To engage visitors, a museum must start by cultivating dialogue between its staff members, says Corinne Estrada.
How to engage with visitors is the motto of today’s museum. Its mission is to encourage conversations with young audiences, communities, families, donors and sponsors, local and international tourists – it has to build a dialogue with many different audiences.
Fundraisers need to show how their museum is relevant to the real world so that donors feel proud to give to a museum
The Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin set itself the challenge of employing and training Syrian people to run guided tours in their native language. It was an example of how to address the issue of immigration and how to offer a platform for social debates and start a dialogue with new audiences.
In this case, dialogue was about facing today’s challenges, embracing the unexpected and having something to say, not just to show.
Communication within the team
Cultivating good dialogue starts first between staff members: the curatorial, education and marketing teams, the fundraising and communication departments, senior management, the press office, digital team and the financial team. Cross-departmental dialogue encourages employees to share the same values, identify common messages and build one voice and one vision.
In 2013, when the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam was working on its re-opening, all staff members took part in focus groups to define the museum’s identity. In the end they all agreed that it was ‘The museum of the Netherlands’, a simple and strong message.
These brainstorming sessions were a rewarding branding exercise that helped the fundraising team to communicate with sponsors more clearly. One of the sponsors was ING, a large Dutch bank. The museum engaged in a dialogue that was open, simple and personal – not easy when partnering with a big organisation, but an approach that proved to be successful.
Another major trend is lobbying within an organisation. The fundraising team of a museum needs the full support of the press office, sharing the same goals and all business-focused.
Fundraisers need to show how their museum is relevant to the real world so that donors feel proud to give to it. Connections between the artworks in the permanent collection and topics relevant to today’s society need to be highlighted, whether fashion, Chinese design, or depiction of race in nineteenth-century paintings.
Being connected with local schools and communities can provide stories for a strong PR campaign, an essential part of any fundraising strategy as it raises the profile of the museum.
Focus on permanent collections
Museums all over the world are focusing on their permanent collections in different ways to connect with audiences. The BioMuseo in Panama is finishing the last three galleries of its permanent exhibition and is using architectural space as a powerful part of its narrative.
The museum can communicate a single story that engages many different visitors. Tate Modern’s permanent collection has been the centre of informative workshops designed to get local communities involved in the art world. Chris Dercon, Director of Tate Modern, believes collaboration and exchange should be the model of all sustainable cultural practices.
Promoting permanent collections through positive dialogue is a global trend and it starts with a progressive and experimental approach to museums and art.
The Communicating the Museum conference is to be held in Berlin from 12 to 16 July. This year’s theme is ‘Dialogue’.