Part one of this post examined economic conditions that led to the decline and restructing of some museums in 2009.
so what’s next?
- Don’t panic. Sure, crashing markets and sub-prime drama are alarming, but try not to go all Henny-Penny right away. Take a deep breath–take another one!–and evaluate your position before slashing and burning. You may not be as bad off as you think.
- Remember why you exist. Art museums are forms of aesthetic escapism, much like movies or Halo 3 (and often much cheaper!) and places of important public learning. Selling off your entire collection wholesale, switching to an all-volunteer staff and eliminating programs are contrary to the mission. However, if your institution can thrive held together with spit and rubber bands, more power to you! Hopefully, no one will notice those outdated labels, dirty bathrooms and overinflated admission fees.
- If you build it, they will come. This has more to do with community than architecture. Most people visit museums for the art and the connections they can make with it. Providing meaningful opportunities to do so is key, but don’t assume that everyone knows who you are and deems you worthy of support. Celebrate the depth of your collection and allow the community to curate shows of their favorite objects. Build collaborations with other museums, local artists and schools and let your common missions mingle. Engage your members in dynamic ways and encourage them to share their stories with the goal of bringing others into the fold. So you believe art is for everyone? Prove it! Sincerity and honesty in your dealings will reap untold benefits.
- Examine your Board of Directors and/or Trustees. These are the folks directly responsible for the health and sustainability of your organization. Is its structure archaic? Is it inclusive and representative of those you serve? Are there too many members or not enough? Do they receive continuing development? Where do their strenths/weaknesses lie? Are they your principal fundraisers and willing to submit to rigorous self-examination? Should they have seen this coming?
- Don’t fear change. Recessions are an excellent opportunity to examine your organizational structure. Perhaps you’re too top-heavy or there’s too much of the budget devoted to an individual area. Can you streamline functions without compromising efficiency and service? The answer could be in an bloated line-item. It may be time to abandon those old-school development and marketing schemes and see where social media can take you. Revisit your strategic plan and make adjustments as necessary. No strategic plan? Get started on one right away and if you need help, ask for it. But don’t go overboard and change for change’s sake! If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
- Talk, talk. Communication is extremely vital, but none more so than between your staff and their leadership (this includes Administrators and the Board of Directors and/or Trustees.) Please don’t let employees hear of major changes via press release, email or voicemail. Keeping mum is a morale-killer and guarantees that those left behind to do the work will most certainly be disgruntled. Don’t be afraid to admit that you might not have all the answers, but will pass them along as soon as you do, and ask for their input. You never know where the next great idea will come from, and who knows your organization better than its front-line staff?
- Doomed to repeat it? Once the dust has settled and your organization has emerged (hopefully!) relatively intact, remember what brought you to this place and make an institutional pledge to avoid landing here again. Our economic structure means the cycle of recession, depression and boom is a given. Even if you think that history is bunk, á la Henry Ford, there is no reason to keep doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. Einstein called that insanity.