Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Great Good Place Book Discussion Part 1: Can Cultural Institutions Be Third Places?

This is the first installment of a book discussion about Ray Oldenburg’s book The Great Good Place. Every Tuesday in June, this blog will feature a guest post examining some aspect of the book. This is the only post written by me, Nina Simon. You can join the conversation in the blog comments, or on the Museum 2.0 Facebook discussion board here.

Like many museum and library professionals, I am enamored of the idea of cultural institutions as “third places” – public venues for informal, peaceable, social engagement outside of home or work. But now, after a careful read of Ray Oldenburg’s book in which he defines and describes third places, I am uncertain of whether it is possible for museums and libraries to be such venues.

The Great Good Place is a book that challenged many of my preconceptions about third places—what defines them, what makes them work, and how they function. Here are four surprising things Oldenburg describes about third places—characteristics I think would be quite difficult for cultural institutions to assume:

  1. The primary attraction of a third place is the patrons, not the d├ęcor, the hosts, or the activities provided by management. A good third place is one that you can walk into and be swept into lively conversation or unstructured revelry. The places themselves may be shabby; in fact; shabbiness encourages ease of participation. In contrast, museums are almost entirely focused encouraging visitors to observe and consume institutional presentations and performances. Most cultural institutions do little to promote direct engagement among visitors, except perhaps at late night parties, which are often seen as off-mission.
  2. The primary activity in third places is conversation among patrons. The talk is “more spirited, less inhibited, and more eagerly pursued” than in other settings. People make fun of each other and laugh loudly. While the talk may encompass serious topics, the attitude is light and the conversation is not structured or overly guided. In contrast, cultural institutions often implicitly discourage conversation, particularly loud and boisterous talk, and when conversation is encouraged it is often highly structured around a particular topic or program.
  3. The stewards of third places are regular patrons, not staff. Regulars play an essential function in managing the social life of third places. Unlike museum members, third place regulars are not focused solely on their own individual use of the institution, but rather see the venue as a starting point for social engagement with others. Regulars teach newcomers how to behave and reward other regulars with close friendship. Rather than the standard “bring your own friends” arrangement of most bars and clubs (and social museum experiences), third places invite individuals and strangers to engage. Strangers, not intact groups, form the tightest bonds in third places.
  4. Third places are defined by their accessibility. They are open long hours, and they are located within a short walk of home or the office (or preferably, both). Regulars may drop in multiple times a day. Visiting a third place does not require special dress, a particular goal, prearrangement with friends, or an extra outing. Third places rarely if ever present scheduled events. The ubiquitous “plan a visit” section of a museum website would be ridiculous and unnecessary for the sociable corner store or pub that patrons visit with little forethought.

I closed this book wondering: are cultural institutions really interested in being third places? I used to think museums and libraries should be third places, but this book opened my eyes to how far they are from being so. Museums are explicitly about something, and third places are about nothing in particular. Third places facilitate engagement among patrons, whereas museums and libraries deliver services to patrons.

The cultural service model is antithetical to the third place. Third places are more participatory and offer fewer basic amenities than most cultural institutions provide. By being humble, third places make people feel more comfortable as performers, jokesters, and coconspirators. There is no chance their play will be overshadowed by more attractive objects, more well-conceived speeches, or more literate docents.

On the other hand... it’s certainly possible for people to use museums or libraries as casually as they do taverns, playing around with the art or the exhibits or magazines instead of with pints. Making this happen requires some fundamental changes to cultural institutions. More informality. Longer hours. More seating. More acceptance and encouragement of noise. More cultivation of regulars not just as docents but as social directors. Less judgment of how people use their time. Less prettification of content. Less presentation of a point of view. Cultural institutions would both gain and lose by becoming true third places.

Are these tradeoffs desirable or worthwhile? What do you think?

23 comments, add yours!:

Amanda Eyer said...

Engagement is a worthwhile tradeoff because it keeps people coming back which is pivotal to cultural organizations. Organizations we feel connected to are also more likely to receive our donations. Though opportunities for engagement start on site, today there's plenty of opportunities to continue the conversation online with social media marketing and web sites that offer forums, video libraries and/or online learning programs where visitors can connect with other patrons.

Mike said...

For me a third place is all about conversation. Conversations help build relationships, trust, and a sense of belonging -- characteristics that are solely lacking in today’s societies. Any cultural institution that facilitates the flow of conversation has a great chance to be a third place. In this vein, the other characteristics you’ve identified are less important.

