Announcing the Innovation Lab for Museums

We’re very excited to begin work on Round 1 of the Innovation Lab for Museums.  Three museums were selected by our Panel right before Thanksgiving and work with our facilitators will commence this month. This major new initiative has been launched by The American Association of Museums’ (AAM) Center for the Future of Museums, EmcArts and MetLife Foundation. The first round of the Innovation Lab for Museums is generously funded by a $500,000 grant from MetLife Foundation, a long-time supporter of the nation’s museum community. View and download the press release here.

The three museums selected are: the Levine Museum of the New South, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.  The three museums will explore changing demographics, the nature of what it means to be a participant at a museum (not just a visitor) and how to engage and bring in younger people.  These are, in fact, the three areas we asked our applicants to focus on.  It’s clear we hit a deep vein of thinking – the applications were thoughtful and thought-provoking, asking questions about what is the role of the museum in a changing community.  What is the role of a curator, of an authority?  How can a museum be representative of all the members of a community?  Can it be a place for change?  For sanctuary?  For the education of everyone, regardless of their age, ethnicity or language?

We saw so many interesting and thought-provoking applications that the Panel also recognized six Projects of Excellence: the Birmingham Museum of Art, deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center, the Oakland Museum of California, the Tucson Museum of Art and the Valentine Richmond History CenterThese six projects are also asking questions of how to be better representatives of their communities – a diverse response of projects to diverse communities.

We’ll be posting the project descriptions of many of the applicants — I’m sure you’ll see the overlaps and trends as well.

It’s clear that there has been a rapid change in the climate for museums.  Many causes have contributed to this — from increased preference for participatory experiences, the rapid growth of engagement through electronic media to the giant change in the demographic make-up of the country.  Museums have traditionally been very ill-prepared to respond to the 21st century landscape.  The Innovation Lab for Museums has been designed to support museums in making these sweeping organizational shifts.  We hope to lead the charge and help the field make the changes necessary to survive and thrive in this shifting landscape.

ArtsFwd is a place for open dialogue about these questions – not just for museums, but for all cultural institutions.  The performing arts organizations we work with ask themselves the same adaptive questions – what is the nature of being an audience member?  How do we engage people more fully?  How can [fill in the blank of your cultural organization] provide value and be relevant to many people – people of differing ages, backgrounds and interests?  How do we, as cultural citizens, respond to the changes and needs of our communities in the technological, mediated 21st century?  How do we insure that we remain relevant and vital?

Join us as we pursue this work!

Liz Dreyer is the Senior Program Manager at EmcArts, managing the Community Innovation Labs as well as the Arts Leaders as Cultural Innovators (ALACI) program. She is also a Process Facilitator in the New Pathways programs.