Heads up! The 2023 edition of CFM’s annual forecasting report is now available as a free PDF download. TrendsWatch: Building the Post-pandemic World explores how museums can emerge from the past three years better and stronger, using opportunities presented by pandemic disruptions to create a more just, equitable, and resilient world.
Historically, TrendsWatch has published right around now (late March, early April). This year, for the first time, AAM members and subscribers received the report three months early, in the Jan/Feb issue of Museum magazine. The new PDF complements the magazine by:
- Including hundreds of embedded link sources for the facts, figures, and stories I reference in the report.
- Providing an easy way to share the content with others, including colleagues, board members, funders, and planning partners.
- Making it possible to save the report to your digital files for future reference.
Because TrendsWatch covers rapidly moving trends, the months between writing and release often are filled with new developments. For example, in the section on The Future Workforce I noted the potential for two intersecting trends—four-day workweeks and four-day school schedules. In the past couple of months:
- Four-day work weeks have gained traction, as a large pilot project in the UK (testing 32 hour weeks with pay kept the same) wrapped up and reported that a shorter workweek resulted in lower turnover, fewer sick days, and improved performance. Here in the US, legislation has been introduced at the federal and state level making 32 hours the threshold for overtime pay. (Note, “four-day workweek” refers to a variety of practices, whether distributing the 32 hours over shorter work days Monday through Friday or actually reducing the workweek to four days.)
- 60 school districts in Texas have switched to a four-day instructional week, and other districts around the country are preparing to make that change (including districts in Missouri, Ohio, and Nebraska).
Implications for museums: As more parents choose four-day schedules, when available, to accommodate the four-day school week of their kids, might museums see “weekend attendance” spread out beyond Saturday and Sunday? As schools struggle to fit mandated instructional hours into a shorter week, will school field trips (already in decline) be further curtailed?
(BTW—since this year’s TrendsWatch published, many people have asked me whether telework is “going away.” While conclusions on this point vary widely, according the latest research from Pew, about a third of workers with jobs that can be done remotely, a chunk that equals about 39 percent of the total workforce, are working from home all the time—a sixfold increase from the pre-pandemic baseline. An additional 41 percent of that group is working on a hybrid schedule, with some days remote and some in the office.)
In The Partisan Divide I shared troubling signals that, while visiting museums is currently a nonpartisan activity and trust in museums remains high across the political spectrum, museums are becoming caught up in a new wave of politically fueled culture wars. Unfortunately, the past few months have only bolstered this concern.
- In February, The American Conservative published an article attacking museums directly, accusing historic sites in particular of making a concerted effort to “teach America’s children radical ideas.” (In the report I warned that museums might be tarred with the same brush as higher education, as conservatives target sectors they believe to skew liberal, and indeed, the author of this article characterized museums’ bias as part of the “downstream impact of our biased higher education system.”)
- One might well dismiss this article as a rant, but there are signals that the author’s belief that museums are distorting history is not only shared by others but may translate into action. This week in Tennessee, the agenda of the House Public Service Committee included HB1023, a bill that would require the state museum to transfer all collections related to the Civil War not currently on exhibit to the Sons of Confederate Veterans. (The vote was deferred to 2024.) I can’t help but think that the drafters of that bill feel the Sons would use those artifacts to tell their own particular version of history.
Implications for museums: This trend presents museums with difficult challenges. How can museums stay true to their missions and their values, without becoming targets in a new round of culture wars? How can our sector navigate the fine line between using the trust accorded museums to present challenging ideas, and losing that trust by seeming to be partisan?
I’ve also been thinking about the potential intersection of three of this year’s themes: A Digital (R)evolution (the maturation of museum digital practice); the rise of a values-based approach to Repatriation, Restitution, and Reparations; and Changing Climate Risk. Climate projections warn that the South-Pacific island nation of Tuvalu will be submerged by the end of this century. Late last year, in the face of this threat, Tuvalu’s foreign minister announced that the nation is going to shift its territorial and cultural identity onto the Metaverse.
Implications for museums: There are already several excellent examples of digital platforms that draw on the data of museums across the globe to serve the needs of communities displaced or decimated by violence. (See, for example, Digital Benin and the Jewish Digital Recovery Project.) How might museums work together in service of communities damaged or displaced by climate change, serving as stewards of their heritage and providing digital connections to history and culture even to people scattered across the globe?
TrendsWatch at AAM2023
There will be two opportunities to dig into these topics more deeply at #AAM2023 in Denver next month. At my TrendsWatch session on Friday (May 19) at 11:30 I’ll do more of the above—sharing current news and recent thoughts about these issues. I hope you will consider joining the discussion tables (12:30 – 1:30) that will follow that presentation. I’ll provide some prompts for the conversations and look forward to the lively conversations that ensue. See you there?