I like Amanda’s ideas of using on-line tools to build conversation. I think this would facilitate feelings of connection. What I wrestle with is can social media build strong ties between people? When I read Oldenburg’s analysis of third places, I think he’s largely talking about turning weak social ties into strong ties between people who live near each other. Am I misreading Oldenburg? Do the type of connections third places build matter?

James G. Leventhal said...

"off-mission"?...as usual, totally fascinated by your take on the field, and the timeliness of the questions you pose...it raises more questions for me than I can supply answers, as you challenge the current, stylish questions like this...makes me think of the recent installation at the Berkeley Art Museum BAMscape:

http://loveitallabove.blogspot.com/2010/02/emil-at-bamspace.html

not sure whether it "worked" or not and whether it was best as a kind of bright-orange-y study hall and whether on-campus is a whole different kind of museum with a whole different kind of desired audience?

Susie Wilkening said...

I, too, love the idea of museums and libraries as third places, and think many fall short of the mark. But I disagree with the thought that they cannot be third places.

Last week I visited a tiny, tiny historical society to do a MAP assessment. That historical society was definitely a third place. Not for the entire population, but for a small group of retired citizens who love local history, love making it accessible to others, and who have an ease and connection with the other "regulars" that make it, for them, a third place. It reminded me of the tiny historical society that I ran when I came out of school. Again, a third place for a small group of older volunteers who had the time and inclination to make it so. It is a pattern repeated by many tiny, local museums across the country. And likely among volunteer groups at larger museums as well.

And perhaps that is the thing that makes them third places. The cohesiveness of the volunteer groups who make them so.

Now for libraries again I beg to differ. Libraries are third places for many constituencies. While I may not regularly make it my third place (despite being in and out of there once or twice a week), it is a regular hangout for many teens, some parents of toddlers who choose it as a meeting spot/safe hangout, seniors, and, yes, some homeless people. It is also a place for remote workers to go for a change of scene (or to get away from the craziness of a home office, as my colleague, Sally, sometimes uses libraries for this purpose!).

In this case, not necessarily bound by volunteer ties, it is still a third place. I go in to my local library and see people interacting, socializing, studying, reading, researching, and hanging out. It is just . . . . different than a bar or coffee shop. But that does not make it any less of a third place.

And that is where I think Oldenberg's book falls short, as he seems to have a narrower definition of Third Place than I think actually exists.

Bodhibadger said...

I agree with Susie that Oldenberg may be writing, if not about Narnia, at least about Camelot--a place that only existed for a bright and shining moment (post WWII?)not something enduring we have lost. The nearest things I can think of to match what he describes exist in settings/communities that are already highly homogeneous (socio-economically, racially, politically. Often all-male enclaves.) Barber shops in small towns in New England, for example. Does it really count as "interacting with a stranger" when strangers are in the minority, and pre-selected to conform to the group?

And (I'm still early in the book so I might be getting this wrong) he seems to rule out places that pre-select by shared activities (like sports). Though come to think of it, bars preselect for the common activity of drinking...'

So, I am continuing to read with interest but skepticism. I half-suspect he is describing something he wishes existed. But museums may be no less (or more) able to fill the role than anything else in the real world...

RayE said...

The reasons why people go to third places are similar to why people join communities (face-to-face or online): a sense of boundary (I'm in, you're out); the sense that I matter (I have an opinion and my opinion counts); I get my needs fulfilled (whether it's information or advice); and I have an emotional connection with fellow participants. Don't those reasons make a successful third place?

Colleen Dilenschneider said...

Reading this post makes me think of the 70s and early 80s in New York City and all those stories about Andy Warhol or Jeff Koons mingling with folks in dive bars because the art scene was everybody's scene at that time (before things were considered only high-brow or low brow and folks realized the money to be made). These old dive bars in NYC sound like third places.

And if you think about it that way, it seems that museums are in a unique position to act like these dive bars in that they have the power to reconnect artsists, scientists, historians, etc.. with other people in an informal environment. That's an awesome opportunity for information-share and accessiblity that museums could capitalize upon! And like Amanda notes, good conversation and engagement keep people coming back.

The ability to gather high-profile professionals (related to the museum) and everyday visitors in one place and allow them to engage in informal dialogue is an opportunity that current third places may not have. I haven't read the book yet, however, so I am missing the tidbit of information on why it's better for museums to be third places than multipurpose enviroments able to incorporate many of the qualities that make third places great. :)

Aaron Goldblatt said...

