For museums everywhere, the need to think strategically about upcoming exhibitions has never been more acute.
While the reopening of cultural venues presents opportunities – to grow and diversify audiences, generate income, deepen relationships and of course, serve your organization’s cause or mission – knowing how individual exhibitions will contribute to those goals can be more challenging.
But this insight can help you in many ways: setting targets, identifying gaps and choosing how to invest resources.
For many years, we’ve worked with museums to predict how their exhibition programmes will support their wider organizational objectives.
We have developed highly effective methods of formative audience evaluation to test existing and potential audiences’ responses to upcoming exhibitions.
By mapping these responses against a number of key criteria, we can offer clients a strategic exhibition map, which illustrates the ‘role’ each exhibition will perform for the organization.
The criteria we use are:
Our clients can then choose to focus on a strategy which aligns with their immediate priorities or try to tick off as many of the objectives as possible over the course of several exhibitions.
We put the strategic exhibition map to good use in our recent work with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The Museum had three very different upcoming exhibitions planned and wanted to explore the potential audiences for each.
Using a formative testing survey, sent out both to the Museum’s current visitors and to potential visitors using social media advertising, we were able to explore the attitudes and opinions of a range of audience groups. This allowed us to build up a comprehensive visitor profile for each exhibition.
The resulting strategic exhibition map ensured the Museum could feel confident in its programme, and gain a deeper understanding of how to market each exhibition to the target audience.
The diagram below shows the differing impacts of three potential exhibitions:
Exhibition 1 was a clear ‘home run’ with their existing general audience and would likely generate income but was less likely to convert new audiences.
Exhibition 2 had broad, wide appeal to new and existing audiences and encouraged people to feel warmly about the brand.
Exhibition 3 sparked strong interest with specialists and with different, more diverse audiences but on a smaller overall scale.
Together, the Museum of Fine Arts was reassured the exhibitions could deliver on multiple objectives.
You may find our strategic map useful when planning upcoming exhibitions. How do the exhibitions you currently have planned complement each other? Do they serve different purposes? How should you prioritise your resources to reach the right audiences?
Main image: Boston Museum of Fine Arts, creator Werner Kunz