Archive for July, 2011

Museum Life: Art & Copy

July 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Art & Copy a film by Doug Pray

It has been a few months since an entry. During this portion of my walkabout I have traveled to the Caribbean, moved back to the desert, worked on a traveling exhibition for Liberace and studied media stories to track how museums are perceived and reported.  I have also watched movies. A LOT of movies.  My recent Netflix find was Art & Copy. It won at Sundance, Toronto and Atlanta Film Festivals and just this week was nominated for a News & Documentary Emmy in the category of Outstanding Arts & Culture Programming after showing on PBS.

This documentary is about advertising. Not just ads but the people behind them–men and women who created the type of agency now portrayed in “Mad Men” as well as those who ventured out as artists and social commentators and inspired clients to present people, businesses and products in ways consumers had never seen. From Mary Wells and “I Love New York” to  Rich Silverstein and Jeff Goodby who coined “Got Milk” , George Lois and “I Want My MTV” and Dan Wieden and David Kennedy with “Just Do It”, I learned the strategic and random ways campaigns that become part of our culture were formed. And I saw museum work.

Although never mentioned in my museum studies program, I have learned over the last 20+ years that we in the profession are in sales. Not just the Marketing & PR Department or the Retail Division–all of us. We are selling ideas, knowledge, experiences and access. Just like an ad agency, we sit behind primarily closed doors and create exhibitions and content, bounce ideas around and layer every message to the public with our brand, whether consciously defined or not.  We are trained to “interpret” content for the public in the way we want them to understand it. Our missions may be collecting, conserving, exhibiting, teaching etc. but we NEED people to consume our product and pay money to do so.

However. most in the profession rarely admit that what we do fits this way of thinking. Only in the last couple of years have we even seen a joint degree in museum studies and business administration offered. Within museums we still support segregation of marketing, advertising and earned income from other work such as research and curation when it is the intersection of the functions that create inspiring messages. Every staff member, volunteer, board member and visitor is a walking, talking, writing advertisement for an institution. We therefore need to be clear in our mission and message, and style– “brand” if you will. With countless museums in financial trouble and closing while others build new buildings and open as we speak, I can’t help but think  “Art & Copy” are defining factors for survival.

Ford Bell, President of the American Association of Museums proposes museum advertising in the form of advocacy in a recent address at the annual meeting. “We need to be a true museum field”, he states, “with a consistent, coordinated message advocating for the power and purpose of museums, for their value to our communities and our society, for their essential contributions to our economy, our education and our lives. When he said “everybody needs to hear it”….  there was silence from the audience of museum professionals. No applause, nothing. Did they not want to hear it? Were they surprised by a call to action? Are they prepared to be spokespersons?

This week Payless Shoe Stores portray museums as the “fun way to learn” in a commercial. Maybe we need to hire their agency!