in the marketing campaign. They were chosen from thousands of snapshots taken by Met visitors with works of art at the museum and posted on the photo-sharing site Flickr.