Our Director for the North America division, Alexa Magladry attended the American Alliance of Museums annual meeting in Baltimore this year and shares her three most essential takeaways of this year’s conference.


This year’s theme went to the heart of a vital topic, focusing on what makes a thriving museum, and how museums can contribute to supporting healthy communities – an especially critical topic in the impact evaluation space. The weekend was inspiring, leaving me energized and re-focused on how to ensure our sector supports the community they belong to do, and how in turn we can support them to do this.

This year, among a wealth of vital takeaways, these three learnings  that have stuck with me most:

1. Impact is not just about educating – don’t lose sight of museums’ power to revitalize and refresh

During the keynote, each of the speakers talked about the arts and museums’ ability to make a lasting, meaningful impact on people.

But what do we mean by ‘impact’? Perhaps surprisingly, the impact they discussed was not about what they learned, but rather how they felt: in particular, that arts provided opportunities for rest, healing and escape.

Terri L. Freeman, President at The Reginald F. Lewis Museum, talked about how many people come to museums to ‘exhale’, and that the calming, restorative power of museums becomes clear as soon as you see visitors visibly relax and slow down when they enter a museum. American Alliance of Museum’s new President and CEO, Marilyn Jackson talked about how she used to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in her youth, how this was a ‘restorative break’ for her.

When we talk about why people visit museums, and what they want to get out of them, we can often end up defaulting to educational or intellectual outcomes. Also, we often forget the powerful ability our sector has to provide spiritual and emotional outcomes: the ability to escape everyday life, be inspired or feel refreshed and revitalized. When designing in-museum experiences, or communicating the benefits of your museum to potential visitors,  these outcomes are essential.


2. Your visitors / artists/ supporters / staff are people first: treat them like that

In most sessions, presenters used data to support their findings (yay for data-driven decision-making!), but this year there was a real emphasis placed on the importance of not reducing your visitors or artists to a number, and instead being conscious that before they’re your visitors or supporters, they’re people first.

The team at SFMOMA talked about a more holistic approach in talking about demographic describers of the artists in their collection, the powerful session about emotion-centered exhibition design reminded us of our duty of care to provide a safe space for processing emotions and we were challenged to focus on ‘invisible fundraising’ (prioritizing the relationship first before the fundraising) in the 60 ideas in 60 minutes session on philanthropy.

This was an important reminder, especially for those of us who work with data and research, that before they’re our desired learning outcomes, our KPIs, or our visit figures, they’re people first. That means we must treat them like this and acknowledge their needs, hopes and what defines them not just what describes them, in everything we do.


3. Insight is essential to successful strategy

As someone who loves a good strategy, I was particularly inspired on the sessions’ focus on strategy and planning this year. In the session with various Chief Strategy Officers across art museums around North America, it was clear that grounding your goals and strategy in data and insight was the key in informing the successful strategies the speaker spoke about.

Although a good strategy requires many important tools (such as the ability to adapt and navigate change management and having a clear definition of what success looks like to you), a great strategy must be informed by consultation and insight. This is to ensure your strategy is actually meeting a real need and is genuinely wanted by the people you’re hoping to involve as the ‘who’ in your strategy.

So before you embark on any strategy, particularly ones involving your audience, talk to your audiences to test your ideas and assumptions and ground your strategy in reality, not just anecdotal evidence.

We’re excited to help our clients in the museum sector and beyond take on these challenges and opportunities, and are looking forward to seeing everyone in LA in 2025.

If you’d like to know how we can help support you in this changing world, please get in touch.