Calling Museums: You’re Needed More Than EverMay 6, 2021 | By: Karyl Leigh Barnes
Its Museum Month and museums are really on our mind.
The thought of going inside and being around people anywhere this summer may seem strange at first, but museums have never been more relevant – or necessary – to the travel industry.
It’s time for museums to listen up and realize that they have more potential to attract visitors than ever before, especially as we rebuild the travel sector.
Of course we’ve all been cooped up at home for over a year and we want to go someplace new and exciting and relaxing. Many people, however, will still be prioritizing safety above all else. And let’s face it, few places around the world are going to be open for business as usual this summer. Visiting any destination will be a new, altered experience.
Still, for visitors with a timed entry, a mask, and some serious social distancing, museums will be a vital part of any itinerary. They will be among the safest options around, but they are so much more than just convenient places to visit this summer. They are windows back to the very humanity we struggled to maintain over the last year.
Museums are less crowded than ever
Let’s face the facts. A museum’s struggle is our gain as visitors. While museums shuttered and pivoted to virtual events during 2020, they faced hardships. Now, however, as they adapt to the new realities set before us, travelers are poised to win big. Museums just need to make sure they playing up their particular advantages.
Timed entries and reduced crowds at some of the world’s busiest museums not only make them safe choices, but the experiences themselves will be more pleasant than ever. No more elbowing through crowds to see a Monet painting or a fossilized dinosaur skeleton. Visitors can feel more like humans engaging with the works instead of cattle being shoved through the halls.
Never before has it been so easy to enjoy – truly enjoy – a museum experience without having to strategize on how to beat the crowds. Museums need to capitalize on this over the summer, to attract visitors to cities who think staying outside is the safest bet. The same travelers who will go to a restaurant and take off their mask inside may balk at a socially distanced visit through a world-class art gallery. Make it clear that a museum visit, with masks on and crowds controlled, is an even safer bet, and they may change their minds.
Museums are touchstones
More than just safe and pleasant to visit, museums are also touchstones that travelers will be seeking after this past year. Sue the T-Rex in Chicago’s Field Museum and Starry Night in New York’s MOMA are common experiences that we all share. It may seem a reach to ascribe so much power to these objects, but they are touchstones of the tourism experience.
Call us nostalgic, but there’s something about connecting with these familiar faces again that is comforting. They bind us to the place and remind us that while many things have changed, so much hasn’t. They draw us closer to the very human condition that we fought so tirelessly to protect over the past year. Whether it’s a medieval tapestry or a modern acrylic, art is one of the most human things to experience, and we all need a little more humanity these days.
There’s a reason humans flock to the same tourist attractions around the world. We seek commonalities and references of who we are as a species, and museums supply this in ways that are recognized across all cultures and languages.
Museums are more than objects
As the summer heats up, museums need to put forward any and all experiences they are offering. With musical performances and beautiful gardens, restaurants and family events, museums are hubs of activity. Travelers need constant reminding that a trip to a museum isn’t just a walk through some paintings and sculptures. It can be so much more if they seek it.
For any museum with useable outdoor space – gardens or courtyards, for example – use these resources to your advantage. While the indoors may be safe, gatherings outside will still be more welcomed by visitors, especially families who want to bring their children face to face with culture without trapping them inside incessantly. We’ve had enough of that.
That said, when the summer truly heats up, museums have the added benefit of offering something else that weary travelers never shun – some quality AC!
Museums make us think
Museums have the power to advance a national dialogue – to keep us thinking about what’s important and where we must commit to change. Take the Speed Museum in Louisville, home of the original “Promise, Witness, Remembrance,” exhibition that was influenced by the life, and death, of Breonna Taylor. Guest Curator Allison Glenn (Associate Curator of Contemporary Art, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art) assembled a National Advisory Panel to help shape the exhibition that explores the dualities between a personal, local story and the nation’s reflection on the promise, witness, and remembrance of too many Black lives lost to gun violence. It seems implausible that someone could witness this exhibit and not be called to commit to change.
Museums are freedom
Spaces to learn. To explore. To be inspired. To feel humbled. To grow. Museums are all of that and more, even if we don’t realize it while we visit them. But now more than ever these qualities are needed, and no walk through a national park, no matter how gorgeous, can transform us like museums can.
Wendy Beckett, better known as Sister Wendy, hosted a popular TV series in the 1990s about art around the world. She said it best: “Museums, like theaters and libraries, are a means to freedom.”
As we await the day we are truly free from COVID, museums offer us a taste of it, an escape into the past, into an artist’s mind, into an inky blue starry night where giant golden orbs glow lightyears away and we can go to all of the places denied to us over the past year.
Seems like a tall order for some oil canvases and ancient rocks, but they are as important as restaurants and hotels in the traveler experience. If not more important. Any species can eat and sleep. Only humans can create art, preserve artefacts, and showcase it as we do, and that’s a message that no pandemic can erase.
Looking towards a summer full of visitors while rediscovering our very humanity again? Get in touch with DCI to discuss your museum’s strategy for this 2021 tourism season. It will be different, but at least it won’t be worse than 2020. Contact Karyl Leigh Barnes at [email protected] to start a conversation about your museum’s marketing goals.