Commission Accomplished: Making Museums Magnetic

How do we make museums profitable, increasing both their social and economic capital?

The answer to this question is essential to the future of the museum field. Anne Bergeron and Beth Tuttle attempt to identify the way the most successful museums conduct their business in Magnetic: The Art and Science of Engagement. Bergeron and Tuttle argue that by looking at the business models of successful museums we can identify how they utilize their missions to create staff cohesion, engage diverse audiences, and stay in the black. Bergeron and Tuttle call museums that do these things and do them well “Magnetic Museums.”

According to Bergeron and Tuttle, Magnetic Museums achieve economic results by:

  • delivering tangible cultural and civic value
  • staying committed to service, engagement, and empowerment of others
  • aligning around a compelling vision
  • creating experiences that foster lasting bonds with their internal and external communities

When a museum’s vision is shared and nurtured by staff, trustees, stakeholders, and the surrounding community, the potential for economic success increases. But how do museums stay in touch with the needs of their community while balancing their budget and promoting a “culture of collaboration” among staff? What areas of magnetism should a museum attempt to achieve first in order to become essential to their community, thus guaranteeing continued success? In the business world a company’s success would be measured by their profits, but museums are in the people business. Museums must find a way to balance successful community engagement with successful bookkeeping.

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6 Responses to Commission Accomplished: Making Museums Magnetic

  1. maolsen13 says:

    Great title Carly! I found Magnetic really interesting because it approaches museums from a for-profit world, and this was something we discussed earlier in the semester. If museums can’t find ways to engage with the public they aren’t going to make it. We talked about how they may need to look towards a for-profit option to stay afloat. If museums do move this way I would just want to make sure that they stick with what you said and maintain an idea that they are in the business of people. I would hate to see people sacrificed solely for profit.

  2. emilykp47 says:

    You bring up a very good point in your last paragraph: evaluation. How do we judge a museum’s success? Since museums are in the people business, it doesn’t seem fair to measure them by their profits, but then how do we do it? Is it by attendance? Or by how many of those attending are engaged (and how do we determine that)? Is it by the number of community partnerships? How do we identify and evaluate Magnetic Museums? I don’t have the answers, but it’s something to think about.

    • carlyfaison says:

      Those are interesting questions, Emily. I like the idea of measuring success by engaged attendees, but I’m as confused as you are on how to measure that. We shall brainstorm!

  3. caitlinmccaffrey11 says:

    Your comment about how to measure museum success is so true! If businesses are making a profit, that is generally all that they care about, but museums have an obligation to their community to bring a voice to what matters to them. I think that the best way to become a magnetic museum, both internally and externally, is to give people a voice. We have all been to a museum that clearly does not listen to what the people in their community want to see and learn at the museum. What benefit does a museum provide to the town or city it resides in if it does not represent the people’s interests? Also, a museum that asks for input and ideas from all employees and volunteers will offer a far better museum experience. People who work the ticket booth and gift shop see day-to-day activity in a way that perhaps the director does not. Moreover, an intern or docent may hear from friends and neighbors, ideas that the community has that full-time staff may not have. Additionally, there will be a feeling that everyone in the museum has a valid opinion, which matters to the success of the museum. By validating the views and needs of those within the museum and those in the community, the museum will become truly magnetic.

    • carlyfaison says:

      Yes! One of my favorite parts of the Magnetic Museums was that they listen to everyone on staff–not just people in high level positions. Obviously, I think listening to the community is important as well!

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