How can digital practices bolster museum strategies for navigating the COVID-19 pandemic? What barrier may impede taking full advantage of digital opportunities? This webinar presents the results of a survey that measured museums’ digital readiness just prior to the pandemic and identifies the most common barriers to optimizing digital success.
Elizabeth Merritt: Hello and welcome to our webinar. We’re going to give people a minute or so to get into the room, but we will be starting soon.
Hello and welcome to Digital Readiness and Pandemic Adaptations, a webinar presented by the American Alliance of Museums in partnership with the Knight Foundation. I’m your host, Elizabeth Merritt, vice-president of strategic foresight at AAM and Founding Director of the Center for the Future of Museums. Before we start, I wanted to draw your attention to another source of information on digital strategy, the Alliance’s new forecasting report, TrendsWatch! Navigating a Disruptive Future.
As you’re attending this webinar, you may be particularly interested in one chapter of the report, which addresses essential digital technologies for surviving the pandemic and for post-pandemic recovery. TrendsWatch is available as a free PDF download from the AAM website. I’ve shown the link address on the slide and it will drop into chat as well.
A few housekeeping notes before we begin. This presentation is being recorded, and will be available on the AAM website after we process and transcribe the event. Note that there is live captioning available. If that isn’t showing for you yet, select the live transcript button on your Zoom toolbar. Please use the Q&A feature to post questions for the presenters.
Some of these we’ll read and respond to during the webinar, others we may try and address in a follow-up blog post. You can also use this feature to ask for help with technical issues. My colleague Anthony Huffington will handle those questions and finally, you may want to keep an eye on the chat window, where presenters will share links to resources.
And now to introduce our panelists today. Victoria Rogers is Vice President of Arts at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and an expert in nonprofit management. At Knight, she oversees the foundation’s investments in the arts in eight cities where the foundation has historical roots, including Miami, Detroit, and Philadelphia. Prior to joining Knight, her nonprofit experience includes serving as executive president of the New World Symphony, and in her long nonprofit career, she has also encompassed serving as vice president for external affairs at SciTrek, the Science and Technology Museum of Atlanta.
She is joined today by her colleague, Evette Alexander, who as Knight’s director of learning and impact, overseas a portfolio of research and evaluation efforts that inform the Foundation’s impact strategies and thought leadership. Victoria and Evette will be talking to us about Knight’s research on museums and digital technologies, including the report, Digital Readiness and Innovation in Museums, a national baseline survey which was published last year in collaboration with the Alliance.
Our final panelist is Neal Stimler, president of the executive management consulting firm, Stimler Advantage, as well as consulting executive advisor at the bell Balboa Park Online Collaborative. I first met Neal when he was engaged in digital innovation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He taught me how to use Google Glass. Following his time at the Met, Neal was the inaugural head of public engagement at the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, and guided the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian Institution in the implementation of their open access programs.
The author of numerous papers on digital engagement, one of the most recent being GLAMs, galleries, libraries, archives, and museums strategy white paper, which was published through the Balboa Park Online Collaborative. Victoria and Evette, would you like to begin? I will stop sharing my screen so that you can put up your slide show.
Victoria Rogers: Thanks Liz for the introduction and thanks for inviting us today to be included in the presentation, and we’ve been really excited to do, once again, a partnership. So today we’re going to talk about this Digital Readiness in Museums, and obviously we are in the Knight Foundation and I’m going to give you a little bit of an intro about Knight. So at Knight, we invest in the use of technology to create new ways to explore and make art to express culture, and to reach, expand and engage diverse audiences.
So we basically fund in 28 cities across the US, north to south, east to west. 18 of those are through community foundations, and eight of them, we actually fund directly. Akron, our spiritual home. It was the Home of The Brothers. Charlotte, Detroit, Macon, Miami, Philadelphia, San Jose and St. Paul.
