Service of Museums & How They Attract Audiences

November 16th, 2015

Categories: Craft Show, Marketing, Museums, Technology

Agave Pod Vase by Christine & Michael Adcock

Agave Pod Vase by Christine & Michael Adcock


Ellen Gamerman shared a glimpse of “The Museum of the Future” in a Wall Street Journal article reporting how technology is one of the ways these institutions plan to revolutionize and transform a visitors’ experience. A goal: Attracting audiences.

For starters she told how Metropolitan Museum visitors saw a Jackson Pollock picture through 3-D headsets; mentioned a “virtual-reality film that recreates ocean creatures from 500 million years ago,” at the London Natural History Museum; wrote about movies with “special effects in a 4D theater with piped-in gunpowder smells and seats that jiggle whenever cannons are fired,” at the imminent American Revolution Museum, Yorktown, Va. and more. Lots to look forward to.

Seascape necklace by Beth Farber

Seascape necklace by Beth Farber

There are also valuable, effective traditional ways museums introduce potential enthusiasts to their exhibitions. For the third year Brooklyn Museum is the venue for the American Fine Craft Show November 21-22 where 90 exhibitors, handpicked by my clients Joanna and Richard Rothbard, will exhibit and sell some of the best crafts designed and made in America. Tickets to the craft show include general admission to the museum, including “Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008,” an exhibition that opens on the eve of the show.

Selecting to feature the work of only a few exhibitors from the riches of images I have is always difficult but what fun: Almost as good as shopping.


Mediterranean Decay Coral Necklace by Barbara Heinrich

Mediterranean Decay Coral Necklace by Barbara Heinrich

Whether gemstones, coral or polymer, jewel tones from nature will punctuate the display cases of many of the 19 jewelry designers.

Barbara Heinrich transformed perforated red-orange coral from the bottom of the ocean into necklace beads [photo above, left]. The Pittsford-NY jeweler added an 18kt gold egg-shaped bead that mimics the coral’s perforations and a toggle clasp.

Another necklace informed by the deep, but in brilliant turquoise, is Beth Farber’s “Seascape,” hand-woven with apatite, a boulder opal and gold [Photo above, right]. Farber, whose studio is in Minnetonka, Minn., says her work combines the ancient with the contemporary. Adapting ancient bead weaving techniques, she hand-weaves fine gemstones, silver and gold with a contemporary sensibility and edge.


Bern and Trusk vests by Teresa Maria Widuchn

Bern and Trusk vests by Teresa Maria Widuchn

Fashion takes pride of place where 25 of 90 handpicked artisans will exhibit handmade coats, jackets, dresses and accessories in the museum’s regal Beaux-Arts Court. Standouts reflect Asian influences in style, fabric and/or construction as well as elegant design simplicity.

Spare simplicity in form and motif translates to classic elegance that Teresa Maria Widuch understates on her website as “an efficient use of materials with a clean line,” [Photo of Bern and Trusk vests, right]. In her Chicago studio she creates one-of-a-kind wool felt and Ultrasuede jackets, vests and coats at her Chicago studio. Jane Herzenberg, Northhampton, Mass., explores the relationship between painting, Shibori dyeing, Rozome and hand embellishment to create art to wear. [Photo right, below].

Barcelona jacket by Jane Herzenberg

Barcelona jacket by Jane Herzenberg

Both Shibori and Rozome [batik] are Japanese techniques.


Glass, ceramics, wood, leather and wool are transformed to one-of-a-kind decorative and/or functional pieces by artisans who describe their work as “improvised” and “intuitive.”

Ceramist Pat Warwick “has never been far from the sea.” [Today she lives by the sea in Warren, RI]. She wrote on her website that the drawings she made to illustrate and design materials for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute’s Marine Resource center “became the basis for her first installation- a school of fish for her own kitchen.”

Christine and Michael Adcock, Leaves of Grass Fiber-Clay Arts, Santa Barbara, Calif., are collaborative mixed media artists. [An example of their work is at top.] Christine is a basket maker and Michael a studio potter. Christine Adcock said that nature is the ultimate teacher and inspiration. “I delight in its every detail, from the beautiful markings on a tiny bug or moth to the majesty of mountain and meadow. My work is an effort to take tiny, beautiful, elements of nature – a seed pod we tread upon or a leaf of grass – and put them in a context where people take time to experience and enjoy their perfection.”  

