Innovation Lab for Museums

Museums need to innovate in order to successfully navigate the rapidly changing landscape of the 21st Century. In order to encourage museums to experiment and take risks, we are partnering with EmcArts to offer Innovation Lab for Museums, made possible by the generous support of the MetLife Foundation.

Built on the long-standing success of the Innovation Lab model, designed and managed by EmcArts, Innovation Lab for Museums guides participants through a four stage process that takes place over 18 to 24 months. The Lab provides museums with facilitated support in researching, prototyping, evaluating and disseminating innovative responses to organizational challenges. As part of the program, each museum is awarded a $40,000 grant to help accelerate the prototyping of its project. The lessons learned by museums participation in the Lab will benefit the museum field as a whole, and pioneer the successful strategies of the future. 

Here are the current Lab projects, with descriptions:

Round 1

Levine Museum of the New South, Charlotte, N.C.: The Latino New South Project

The Latino New South Project will begin to construct a "learning network" that brings together history museums in the southeastern U.S. Long known for its white and black racial landscape, Charlotte, N.C., is now multiethnic and multicultural. Since 1990, the city‘s Latino population has increased from barely 1% of total population to over 11% in 2010. "Immigrant integration"―full and meaningful inclusion in community life―is a major nationwide challenge that is especially keen in the South. The Levine Museum will use its skilled staff, experienced board and active community partners to begin forging links with museums in Atlanta and Birmingham. The aim is for Latino communities to become full partners with museums in the work of community-building.

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco: Youth Arts: Present/Future

Youth Arts: Present/Future will establish a new approach and pathway for youth education, one which goes beyond merely making art to enable young people to become "creative thinkers" and "social changemakers." It will explore unique youth talents, or "superpowers," which allow artists to think creatively; a professional artist residency model for youth; a restructuring of the community service component in youth programs; integration of new technologies, gaming, and other inspirations from fields outside of the arts; fitting successful elements of adult engagement into youth programs; and kinesthetic exercises to enhance concentration. By dramatically rethinking its youth curriculum, YBCA seeks to establish itself as one of the most adventurous and experimental museum youth arts programs in the country, one which could be replicated, in whole or in part, by other institutions.

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City:Beyond Museum Quality

Shifts in popular culture challenge museums today to move from a position of "museum as expert" to one of "museum as learning partner." Art museums, in particular, are struggling with moving beyond bursts of participatory acts, to an institutional goal of engagement that values visitor participation as an essential part of the museum experience. The challenge is to create an overall experience that combines online and on-site engagement―that closes the loop when visitors communicate, and extends the conversation. The voice of the museum has traditionally been a singular one―that of the expert curator. For visitors to feel deeply connected to the institution, the Nelson-Atkins believes they need to see themselves here: in the voices of the non-expert enthusiast. The Museum's ambition is that its learning in this area will translate broadly to a field struggling with these issues.

Round 2

Madison Children's Museum, Wis.: KidShare: Collecting, Presenting and Preserving Children's Culture and Creativity

Madison Children's Museum has always been a museum built by, for, and about children. Unlike most children's museums, at MCM children are routinely and actively involved in all aspects of exhibit development: as researchers, designers, content experts, prototype testers, makers and occasionally builders. This commitment to featuring children as the authors of the museum content has produced deeply immersive learning opportunities and award‑winning exhibits and programs that resonate more powerfully with the museum's young audience. After all, who better to create exhibits that really work for children than children themselves? KidShare: Collecting, Presenting, and Preserving Children's Culture and Creativity will conduct local research by children and collecting their stories of culture in oral, written and graphic formats; present children's creative research and expressions to the general public; and preserve these primary source materials for future generations.

Mississippi Art Museum, Jackson: Unpacking Museum Membership: A new model for participation

The traditional model for translating individual museum participation to financial benefit is the membership program. With incentives like free admission year-­round, discounts in museum stores, and other perks, museums convince individual patrons that membership is a smart investment, in addition to providing members with the emotional added value of supporting a worthy institution. Around this concept of membership, the museum field has built software systems and staff organizational charts. This deeply ingrained system works well for traditional members, people who are 50+ years old and are seasoned museum‑goers. This model, however, does not sync with changing behaviors by museum participants, who are younger, more mobile and new to museums. Unpacking Museum Membership: A new model for participation will work with colleagues from other museums, the performing arts, and the community arts fields to test business models that will lead to a new model for financial participation in museums. The Museum will research existing models, from retail to on‑line and social media to other nonprofit work, models that could have applications for cultural nonprofits. The implications of such work could be sector‑wide, and have widespread applications in technology, market research, organizational structure, and public programming models.