So over the last three years, our work has largely focused on innovation with an art museums and our grants focused on building in-house capacity at institutions within our communities, seeding experiments nationally, connecting practitioners and funding artists who practices incorporate digital technology. So since 2018 and 2020, while Knight did investments in the arts before that, in fact, when I was the COO for the New World Symphony first grant I ever got was from Knight was $5 million to create a Knight new media center at the New World Symphony, which is a training … Orchestra really for graduates of prestigious institutions.
Within that, it has really sets a standard for the integration of technology into performance and how music is taught and experienced by people. So if you ever come down to Miami and get to experience the New World Center, I really encourage you to do so. Between 2018 and 2020, we did staffing grants, software, hardware, digitization, operations, convenings, lectures, discussions, capital projects, and artwork performance and exhibitions for in the work that Chris Barr so ably led.
Chris may also be on the conversation today and we miss him greatly. Next. I’m going to turn this over to Evette who will actually talk with you about the study, and then following that, we’ll talk a little bit about what that can mean for foundations funding digital integration, as well as museums seeking funding from foundations for the work that they’re going to do.
Evette Alexander: … Victoria, and we’re very excited to share these findings with you all today. This survey was actually fielded in partnership with AAM. So, members got a chance to weigh in and give us their responses and we really appreciate everyone who participated in this survey. So what was it? Well, it was an attempt to benchmark the museum field in terms of their digital readiness. We got responses that represented 480 museums across all 50 States and this survey came in, in the fall of 2019. So, it gives us an interesting snapshot of where museums are at, in terms of their digital readiness heading into the pandemic.
I just wanted to note that this research wasn’t conducted in a vacuum. We originally had done some assessments of our arts museum and technology grants, which we, as Victoria had mentioned, we have a long history in investing in technology and museums. So we wanted to assess the impact of that work and what we found was that there was definitely differences in the impact of the work based on where these organizations were in their, let’s say digital maturity or in their comfort level, their growth with a lot of these digital and technology dynamics that we were looking at.
So Boston Consulting Group also weighed in. So we ended up with a refined version of what we would call digital innovation attributes, and we ranked them in a grid to show their maturity levels. There was a few buckets and I think these roughly fell into, and those were strategies. So, how are strategy created and disseminated around digital, how are goals developed and tracked, if any were, what was the cross functional or cross institutional strategy for digital and we also looked at people.
So we looked at the dedicated staff that were in the museum that related to digital work. We looked at how tech or digital was represented in the leadership of the museum and we looked at where these people were located within the functions of the museum. The other buckets, let me get the going here. Other three buckets to know are, the level of capacity with digital practices, like project management of digital, initiatives, innovation processes, like human centered design, et cetera.
We also looked at how much museums reported they knew about their audience. Were they collecting audience data? Were they tracking data? If they were, how was that data being used? Was it used to shape different experiences for audiences, things like that. Lastly, we looked at some external partnerships and how museums might be working together or not around digital. So with that lens, I wanted to show you who responded.
So we had, as I’ve mentioned, 480 museums, and these really spanned the gamut of the type of museum that exist in the United States. So, 30% were art museums. We had about 38% that was a historic institutions and sites. Science museums were 11% and then we also had others. I would just mention for those on the call, I imagine a lot of you are from smaller institutions, just because there’s so many smaller institutions.
So 65% of the respondents and what you’ll see here were defined as small museums, meaning they had an annual budget of 5 million or less, or fewer than 50 employees. So with that, I’m going to get into some of the key findings and how prepared museums might’ve been for the pandemic and the shift to digital. So, not surprisingly, museums found themselves quite challenged on a lot of these digital capacity fronts, including staffing.
So dedicated digital staffing was severely limited. Half of the institutions who responded including 43% of art museums either had no dedicated digital staff or the department was represented by a single person. So obviously, as people move on or other things happen, it’s hard to maintain organizational learning and capacity around digital. Digital strategies were still emergent.
So we asked museums how they handle their digital strategies and 31% admitted that they had no digital strategy, and another 29% said that theirs was in development. So they were working on something, it wasn’t fully realized or widely disseminated into the organization. 25% had a shared digital strategy, or incorporated one into their overall strategic plan. So that was about a quarter that was really integrating digital with their overall organizational strategy. Next, digital products or projects we found to be mostly siloed, and outcomes were poorly tracked.
