Saturday, April 20, 2013

A Series of Approaches To A Children's Museum, Part 1

The Children's Museum in Small Town, New York will soon realize its current capital raising campaign goal of 1.5 million dollars. It will be moving to a newly acquired building, currently under renovation, with 12,000 square feet of space planned for eight galleries and/or interactive learning studios, a gift shop, and second-floor administrative offices in August, 2008. Given these long awaited milestones in its growth, it would be prudent that it consider some new marketing strategies, development plans, and proactive steps for a future campaign to re-brand its identity to complement its new physical plant. The necessitated "breadth of" any branding campaign will involve years to implement, and it is likely that a number of marketing schemes and development plans will come and go during that time, but, for present and practical purposes of identifying and targeting new audiences, implementing a website re-design, and furthering educational outreach through additional programming funded through visitor subscription and grants may be a place to begin (Richardson 2007).

Development of these specific areas have the potential to only assist this institution in meeting the demands of its increased future operating costs but are a logical step towards bringing this museum in line with the more frequently visited museums in its proximity. Certainly, proximity to other museums warrants nurturing, at least, initially, the potential residual effects of its student and family visitation. The Museum should network the stories it tells and the experiences it can provide in order to have greater impact and relevancy to its visitors' experience, and this can be achieved by promoting a combined admission for both museums in addition to linking  some of their exhibitions with each other. This could provide a greater experiential impact on visitors. 

Providing a two-for-one admission fee might serve as a hook to get people into the Museum for the first time , "once you get them in then you can get them back" as Carl Nold, President and CEO of Historic New England and Vice-Chair of the American Association of Museums believes is true for all institutions. The Children's Museum's already anticipates that its new facilities will allow it to expand its functions through permanent exhibition, greater accommodations for onsite programs for educational outreach, and an increased attention to merchandising, which, in many ways, signifies its commitment to continued growth beyond its current "small museum" status and previously limited functions.
A re-branding strategy can potentially assist the Children's Museum in its second institutional life phase of "growth" by presenting a more compelling identity for both its current "key stakeholders," "staff members, trustees, general members," and "donors, " as well as its past, present, and potential future visitors by making the answers to the questions: why should I visit, join, partner with, work for, volunteer for, or make a donation to the Children's Museum more readily known. an initial step in re-branding is to determine how its current goals and strategies are perceived by both its staff and audience through an inquiry process. Diane L. Viera, Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer for Historic New England, calls this the "discovery phase" of re-branding, and Historic New England has found a discussion approach with current staff and audiences capable of producing more valuable information than more conventional written surveys in identifying details of the current perception of their institutions brand (Viera 2). 

Such inquiry often reveals the mistaken belief that someone in an organization has total understanding of how their institution is perceived by others. After examining its findings a resulting prognosis for re-branding will not only entail having greater control and uniformity in the perception of your institution but greater insight into the needs of your current and future constituencies for the purpose of targeted marketing; there is much to be gained by everyone being more in the know uniformly about an institution.

Sampling individuals of varying levels of involvement, interest, and association with the Children's Museum might similarly reveal disparate multiple levels of understanding about it as was the case with Historic New England's own findings. Surely, the Children's Museum's greater physical presence and the publicity that has resulted from its capital raising campaign have brought it to the attention of many who have never heard of it before. It is also likely this publicity has challenged much misinformation about the museum among those seemingly familiar with it, but were never quite sure what its mission or function was. This arose from its negligible exposure and physical limitations during its start-up phase.

The museum had occupied a rented second-floor storefront apace since opening to the public, and this physical circumstance more than anything else had largely stifled the opportunity for growth. exhibitions have been limited to a space of less than 1000 square feet in size, so it has limited itself to two exhibitions per year not only out of consideration of space but funds, staff, and its limited collections. Its collections of musical instruments, costumes, jewelry, games, figures and dolls, among other cultural artifacts, have been purposely limited due to lack of storage. Much of the museum's space has been devoted to a repository of children's art work; this includes original original art work and reproductions of international exchange as well as exhibition lending and merchandising.

Even without the benefit of the findings of the "discovery phase" of any re-branding campaign, a new and expanded marketing strategy as well as an outline for a plan of action for establishing a revised brand that expands its mission to inspire more than merely children in the upstate region [ of New York State] toward creativity and education in the arts might be considered for the Children's Museum. Its contact seemingly already extends beyond this area with its online offering of art exchange, and a new and vigorous campaign to attract greater participation in this program could be accomplished through a re-design of its website. This could more completely extend its reach serving in a limited capacity a community that is additionally national and international in breadth. As Carl Nold once stated in a lecture, "building a wider base is the secret to sustainability."

The sale of  art resulting from international exchange via snail mail is a thing of the past,and the prospect of reproducing and packaging these valuable educational  resources is labor intensive hence costly. An online PayPal account and making all materials available through a download would not only satisfy those who wish to be immediately satiated with their wants and needs of these offered resources, but would justify a reduced cost for the product as color ink and paper for reproduction would be accomplished by the customer rather than a limited museum staff.Certainly, a cost under fifty dollars for a version of these resources would attract far greater numbers than the current price tag of several hundred dollars. In addition, educators are the likely market for such resources yet no curriculum resources are available with the art to contextualize it and more importantly connect it with new core standards. Numerous teachers have emphasized that they would not pay for or advocate for with administrators an educational resource that requires much time on their part  to connect with learning standards and develop learning activities on top of everything else they do; such resources have to be both unique, which they are, and  ready-made for the teacher, which they are currently not.

Developing the necessary teacher materials to accompany this art work would not be difficult. A number of museums like Bangor, Maine's own children's museum----the Discovery Museum--- has met the needs of exhibition development by soliciting the assistance of local educators. The impetus is that teachers get free admission  for their own classes, for their families, and themselves. In exchange teachers meet once a week and develop connections between what they are teaching in their classroom and what could be realized in the museum setting to assist them. This is the embodiment of community partnership; museums working directly with teachers to bring them what they need. This allows the museum to avoid stagnation, for how many of us have belonged to a museum initially thinking its the cat's meow only not to renew our membership because we're tired of the same old exhibitions and activities. 


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