Even museums are now offering over-the-top amenities


It used to be that art was enough to lure people to the museum, but no more. All over the country, museums are offering elaborate amenities in hopes of evolving from “boxy buildings that just store and exhibit cultural objects” into community gathering spaces.

“To part of the population, the word ‘museum’ says boring to people,” said Susan Wilkening, president of the Boston-based museum consulting firm Reach Advisors. Last year her firm conducted a study that found *gasp* a whopping 60 percent of people were ambivalent about museums and only a third of the population reported only visiting one once a year. To remedy these findings, museums are now trying to be more consumer oriented and come up with ways to make the museum-going experience more customized.

Mark Walhimer, president of the San Francisco consultancy Museum Planning, whose book “The Museum Customer Experience” (yes, that really exists!) will be published next year, explains, “Our expectations of going to museums increasingly are like our expectations when going into a Starbucks: We want things to be tailored to our individual likes and interests. We want to be greeted, ‘Hello, Mark, how’s your morning?’”

Such remedies include: upgraded eateries offering higher-end food, electric “shuttlecarts” to allow exhausted visitors greater ease in getting around the space and through exhibits and free pedi-cab service to shuttle guests to and from the location. In addition many organizations are creating specialized tours catered to specific groups, such as “Stroller Tours”, gaming events, arts and crafts and tours for seniors and disabled. Some museums are even offering yoga in the galleries for those who prefer to look at their modern art in the downward dog position and gaze upon sculptures from the child’s pose. Others are even renovating their entrances and have building expansion plans.

Walhimer hopes that these cultural sites will be “more like libraries, where you go regularly and not just for events. Go for the yoga, come back for the exhibit.”

And while bending and stretching may now be acceptable in some institutions hoping to attract a larger range of people, they need to be sure not to become too accommodating.

Marcy Goodman, a museum-planning consultant in La Crescenta, Calif., told the Observer about some visitors who got a little too at one with the art (and each other), “Some years back, an art museum in Oregon hosted an all-you-can-drink event in a gallery where, among other things, some people ended up having sex on a Henry Moore sculpture.” [Observer]