So approximately half of the museums reported that individuals or single departments conducted planning focused on digital products. So, there wasn’t a lot of cross-functional work happening around digital, and only 7% reported that projects had cross-functional groups when there was large, museum wide digital initiatives. However, 18%, which is hopeful, say their planning is starting to bridge across different functional areas.
So, making some headway, but not yet having the, I would say the muscle memory organizationally around cross-functional projects for digital. Then the interesting finding we had here is that, leaders, some of which [inaudible 00:14:27] about the survey, said that their support for digital was quite high, that they were knowledgeable on digital projects and supported them. However, what we were drawn to is that across all museums, only 11% said digital leaders were part of their senior leadership teams and that number actually dropped to 9% for art museums.
So, digital and technology backgrounds not being represented at the higher levels within museums. Finally, last [inaudible 00:14:58] on here is that audience data was either quite shallow or poorly integrated. So 54% of museums reported capturing some basic feedback or demographics about their audience, but only 18% said that they were using audience data to actually shape their offerings and their efforts with the public. So I’m going to turn it back over to Victoria who can share a little bit more about Knight thinks about implications for the field, from this work.
Victoria Rogers: So Evette and I were talking about this. When we talk about implications for the field, we think there are implications for the field from both the perspective of funders, as well as people that are trying to seek funding for the work that they want to do. So within that, one of the things that we found were that the staffing grants that we made were the most effective in the institutions that had a really good grasp of really what their digital prowess was.
Did they have the staff in place? Did they have the infrastructure in place and what was it going to take, overall for the institution to have an integrated digital approach to this, meaning, how are you going to allocate your dollars? What types of grants are you going to ask and what are the skill sets that you need to really be able to support something of this nature, but in all of the arts funding that we do, we find over and over again, and especially during, and hopefully soon to be following the pandemic, is that you really need an audience insight.
You need to know the perspective of your customers, and I would say today, whether it is online or within close proximity to a physical location, is who are you trying to serve and what are you trying to convey? You can do that in a number of different ways. You can try co-creation with community members. We know that that increases the chances that your tech investments are impactful and meaningful, but I would say it’s even outside of just your tech investments.
I think it’s for the institution as a whole. Relevancy, what you produce, the programs that you do. It is content and context, and really responding to the needs of your community, however you’re defining that community. So one of the things that we actually looked at in another study, we evaluated eight institutions where Knight had heavily invested, and we were looking at transformational change.
So I know that you hear that probably from any foundation that you go to for support. We’re all looking for transitional, really … How do you move your institution forward? What does sustainability look like for you? So one of the things that came out of that study, which I think is applicable to any other work that we do and can be helpful for you as you’re seeking funding for different things, is looking at change process. So transformational change, where are you in that, and what type of grants really supported the best and what kind of timeframe does it take?
So, if you look at this when you’re in your preparation stage, that may be a short term. For you, planning could be a year. That’s still short term within the long sort of vista of the work that you’re going to do, and a recommended grant for that could be purpose restricted and a one-time grant. If you’re trying to implement incremental or operational change, it still may be short term and maybe those are grants that are more purpose restricted, but when you start to go into medium-term horizon, it’s going to take more time for you to do it.
You’re trying to build capacity for change, which can be for people, which can be totally integrating a strategy into your institution. Maybe you need to try to seek a multi-year grant and as a funder, we need to think about giving you the map and the roadway to be able to do what you’re trying to implement over a longer period of time.
Implementing transformational change, implementing any kind of change is not easy. So as we look at that, so you’re looking at all of these things together and what kind of a grant do you want, and when do you want to ask for an endowment grant, but your implications for the field itself. Know what your technical debt is.