Haven’t museums always felt they needed to entice people to visit? Is this an American habit because the public is used to being marketed to? Are there lines a museum should take care not to cross in “merchandising” collections even if tempted by technology?



Pat Warwick ceramic wall piece

Pat Warwick ceramic wall piece



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12 Responses to “Service of Museums & How They Attract Audiences”

  1. Mervyn Kaufman Said:

    In recent visits to museums here in New York and elsewhere,
    I’m struck by the compelling pull that their gift shops are
    exerting nowadays. There was a time when museum store
    inventories were slim and displayed in out-of-the-way locations. Today they’re prominent, turning museum going into rarified shopping malls.

    Is this bad? I guess it depends how you look at it. I’m sure Metropolitan Museum of Art directors—not to mention the MOMA store management—will be thrilled to see patrons crowding their aisles as the holiday season gets under way. Maybe it’s true that no matter what drives people to visit museums—genuine art interest or a lust to shop—the fact that people pour in can’t help but be heartening to any museum chief or bean-counter.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Gifts bought in some museum shops are magnificent. I’ve been lucky enough to receive some–scarves, pins, bracelets, shirts, vases, pitchers, books, notecards–and have given lots myself. And these purchases, as you wrote, help support the museum not to speak of promote its exhibitions in many cases and its logo in others.

    For years I visited the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris when most of the museum was under construction. The gift shop and book store were open and visiting both was a treat. Brooklyn Museum also has a gift shop directed by Sallie Stutz, vice director for merchandising, and an award-winning merchant.

    Restaurants in some museums are also destinations these days. I hear it’s hard to get a reservation at MoMA’s The Modern.

  3. hb Said:

    I don’t know whether museums always sought to attract visitors, but my guess is that you are probably right. It is certainly how they are viewed by chambers of commerce and the tourist industry. However, attracting visitors is viewed by some as secondary to a museum’s primary mission which is to preserve and educate. These, though, need not be mutually exclusive one from the other.

    More to the point, it seems to me to make excellent sense to a museum to host a craft show because it emphasizes the aliveness of creativity. As long as human beings can think, they will create and what better venue than a museum to enable viewers to compare and contrast creations of today with those of the past?

  4. Lucrezia Said:

    Not having been a museum employee, I haven’t the faintest idea whether or not such institutions do or do not feel the necessity to “entice” people to their doors. This is not a welcome concept. Up to now, I saw people as wanting to visit museums out of curiosity and/or to learn of cultures other than their own. The museum store or craft show adds to the experience. The fact that such events benefit museums is all to the good and should be encouraged.

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I’ve written before–I think on the post about the cost of museum entrance fees–how when I was quite young, my sister would take me to the Metropolitan Museum. Part of the thrill was of being with her. But my point is that not everyone has such a sister.

    I also visited city museums when in grade and middle school and today you see classes of young students in museums all the time–art students have always been there–but again, not everyone goes to such a school.

    So to educate citizens and visitors these institutions need to know that something exists, and once knowing this, must think that what they will see will interest them. The trick is to catch the attention of people who have never been or those who haven’t visited in ages, without distracting from or distorting the work in an exhibition.

    As for a fine craft show in a museum, I agree with you. Again as I’ve written many times, museums often mount exhibitions around jewelry, fashion, furniture, ceramics, woodwork etc. And many such exhibitions feature the work of people who are still alive. But how many of the artists/artisans/designers are there when you visit so you can speak with them about their work as they are at this craft show? As for vintage and ancient pieces, not a chance!

    Some might be frightened when they hear about “museum quality” work at such a show. While this may be so, these exhibitors want people to buy their work so the prices are within reason and represent a wide range..

