The Dilemma of Diversity

Museums are facing an increasing dilemma when it comes to attracting diverse new audiences. Ron Crouch, director of the Kentucky State Data Center at University of Louisville, explains in the article “Rules for a New Demographic Ballgame,” that the aging baby boomer generation and declining funding from that generation is a signal for museums to consider ways to attract younger and ethnically diverse groups. He states that gone are the days when placing a label and an object were guaranteed to attract people.   Simply put there is a paradigm shift in museums from a focus on objects to a focus on the visitor.

Newly hired, Danielle Newell has strategized different ways to reach out to younger and more diverse audiences at the Fenimore Art Museum. During a sit-down interview, she explained how she believes that her role as Director of Education has brought fresh ideas to the museum. Her main initiative has been setting up dramatic interpretations throughout the Cooperstown museums to engage younger people and attract interest from townspeople who may have never entered the museums in the past.

Newell is reaching out to the community; however, there is a continual question about diversity and the evaluation of outreach efforts. There were no records or measuring tools to report how well the dramatic interpretations attracted local newcomers. Though she has occupied the position for less than a year, Newell needs to build a strong inclusive foundation for the museum’s outreach program to measure and retain a diverse audience.

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3 Responses to The Dilemma of Diversity

  1. As discussed in class, I would be interested to hear Newell’s thought process behind choosing dramatic interpretation as an public educational activity designed for diverse audiences. This multi-sensory approach could be enticing for a variety of audiences. One performance that consists of a tour given by an actress portraying Susan Fenimore Cooper herself, literally makes history come alive and become a three-dimensional, sensory experience. However, I’m curious how dramatic interpretation events such as the Susan Fenimore Cooper tour draw connections to the visual art in the museum, as Susan herself was not an artist.

    Has the Fenimore researched what groups are attending and not attending, and what the latter would like to see? One way the museum tracks their audience is by zip code, but do they look at other demographics? I have spent a lot of the time at the museum and have often asked myself what the museum could do to get younger people and people of lower socioeconomic status to visit and feel comfortable in the galleries.

    For the sake of sustainability, many art museums need to make radical changes to effect patron’s level of comfort and bring in first-time visitors.

  2. After reading the AAM Center for the Future of Museums report located at: http://www.aam-us.org/docs/center-for-the-future-of-museums/demotransaam2010.pdf regarding the changing demographics of the United States I find that museums really need to work hard at bringing in people from different ethnic/cultural, political, social, and economic backgrounds. Since the population of museum audiences of the future according to the chart in the document are from “minority backgrounds” museums are facing a dilemma of trying to figure out how to bring people from different backgrounds into their museum. The fact that museums are willing to try different strategies like dramatic interpretation and allowing people to come to the museums for free at certain events shows that they are making an effort. However, museums need to be more innovative to bring people that are not the usual visitors into the museums.

  3. In finding ways to bring younger and more diverse visitors into the museum I think we also need to consider who typically comes to Cooperstown. The Baseball Hall of Fame is a big draw for baseball fans. The other museums in town have a very different feel that I believe many think are not for them. I think looking for ways to get baseball fans excited about art is an exciting challenge and opens up a whole new audience for all the wonderful museums in town.

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