There are two bars I go to often enough that my whiskey of choice arrives without my asking. The barkeeps and waitstaff and me know each other by name and we ask about each others' days and families. It makes me happy to have this kind of relationship with these places.

Many years ago, when I was an art student, I used to go to the art museum often enough that I developed a deep personal relationship with maybe two dozen pieces of art. Not one single person. Cezanne's Large Bathers was an intimate friend. Not one docent, guard, or administrator was near that status for me.

I'm pretty sure I would not want it any other way. I go to the bar for very different reasons than I went (and still go) to the art museum.

Wonder and awe may be incompatible with the Third Place ethos. That's not a bad thing. I am not a religious person, so the synagogue or church is not on my list of places I go to for sustenance. I sometimes get annoyed by other visitors to a museum who are too informal, too loud. On occassion, maybe at some special program, I am thrilled to find an intensly social experience in a museum, but often I want to be left alone with my small group (or truly alone) with stuff (defined widely) to take in as I can.

There is something to be said for real difference in experience of place in our communities.

Nina Simon said...

Wow. These comments are incredible. Thank you so much for your insights.

Susie, I agree that museums and libraries in particular can be successful third places. But reading Oldenburg's book, I realized that the definition I've been using of third space is quite relaxed compared to his highly specific one. So I guess I wonder how useful his book is as a source text for discussing cultural institutions as third places. The book made me think seriously about the kind of differences that Aaron articulates in his comment. But it also made me consider other sources--like William Whyte or the Project for Public Spaces--as potentially better starting points for considering what a cultural "third place" looks like.

In other words, while I found the book fascinating, I'm not sure I'd recommend it to a professional who wants to think about cultural institutions as informal social gathering places. I think I'd send them to Elaine Gurian instead.

Jonathan Katz said...

One aspect of "third places" is that it is not just about the people, as you say Oldenburg says. It is about the environment- the place- that gives a signal that it is open to you. There is no admission- whether by payment or by some sort of tacit acceptance. Also, third places can be very comfortable places to be by yourself- if you're shy or withdrawn, or a misanthrope, or simply feel like reading a book or daydreaming over a beer.
In terms of segregation by gender that may characterize third places- I see that those kinds of social patterns have become much more fluid-not that single gender groupings have gone away, but that there is far more acceptance of all sorts of combinations.

The basic issue is the insularity of museum culture. Museum folk want to embrace all aspects of society at large; rather society should embrace museums.

Why do should museums aspire to be "great good places'?

Thirds places are not about "engagement" or other attributes that are derivative in value. they exist because of what they are, not to gain donations, memberships, learning, etc. They are not utilities to enhance the institution.

I have to look it up, but I recall that "the great good place" is a literary allusion to a Henry James story (or somebody like that) about a dream state where you work everything out- then you wake up.

Robert C said...

I concur with other comments on Mr. Oldenburg’s too tightly defining or perhaps waxing nostalgic for an idealized Floyd’s Barbershop in Mayberry. I was particularly intrigued as someone who spends a good bit of time in coffee houses in what I perceive as a third space – in reading The Great Good Place. I noted that in the three places I spent reading Part 1, none contained evidence of the defining elements of Oldenburg’s Third Spaces. Virtually no conversation, everyone looking down at laptop’s or books. Is the 1996 Second Edition was just too dated? Oldenburg is pretty clear – if it doesn’t match his criteria, it’s not a third place.
Re museums, one aspect I found of interest is the third place as a neutral ground. Whereas Oldenburg’s third places give me an image of good old boy and good old girl clubs and demographics suggest museums draw disproportionately white visitors, third places can be great levelers of interaction. I thought about in the past around social service gigs such as Habitat for Humanity and when out of country on medical missions. Then, I could look around the room/site of 30 people from the same city as I lived and recognized that the only reason I was interacting with any of these people was our common interest in the mission trip or build. I always enjoy this aspect of building relationship and community.
I see the same opportunity in Museums whether around themed special events or volunteer days. For the latter, we typically have 15 folks show up for 4 hours one Saturday a month to help process prehistoric artifacts. I find that folks are generally pretty happy to sit at their end of the table and interact with either no one or perhaps the friend or relation they came with. However, if the museum staff attempt to have folks engage (e.g., call attention to a particular artifact someone is sorting, a cool thing, someone’s area of expertise), they will do so, and set the tone for interaction for the rest of the session. The engagement goes beyond simple pragmatics of getting volunteer stuff done, but also our mission of education viewed broadly. Ditto our “family day” events. If we take the lead in seeing that the participant families interact and not simply go through the process as a nuclear unit, the result goes in the direction of some of Oldenburg’s third place. Seems a difference is that Oldenburg’s third place is the organic result of an interaction over time whereas in the museum, we need to “jump start” the interaction. I am curious if we do the jump starting, can museums begin to approach the third place.
A friend up in Ohio is director of a prehistoric Native American site/museum. They have monthly “flute circles” where the Native American community comes to lead in the playing, others come and play or listen, and everyone sits around and eats food and such. The event has become a major community social activity for the Native American community in the region and a focal point for the interested non-Native community