National Trust for Historic Preservation, Washington, D.C.: Re-imagining the Historic House

Historic house museums constitute one of the largest segments of museums in the United States. Over the last decade, the National Trust for Historic Preservation convened two conferences on the stewardship and sustainability of these institutions. The recommendations from both conferences urged the National Trust to fully embrace its role as a leader in developing new models for house museums within its own collection of 29 historic sites. In late 2011, the National Trust adopted a new strategic plan and one of its primary goals is "Re-imagining Historic Sitesʺ that is to be implemented by ʺmoving the portfolio of Trust-owned sites to higher levels of programmatic quality, structural integrity, and financial sustainability."

Within this broader emphasis on historic sites, the "Re‑imagining Historic House Museumsʺ project seeks to innovate the house museum model at National Trust Historic Sites by developing experiences that are still about what is core in a museum―memory―but that engage the public in dynamic new ways, ensuring both the intellectual and financial sustainability of the entire site. ʺRe-imagining Historic House Museums" embodies a fundamental institutional shift for the National Trust. By abandoning traditional house museum precepts (static objects, contrived period rooms, guided tours), our objective is to create house museums that inform, illuminate, and inspire. The re‑imagined house museum will utilize architecture, collections and landscape to tell a broader range of stories that reflect the diversity of American history. It will anchor and guide new development and uses throughout the site.

Round 3

The Jane Addams Hull‐House Museum, Chicago: The Slow Museum Project

Museums and their visitors move too fast. In a climate of competing entertainment options and increased financial pressures, museums endeavor to maintain visitors’ interest with rapidly changing exhibitions, media and technology, participatory activities and cafes. These quick fixes may capture visitors’ fleeting attentions, but they also contribute to the larger problem of an overworked and over saturated society. The Slow Museum Project draws inspiration from the Slow Food movement to re‐envision the museum as a transgressive site of leisure, recreation, reflection and respite from the busyness of life. An exploratory program series that centers on visitor participation, the project seeks to slow down institutional processes and programs in order to create deeper learning and reflection, cultivate relationships across lines of difference, and increase the intrinsic value of museums. These efforts will ultimately result in a museum that is more sustainable and socially engaged. If it is true that leisure is the basis of culture, then a slower and more thoughtful approach to museum work may reveal the essence of cultural institutions. This project will occur at the Jane Addams Hull‐House Museum, an historic site that interprets the Hull‐House Settlement. Hull-House historically advocated for an expansive definition of citizenship and human rights that included, among other things, access to leisure and play as critical modes of learning, socialization and freedom.

Museum of International Folk Art, Santa Fe: Museum/Market Alliance Project

The Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe seeks to break new ground in how museums learn to collaborate with community partners by forming a strategic alliance with the other major folk arts organization in Santa Fe, the International Folk Art Market. Together, these two organizations bring hundreds of international folk artists, thousands of volunteers and over 125,000 invigorated and previously underserved visitors to the Museum’s front door each year. The Museum/Market Alliance Project seeks to harness the social entrepreneurial power of the marketplace with the educational authority of the museum to more effectively address the needs of changing audiences and artists alike. The project looks to establish an ongoing platform for artists to engage with the museum and each other about critical issues that affect their arts and their lives: how to pursue dignified and sustained livelihoods, preserve valuable yet endangered cultural traditions, increase local and global opportunities for exposure, education and advocacy, and connect more fully with each other, with the global marketplace, and with leaders engaged in positive social change through the power of the folk arts. The Museum/Market Alliance Project will share each institution’s recent successes to re‐envision a new combined role that more accurately addresses the changing place of arts organizations in the public sphere—as platforms for education, entertainment, advocacy and engagement all at the same time.

Oakland Museum of California: Exceptional Learning: Transcending the “Common” in Youth Education

In order to respond to the dramatically changing context of public education in California and the introduction of a new common curriculum, the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) will bring together staff, school administrators, and docents to redefine museum education practice. As California adopts the new common core curriculum in 2015, schools are seeking new resources that will address the same societal changes that museums are also adapting to, including demographic trends, the use of new technologies, and expectations of personalized learning. While steps have been taken to evolve OMCA’s educational program into a more inquiry‐based approach, many tours and workshops remain similar to what they have been for years. This project will evolve the program beyond the traditional field trip experience to include new resources, trainings, and learning experiences that blend classroom and home instruction in order to transform OMCA’s educational role from being simply a one‐time destination to one that serves as an innovative resource for youth education.