Do you have the people on staff? Are you fully integrated? Do you have the support of either a chief curator in this? Does that curator have access to the dollars to support what you’re trying to do, but most important has the institution decided this is important to pushing the institution forward? So that integrated digital strategy should not be separate, we have found from an organizational strategy. You have to have executive vision that ties into that, but for Knight, what we’ve also done here is we’ve given you access to these different reports that we’ve done learning, trying to assess where what we did made sense, really getting input from our grantees makes a difference to us as we try to figure out what is the best way to increase your capacity to have impact.
So you’ve got the arts tech, staffing, and arts institution assessment, where we looked at the different types of grants and what really had to be in place for transformational change to occur. Then what is your digital readiness and the innovation in museums? So I think we can turn it over to Neal.
Elizabeth Merritt: Super. So Neal, how about giving us a little bit of a perspective from the point of view of someone who works with a lot of museums who are struggling with these issues?
Neal Stimler: Absolutely. Hello everyone, and I see a lot of friends and colleagues for joining us today. So a hearty welcome to all of you, and I hope you’re doing well and safe and thank you for being here with us today. So today I’m going to be talking to you about a quick insights moving us from readiness into action. It’s 2021 after all, and a time for us to get moving while we still have time to challenge this new year ahead.
I’m sharing with you today some insights from a publication that Liz had mentioned at the outset called the GLAMs Dynamic Sustainability Platform, which is a white paper published in collaboration with my colleagues over at the Balboa Park Online Collaborative, and just want to give a special thank you to my friends over there, Nik Honeysett, Jack Ludden, Alexandra Kron-Daleo and Eileen Willis, who collaborated on the paper with me.
So the link is there in the slide and it’s available as a Creative Commons Attribution resource. So you’re free to download and remix and share it to your heart’s content with attribution. One of the first things, we were just talking about customers a moment ago with Victoria is this thinking about the reinventing of the org chart of institutions and how many of us working within an organization, within our various staff positions, we tend to think about the needs and desires of our team or our immediate supervisor or the board of the director.
One of the things that Victoria and Evette have also stressed is thinking about the needs of our communities and our customers. So we also concur with that trend and that being really important to thinking about who are you serving and how can you best serve them, and absolutely agree with the idea of capturing those analytics and metrics to better understand who is engaging with you and through what means.
This is the key takeaway from the white paper and we talk about this framework of being adaptive, contextually relevant, and focusing on continuous quality improvement. So this thinks about a dynamic organizational strategy. So many of you may remember from your own organizations, the five-year glossy PDF or printed report that sat in your desk drawer and did nothing. Don’t do that anymore. It’s time for a different approach, especially with the amazing tools that you can find with, off the shelf or major big tech web applications with integrated analytics.
How you can build that in a dynamic form today, a strategy that gives you real time insights. So be adaptive. Adapt tools from big tech or other situations that you find useful for you. Don’t be trapped in your traditional playbook. Contextually relevant, be aware of your local and global and community contexts. If your institution is focused on a certain part of its mission that’s very important, don’t let that go aside.
Engage that deeply, but also look outside your own institution and think about the broader framework of the world and continuous quality improvement. Make sure that you’re that engagement over time and moving forward and we also like to emphasize the idea of being disciplined, determined, and diligent in your approach to strategy. It’s incredibly difficult. I know many of us are facing difficult challenges from various circumstances, public health and safety, the economy, but keeping forward on your course is really important, especially in the face of challenges.
We also talk about in the paper, the importance of centering your mission at the intersection of the economy, the environment and engagement. So I’ll talk very briefly about those. The economy is really making sure that when you’re planning for your organizational strategy, you’re thinking about all of the economic impact across the different parts of your business.
Many of you may know Rob Stein, a former colleague at AAM, who’s now at the Milwaukee Art Museum who just mentioned in a recent podcast with Max Anderson, that a museum is a multifaceted business or many businesses in one. So think about all those different types of implications for you there. Environment, we have a focus on climate change, the impact that your institution may face as a result of natural disaster, or how do you effectively manage your HVAC or your operational facilities so that you can maximize your dollars, but also maximize your carbon impact. And thinking about that is something that we’re all going to have to be facing together and working on.
