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November 13, 2013

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Jennifer Caleshu

The Bay Area Discovery Museum launched the Center for Childhood Creativity in 2011 in part to address this very real question of impact - how can we expand it beyond our 300k visitors per year and our on-site physical experience - as well as to address the funding gap. As a children's museum, how can we maintain engagement with donors whose children have aged out, and attract new donors? So our breakout strategy is to play in the world of education - a much larger funding universe than 'arts and culture.' So far so good, with major new funding streams including earned revenue for professional development workshops.

John Blades

I disagree with the statement "this wave of philanthropic dollars won’t come to museums unless museums develop new ways of measuring and articulating impact."

The problem is not one of measurement or articulating impact, the problem is one of museum leadership believing that the answer is to try to be all things to all people.

As with any endeavor, success is the product of a clearly focused vision and clearly focused mission. Without a clearly focused vision and a clearly focused mission, there won't be any real impact to measure.

Too many museums have, for the sake of grant support, taken on programming that is really outside their core mission and thus have confused and diluted their brand in the marketplace, which leads to less broad support and instead more searching for funding, with the funder's agenda attached to that funding. A vicious downward spiral.

Let's get back to figuring out what each of our museum's does better than any other and pursue that strength, and no other, with a passion and vigor that can't fail to inspire and thus have real impact.

Dan Spock

I've found the work of Mark O'Neill, from Glasgow, UK, to be useful in rethinking how make a case for museums and culture-going more broadly. His primary contention is that it can be demonstrated empirically that culture-going increases well-being, health. (See link) http://www.glasgowlife.org.uk/policy-research/Documents/Mental%20health%20article%20%28MON%29.pdf But I have to wonder if part of the problem we are seeing is one of the widening gap between rich and poor and the shrinking middle class. One of the strongest correlations we find in our visitor data is class (affluence and education level)which crosses even racial and age categories.

Susie Wilkening

Hi Dan -

We've been following studies on health outcomes and the arts, and while I had not seen this particular article, I am familiar with most of the studies cited in it. But I don't think any of them really sort out the correlation and causation as well as they should (though some do it better than others). I wonder a lot about the educational attainment levels of the PARENTS of the study subjects, and how that affects results since childhood experiences set the pattern for both cultural consumption and health. I've also recently started following the Global Society for Arts and Health, http://www.thesah.org/template/index.cfm, though I have not dug as much as I need to on their site (yet).

But here is what concerns me about the health connection with arts. As we mentioned in the second part of this post, http://reachadvisors.typepad.com/museum_audience_insight/2013/11/museum-bashing-and-a-shift-in-philanthropic-priorities-part-ii.html, it also borrows a case for museums from another sector, this time the healthcare sector. Is that a fair comparison? Are museums and the arts any better than other public health initiatives? If not, museums will still be shut out as those other initiatives get funded. Besides, is this how we want to build the case for museums (it may be), or are the other, more compelling, arguments for museums in our lives. If so, what are they, how can we suss them out, and how can we track them?

I suspect there are many pieces that come together to make the true case for museums, and that make the case for museums alone. Health outcomes may well be one, and is on our contender list, as well as some other things.

Thanks for commenting!

Dave Broman

As is often the case, the way you frame a question or issue has a significant effect on people's perception and conclusions. It appears, at least from this brief article, that the museum vs health discussion is being framed as an either/or. It doesn't have to be, and framing the question in that manner significantly distorts the discussion.

Having said that, though, the changing attitude toward impact is a significant development that has been building up steam for many years, particularly in social services. It's worthy of thoughtful discussion. And careful examination of intangible benefits that can't be quantified with dollar signs.

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