What does engagement mean for museums?

September, 13, 2016
Communicating the museum conference

Cultural institutions today have to face major shifts in visitor expectations, technologies, education and funding. They are rethinking their models to offer greater interactivity and becoming more active in the way they engage with audiences, staff and partners.

Organizations are stepping out of their comfort zone. They are setting the rules aside to engage visitors both on site and online, turning friends and sponsors into advocates and getting local communities involved to create meaningful engagement.

Engagement is now at the core of many departments in cultural institutions. This shift can be found in the digital strategy and educational activities but also in the way institutions are more open to interdisciplinary and inter-institution collaborations.

“Engagement offers many opportunities and encourages necessary experimentation” says Adam Reed Rozan, Director of Audience Engagement at the Worcester Art Museum.

Engagement icons

But why is engagement so crucial for museums? Why is it so important for them to invest time and effort to build profound connections with the general public?

Corinne Estrada, CEO and founder of cultural communications agency Agenda (link and of the Communicating the Museum conference explains. “More than ever, museums have the desire to be socially relevant in a changing cultural field. The misconception that museums are spaces reserved to the intellectual elite is jeopardizing their existence and must be overturned. The key to their survival is to engage with audiences on a personal level and to always deliver a high-quality visitor experience. This often translates into increasing levels of customization and personalization.”

Cultural engagement is a global trend. Non-profit organisations see the benefits in developing more personal relationships with their visitors. Adam Reed Rozan suggests; “Museums deal with a multitude of unique challenges today, from stewarding valuable cultural objects, to maintaining relevance within their communities to ensuring their financial security. With resources scarce, they depend on museum-appreciating visitors more than ever before.” So it seems museums have to develop friendly communication strategies and excel in providing high class entertaining services to satisfy today’s museum visitors.

However, museums must think very carefully about the way they wish to attract and intrigue their audiences. The risk of purely focusing on trendy communications and client satisfaction is that cultural content can be forgotten and undervalued. To master the art of social relevance, museums have to find the balance between entertainment, participation and education. Real engagement is only socially significant once a two-way dialogue is established between the museum and its audience, triggering an exchange of ideas with a social and cultural impact.

To learn more about engagement in the cultural field, join Corinne, Adam and 250 international experts at Communicating the Museum in Quebec City, 15-17 November 2016. www.communicatingthemuseum.com/quebec