Then engagement, that’s both your marketing communication style of engagement, but also again, emphasizing those community relationships that relate to your mission. The key message I would have for you is just to say, go forward, start your process and seek help from people that you enjoy working with and trust. I’m the kind of person that likes to work with people and get my hands working. So find a friend or a consultant or a foundation that wants to partner with you and be your ally, and keep moving. Beth, back to you. Oh, your microphone’s off, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth Merritt: I hate it when I do that. Just proving I’m actually on Zoom. The first question I’d love to log to you all is, much of your work and certainly the report that you shared with us, Evette and Victoria, it’s a pre-pandemic snapshot. It’s saying, what were museums doing at the point that we went into this horribly difficult year. In your observation, guys, what effect did that have on museums when they actually found themselves navigating pandemic closure? Can you make that connection between what museums had done or hadn’t done in terms of digital preparedness, and then the difference in how they fared in the past year?
Victoria Rogers: Well, I think that if they had not realized that they needed to have a digital strategy before the pandemic, they surely understood during it. I think that institutions that had larger digital teams may have found it easier to sort of pivot to being able to have digital content online but to be honest with you, a lot of really interesting work also came from much smaller institutions. The Harvey Gantt, who became internationally recognized for its programs, during this because it pivoted again and what Neil just reinforced, was to the interests of the community and it matched, and it brought in really phenomenal people to talk about different things.
So I think that it’s hard to do this work when you don’t have a staff. One of the other things that we found during the pandemic as all museums shuttered their doors for very long periods of time and look at all of the institutions that furloughed staff that, within that, drastically cut budgets during that period of time.
In some of those cases, the people that had the digital skillsets were people that were cut, which made it even more difficult then for these institutions to respond both to the need, but to the opportunity that was created. One of the things I wanted to mention, and I’d like Neal to respond to that question as well, but the special culture track that was done through LaPlaca Cohen in relationship to COVID-19. One of the most interesting for me observations that came out of that was that this threshold fear that so many people have for going into large museums, for doing what some people would call capital A art. Symphony concerts, opera, ballet, things of that nature.
During this, and in response to Culture Track, for those of you who don’t know, it’s not interviewing us or you. It’s interviewing people that actually attend. Consumers of culture, which of course we’re part of that, but it’s a much broader audience. That they were accessing things they would never have done in person through that.
So all of a sudden you had institutions that were building audiences that literally were across the US and sometimes worldwide and continuing to relate to people who had already been within their ranks. So I think that these opportunities are out there and the institutions are the only ones that can decide ultimately how they’re going to restructure budgets and restructure departments so that, digital is fully integrated but I do think Knight Foundation is not going to be the only foundation that is really interested in increasing its funding for institutions that are looking at a new business proposition. So what does digital integration actually mean for your institution? We’re not going to dictate it, but people need to start really thinking about what this might mean for them.
Elizabeth Merritt: How about the museums you’ve been working with Neal. Any observations about things that prepared them to deal with this more effectively or how they’ve pivoted afterwards?
Neal Stimler: I think the institutions that have made the investment over the last 10 or 15 years who had done some of the core as Victoria and Evette showed us in their second report on the digital staffing had made that clean up of IT, making sure they had the tech infrastructure in place. They cleaned up that scary IT closet in the corner. They refreshed their infrastructure internally. They were more capable because of their readiness to build on top of successful initiatives and also organizations that have moved past the notion that digital is an experiment to digital is a part of doing day-to-day business, have made leaps and bounds in the types of programs they’ve done.
One of the questions in the Q&A that I peaked at was asking about, partnerships and how those work. So I emphasize partnerships with commercial. So that would be retailer content, as well as technology partners. The arts and culture space is incredibly fortunate to have the support, not only of the Knight Foundation, but major corporations in the world like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, who power many of the fundamental technology stacks of these organizations.
So leveraging those relationships with those partnerships is incredibly important for powering day-to-day services and in the content space, we’ve also seen Verizon doing great things with the Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt at the metropolitan and others with their 5G technology, really focusing on augmented reality and 3D experiences. So if you have an organizational plan in digital that is foundationally strong, you are more poised to communicate a good value proposition to those commercial and content partners, because they will have the confidence in you that you can help them deliver something that’s going to meet the metrics and engagement that they’re looking for as well.