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    In my response to hb I neglected to mention postcards in museum gift shops. Few still send them–images are so easily posted to Facebook, Instagram etc. or in emails and postage costs a fortune if you are overseas. But I still love postcards, which I don’t necessarily use right away if I’m out of town. I often use them to write thank you notes, or instead of a gift card. The ones at museums are the best. And seeing an image of a picture, sculpture, piece of furniture or garden I love makes me happy.

  7. Kathleen Said:

    I bought two pairs of enameled earrings as gifts for my sister at the Minneapolis Art Museum at least 20 years ago. She loved them and still wears them often. But best of all, she always gets complements (or is it compliments??) every time she wears them. I’ve been looking since then for other ones as different and interesting as them, but have had no luck. All this is to say that museums as a rule have great items for sale. They’re retailing treasures!

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Kathleen, I think it’s compliment –and the same thing happens to me when I wear a necklace I bought at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. I often break away from my husband and meet him at the museum store as like you, I love to see what’s available [and he’s not a shopper].

    It’s such a smart concept: There you are in a good mood having enjoyed a visit to a wonderful place so you tend to feel more generous for that reason. Match the mood with a not-to-be-left behind object perfect for such and such a person and the goodies sell themselves!

  9. Hank Goldman Said:

    We tried going to the Whitney Saturday. The Line was over two blocks long in windy cold conditions. We all really wanted to see the Stella show. Gave up! Left it to the game under thirty crowd!

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    A hip, new museum that generated tons of publicity as it was being built and once it opened doesn’t need marketing antics to assemble crowds, at first anyway. In the American tradition [that I don’t always agree with] that bigger is essential and we must grow to be successful, museums like the Metropolitan Museum that naturally grow crowds want to increase their numbers yearly.

    In addition, a blockbuster show that is covered all over the place will gather crowds like little else. The sad thing is that the collections get short shrift and many are well worth a detour.

  11. Martha Takayama Said:

    An article in last week’s Boston globe:, addressed the desire for museums to attract visitors and the various ways they proceed. I support the concept that “Museums are nonprofit, charitable institutions whose sole purpose is to provide an educational and cultural experience to visitors…”

    The article questions the responsibility museums have to be accessible to all? It also states that “The calculus has become even more complicated as a variety of institutions consider — or rule out — eliminating admission fees altogether.” It seems equitable and sensible that eliminating admissions cost would generate more visitors assuring a broader range of visitors. Longer hours with free admission are extremely attractive. During the academic year The Mead Museum of Art at Amherst College is open Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday from 9 a.m. to midnight, Friday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Summer hours are not as long, but admission is always free. Students in particular are encouraged to think of the Museum as a place to frequent casually. Museum gift shops vary in taste and quality. I don’t know how to evaluate their contribution to actual museum visits. Restaurants would seem more a convenience than a generator of traffic per se. Their costs can be off-putting.

    Fairs generally have to charge admission. Not having to pay additionally to visit a host museum is a situation beneficial to both parties. The venue gives prestige to an appropriately related fair and the opportunity to also visit the museum is an added draw. Strong curating or vetting of fairs with publicity emphasizing the quality of their offerings , especially with repetition, are beneficial to fairs.

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:


    In June, 2011 I wrote a post, Service of Museums, about what it costs a visitor to go to a museum. Some have suggested prices, as does Brooklyn Museum. Others require you to pay or you don’t get in. There’s pressure to pay the suggested amount for sure. I have had dealings lately with extremely wealthy people who are coloring my point of view. They are tremendosly stingy which is why I fear that they are the ones who would happily stiff a museum if they could while someone with sparse means would pay the full suggested fee. I can’t imagine where a museum would cover the cost of upkeep, staff and insurance without getting something from visitors, though in Washington, DC, many of the museums are free.

    While not a museum, the country library I visit every weekend is not supported by some of the wealthy citizens of the town. In fact, my bet is that they’ve never been inside and don’t see a reason for having it. I bring this up as taxes, alone, wouldn’t pay the cost and a community needs to support museums and libraries.

    Interesting what you wrote about Amhurst College. Over the years I visited a jewel of a museum at Vassar, usually in the afternoon. There’s hardly a person there. My husband has observed the same about Yale. But maybe, if the hours are liberal, students would visit late at night.

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