42 Museums Australia Magazine – Vol. 23(2-3) – Autumn & Winter 2015
The process of branding and marketing museums
Artful museum marketing
From contemplation to sensation
A new art order
Back in the twentieth century, according to Paul Sachs, a Harvard art historian, museum director and member of the Goldman Sachs dynasty, the parameters for a good exhibition space were as follows:
s a general rule, an art piece is often as worthy as the last place where it was featured. Therefore, if a museum wall is what gives (commercial) value to a painting, then the brand is what encapsulates and conveys the efforts and ongoing reputation of individuals and organisations beyond the curtains being drawn on any one occasion. Nevertheless building valuable museum brands that are strong in their own right, and not dependent on patrons’ donations, government funding or tax benefits, is a challenging and complex process. Smart marketing programs can directly contribute towards artistic and financial success by designing experiences that capture the hearts and minds of today’s most coveted and challenging audience, the constituents known as generation Y. Gen Y’ers consume and often know more about ‘high art’ than any other demographic. And this is not due to formal instruction but the result of their constant usage and exposure to the communications and entertainment industries, as well as ready access to art supplies and classes. This ‘new art order’ has emerged through a fast-food/fast-culture frame of reference. To address a youth that is more interested in hashtagging than being enlightened, snapchatting than being carved in history, or binge-viewing TV shows instead of sitting through a stage production, what could museums do to reclaim their role as society’s grand-narrators? Frankly, they can’t. The game and traffic-routes of activity have changed, and so have many of our expectations. From high-definition and multiple screens to digital programming with great content and cheap broadband connection, almost anyone with some curiosity can become a connoisseur of almost anything. The fact that art galleries and museums (for example the Tate Modern) have resorted to utilising the square metres that abound in old factories and industrial sites only corroborates the conditions where art has become more common and massively produced on a previously unimaginable scale. That ArtEverywhere, a charitable project led by Innocent (the food company) founder Richard Reed, has flooded UK streets with great artworks voted for by the public is possibly the strongest testimony that the marketing of museums and galleries might now be peaking. If everyone is an artist and art is everywhere, then art seems diminished in importance. But is this really the case?
• Great works of art; • Intelligent and seductive presentation with good lighting and labelling; • Highly accomplished, publicly spirited curators; • Substantial acquisition funds; • An endowment large enough to guarantee integrity and independence from market driven decisions; • Fully committed trustees; • Staff members who believe in authority and discrimination in judging and presenting art; • Ease of access through good physical amenities, and intellectually via programs that deepen the understanding and experience of art; • An unwavering belief in the primacy of the experience of art over that of the museum as agora. However nowadays, it’s simply impossible to appreciate and deal with art like a turn-of-the-century dandy. Recognising the extent of social change that separates our world from Sachs’, to secure jobs today curators need to start embracing their brand management requirements and focus more on the journeys (read experience) than destinations (what they are actually going to show). Museums therefore may start behaving like TV channels, and their directors like programmers, when planning exhibits that can offer a deep grip on a contemporary consciousness. Focusing on experiences is required because sensation rather than reflection is what increasingly earns media coverage; and such exposure is essential for driving revenue, subscriptions, and of course building a brand. This involves creating nodes of interactions, whereby audiences feel enabled to do things that are very different from the contemplative state of appreciation of art. Some may oppose this invitation and insist that high culture is being diluted by marketing efforts that result in an overall dumbing down of quality art experience. Quite frankly, the opposite seems to be occurring. Branding and media are greatly invigorating our high culture by providing access and increased interest in previously unimaginable ways, and thereby making associated economic activity and business more feasible. For example since 1971, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has been analysing their exhibitions’