Victoria Rogers: Lumin comes to mind, in working with that as well, Neal. If you don’t mind Liz, I wanted to address another question that has come up in the Q&A.
Elizabeth Merritt: Yes, please.
Victoria Rogers: So this is, how do we account for the class on racial disparities in tech availability for museum users? So I want to give you one example that is going to come into fruition. So in Detroit, they’re considering the creation of a formal cultural district. So they’re looking at that, that goes from the DIA all the way down to MOCAD. It’s about 86 acres. So one of the first steps which Knight helped to fund was digital integration for these 86 acres and working with a local university who then expanded its hubs. So what will come out of this once it’s implemented is it’s not just the institutions that can have better access to digital. It’s the communities that live around it.
I think one of the things that’s been so distressing during the pandemic here in Miami is watching families sitting in parking lots of places where they can access digital and kids not being able to tune in to digital school because they don’t have access to digital. I think that more and more, you’re going to find foundations looking at, how do we address what’s happened in our country and what can we do to change funding so it addresses some of these issues? We believe in the importance of the arts in shaping who we are and what we are and telling our stories, but if you don’t have access to it, then we’re limited and that’s the last thing we want to do. We want to make it more accessible to more people.
Elizabeth Merritt: I have to say, I’ve been a little jealous of the libraries. I think they’re ahead of museums right now, in terms of taking proactive steps to make their Wi-Fi available to the community around them, and to try and provide high-speed broadband connection or welcoming students in to use their space to do digital schooling. Some museums are doing that, and it’s awesome, but I think the libraries have been doing it in a more concerted manner.
Victoria Rogers: I have one more comment on Knight here, but our new VP of cities and national initiatives is Kelly Jin, which was leading up digital technology in New York and is firmly grounded in this access. How do you expand access in a digital realm?
Elizabeth Merritt: So for Victoria and for Neal, one of our attendees asks, are you seeing that most of these digital decisions and implementations are being made internally? Are you finding that institutions are looking to external sources like peers and consultants for guidance?
Victoria Rogers: I think it’s both, at least on our end. One, a lot of the work that Chris Barr did was in convening different people, and getting their ideas and learning from that. Probably one of our longest relationships are investments that we have made with NEW INC, which combines digital experts and innovators with artists that are innovating in their own way, looking at the creation of products and other things. So I think that it’s both, it has to be both, but that also goes back to my comment about really understanding what you have within your institution for digital integration.
What is that debt for you? In some places, it’s more than people may have somebody who works in IT and I’m not being disparaging of it, but they don’t have the money. They don’t have the equipment. It’s not broader than that for those institutions. Then you broadening it and having an expertise and building those partnerships like Neal was just mentioning can be the key. It doesn’t always have to be people that are internal to your institution.
Neal Stimler: Just to join in that response, Elizabeth, the use of consultants is really important too, to a degree where the goal should be for that transformation to be achieved and your organization to be better at being independent and self-sustaining and self orienting in its direction after that engagement. So be critical in your decision making and process. One of the things that’s also important from an internal standpoint, as someone who’s been on both sides of the perspective, working within organizations and externally is you can start with building things like a digital task force, which really should be led by an executive leadership member of your team. I think that the Knight reports also speak to this as well. So start with your digital enthusiasts within your organization, but this does have to be more than an academic exercise.
It’s more than having an intern. It’s more than having a lunch group. This is a business fundamental imperative, and it really needs to be understood that that level of urgency both financially and from a leadership perspective. So use all the tools you have available to make your transition successful and that also includes external partners. We really, I think, as a sector in the United States and abroad have so much more work we can accomplish together collaboratively and building on that collaborative project, whether it’s sharing IT resources or internal expertise, investing more in our collaborations. Thinking of it almost as “coopertition,” I think is super helpful for institutions to pull everyone forward.
Elizabeth Merritt: We’ve had two participants now ask about whether any of you can recommend resources that would help museums do a kind of internal baseline assessment, assessing to use your words, Victoria, their technical debt. Anything you would recommend, directions you would point people towards in trying to implement that kind of internal inventory to get their own baseline?
Victoria Rogers: I think you’ve got a number of people on here. I just see a note from Cohen Smith. To Neal and Victoria’s points, I’d also add that a good foundation for building a digital strategy involves a full audit of current capabilities. Totally agree with that. I don’t know Evette, if you have, and I think if Chris Barr is on this, he might be able to enter into the chat. Some other, partners, people that you would go to sort of do those kinds of assessments of your work and where you currently are. I would think that even some of the work that is being done through your own AAM group, the digital group that is looking at what’s happening in institutions and the sharing of that information.
Neal Stimler: Well, there’s a number of places to go for this kind of information. Of course, you have the TrendsWatch, which is Elizabeth’s newest take on what to do with this year. So don’t forget about that. There are various consultancy groups and consultants that publish white papers regularly. There are also organizations, for example, CHIN, our friends in Canada, the Canadian Heritage Information Network, regularly publish guidelines on collections management information.
So regular conferences are places to find this information, publications from professionals in the field, presentations. There’s a myriad of resources out there for those interested in technology and other aspects of the field. There’s also professional organizations like the Museum Computer Network and the museums and the web foundation, which also publish papers and presentations. So there’s a lot of resources, but it’s really trying to find the resources that are right for you in your organizational journey and the person or persons that are best helpful in bringing you forward. So if there’s anyone that has a particular question, I think any of the panelists would be happy to help direct them to I think, something that’s most.
Victoria Rogers: If you are looking at the chats now, a number of people have just posted…
Elizabeth Merritt: Because you’re awesome people-
Victoria Rogers: You can go in different places if you can access
Neal Stimler: Museum technologists are a friendly bunch. Ask for help and you will get a response in most cases.
Elizabeth Merritt: So there’s one question I can’t resist addressing because it lets me do one of my favorite things, which is share some stories about the great work of museums. Someone was asking about examples of museums that have used digital engagement during the pandemic to vastly increase their reaching engagement, nationally and internationally. I just have to mention the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Museum because they turned over their Twitter account to their head of security, since he was one of the few people still in the museum and it just exploded over the Twitter sphere.
So in terms of followers and reach, they vastly increased their profile on social media. More seriously, one of the examples that your colleague Nik Honeysett has pointed to Neal is the fact that, the Corning Museum of Glass had already been building up their YouTube portfolio and doubled down on having significant content there, which then took off as a Netflix series. So there was a corn glassblowing competition series on Netflix.
Now to Victoria’s point about readiness, this started before the pandemic, but it certainly allowed them to fill an emerging need for people wanting more interesting high quality online content and the viewership during the pandemic has been awesome.
Neal Stimler: I’m going to hat tip to Scott Sayre and his team up there at the Corning Museum of Glass for that and one of the other important aspects there too, is that the channel introduced advertisements, which did support some of the revenue engagement, I believe at the Corning Museum. So this goes back to that important component of making sure that your digital strategy going forward has earned revenue and sustainable revenue as part of its overall thinking and strategy. Maybe Victoria and Evette can answer this as well. I think demonstrating an institutional commitment to self care and sustainability through earned revenue and programs is important also to the foundation landscape that foundations see that you’re being a responsible steward of your collections as best you can. Under these difficult circumstances you’re taking proactive steps yourself to do something.
Victoria Rogers: Deborah Howes just posted on that, the Museum’s Computer Network, which I mentioned earlier. One of the museums, I think that is doing some really great work in this is the Barnes in Philadelphia. I encourage you to go online and see some of the things that they are offering and this concept of not just filming exactly what you do, especially for performing but organizations, but creating something that can appeal online and almost this willingness to look at the creation of new genres for performing arts. I would say that in our museums that this phenomenal work that is done by the interpretation departments and our educators and curators and that how important it is for people to work as teams, so that it’s not so siloed and especially if you’re trying to integrate digital into that is that that can be something that is horizontal.
It doesn’t have to be a vertical integration, that it really should be horizontal across your departments. You start to use the skills of people that you may not even know that they have, especially the skills of our digital natives. Chris Barr headed up for us and Coven actually was our moderator for a session that we did with people from a number of different organizations across the US but they were talking about using our digital natives, especially artists that are working in this field that have already worked out how to solve problems and how do you integrate them into what you’re doing?
So as they’re designing things for digital audiences, what might that mean for the work that you’re trying to do in really looking at, how do you reinvent how we talk about collections? Again, going back to the context of what you’re trying to do and the content of it, and not knowing when people are going to be willing to go back really into buildings, once we’ll even allow them to do that.
Of course the issue in much of this is how do you monetize it? Is there ways to do that because it’s not necessarily inexpensive to do. So I think as Neal was saying, when you look at the mix of revenue for your institution, going forward, I don’t think our new normal is going to be anything close to what normal used to be. It was ironic for Knight that we encourage our institutions to develop different sources of revenue that were in addition to philanthropy, and those that did it so well and expanded their onsite audiences, once things were shuttered, it was a real blow to these institutions.
So again, as funders, being more cognizant of the issues that our institution space and what this means to it, and that just takes us being on the ground and really talking to people and listening to people, to be sure that we understand the enormity of what’s happened over the last year.
Evette Alexander: I just wanted to mention also that for anyone who wants a quick and dirty, back of the napkin kind of assessment, you’re welcome to check out the report we just shared. I dropped the link and I finally figured out how to chat with the attendees as well as the panelists. So I dropped the link again, and you can do a little self-assessment using the grid that’s in the report. So you can see different digital or tech capacities in organization and what it looks like, if it’s on tap or if it’s emergent, or if it’s realized.
So, for example, strategy creation and dissemination. [inaudible 00:45:33] would be, there’s no digital strategy yet, maybe considering one. Emerging would be digital strategy, maybe DevOp and not broadly shared. Realize that the digital strategy shared broadly across the museum and maybe included with an overall strategic plan.
So that’s an example of you can plot where your organization is. I’ve done it before with my work in a previous organization where I took this majority grid as a best practice. I plotted where we were and I went to the head of my department had asked for resources to take next steps. So, if anyone wants to do that, I think it’s a nice framework for having a conversation with leadership and a shout out to Chris Barr who also joined us. Thank you, Chris, for your great work on this.
Victoria Rogers: I think his latest post was about products and I know Neal mentioned that the other day, and we were giving him flack about, what’s the product, what’s the content? What are you actually trying to do? But it is the conversation around that. What are we trying to do and Robert Wes said in here is how will museums merge their new capabilities and programs with the relevance and reality of their collections? I think there’s a mandate now to do that and to relate collections to what is happening within our country.
Again, back to how you interpret what you do and how we create new exhibitions, whether they are for online or in-person that you rethink the relevance of your collection. I think how we remain relevant is through this re-interpretation of the collection or what is its value in today’s world? I think it gives the nominal opportunities to really engage people with the important work that you’re doing.
Elizabeth Merritt: Lovely. Well, on that note, we’ve come to the end of our time together. As is always true, when you gather an interesting group of people to talk together and have some very knowledgeable attendees as well, there’s enough material here to explore for another three hours. What we’re going to be doing to follow up, first of all, is when we have processed this recording and the transcript, we will be posting it on the AAM blog and we will send a link to attendees to let you know it’s up.
We will also be taking all of the questions that you have identified and sharing them with our panelists, who have very kindly said they would take a look and perhaps there will be an idea sparked there for follow-up posts they might write and publish, which would be wonderful. I encourage you all to keep in touch. You certainly know where to find both these folks, at the Knight Foundation and Stimler Advantage. I do hope that you keep in touch with me at CFM and download the latest trends report and send me comments that you have on that. Thank you very much for joining us today.
Neal Stimler: Thank you everyone.
Victoria Rogers: Thanks so much.
Evette Alexander: Thank you.