Here is the line I enjoyed most from the book:

"If we valued fraternity as much as independence, and democracy as much as free enterprise, our zoning codes would not enforce the social isolation that plagues our modern neighborhoods, but would require some form of public gathering place every block or two." – p. 23.

Nina Simon said...

Hi Robert,
Your comments about the coffeeshop make me think about a part in the last chapter (p 287 in my second edition paperback) where Oldenburg states: "For most people, work is no longer drudgery." He goes on to talk about how the "spheres of productive activity are reasonably well arranged, but those of community and family life are terribly deranged." It does seem that most of the new third places in America (like coffeeshops) are more about creating comfortable extensions or alternatives to the traditional workplace. I'm not sure we have the comparable coffeeshop that comfortably extends social/home life (for most people).

One of the parts that struck me as most foreign was his discussion of dinner parties and how planned, how intrusive, and how time-intensive they are. I don't feel that way at all. I think our culture (or maybe that of me and my friends) has come to really value time in a way that makes us seek "quality time" with people we like and be uncomfortable with the kind of unstructured social experiences he describes in third places. I wonder if applying phrases like "opportunity cost" to social activity selections is a new phenomenon.

That said, I spend hours every week (sometimes 15 or more) playing volleyball on the beach with a group of friendly acquaintances in a social scene that I would describe as very in line with the third place vocabulary. We happen to be organized around an activity, which disqualifies our courts in Oldenburg's eyes. But the social experience of the beach--making fun of each other, loose ties peppered with deeper relationships, a band of individual regulars for the most part--is very third place-ish. But I wouldn't engage in an unstructured venue the way I happily do it while playing games. The "third thing" of the volleyball is what glues together our social experience.

Alex Bowles said...

"More acceptance and encouragement of noise."

Oh, god forbid. Our lives are saturated with noise, literal and figurative–especially in large cities, where major museums and galleries typically exist.

Great work - almost by definition - is that which prompts and sustains the kind of relationships that Aaron describes above. Facilitating these relationships is the sine qua non of museum work. A mandate like can lead to many things, but surly, "more noise" cannot be one of them.

Interesting post, though. It strongly suggests that the vital elements of a great bar are anathema to museums, and vice versa.

Dan Spock said...

Reading this I was reminded of how cafe society was created in the first place -- Parisian homes that were cramped, dirty and cold, the cafe became a hang out where, for the price of a cup of coffee, you could entertain friends, read, work, and usually be found by anyone looking for you. I remember going to the Exploratorium once and seeing a guy skateboarding inside with a couple of dogs off-leash. I envied the informality of the place and wonder now if they will sustain this vibe with their new space. I think some museums have been able to cultivate this "third place" character as defined here, but maybe this character has to be somewhat organic, rooted in the original ethos of the place or its habitues. If you look at how these third places emerge, it usually seems quite arbitrary; some will endure for generations, while others will be good for only a little while.

Years ago I was on a panel of artists who were reviewing a planned federal courthouse to be constructed adjacent to a Boston warehouse district full of artist lofts. A well-intentioned judge (now Supreme Court justice Breyer) kept talking about how he wanted the new courthouse to feel welcoming to the art community, how it could be a place to hang out and "watch old movies". We were all skeptical that it would work out. For one thing, the courthouse cafe had to be behind a security barrier. And, yes, most of us hung out at a nearby dive when we weren't working. Now that it's built, artists don't hang out at the courthouse.

I think about our own museum cafe. It's outside of the fee barrier. There are "regulars" -- a mix of government workers, politicians and lobbyists from the state capitol up the street, museum staff, people who patronize the research library. It gets raucous when it's crowded, but not in a drunken way. Lunchtime is when the scene is happening, not after work. The decor is nice, not really funky at all. But it works.

Bee said...

I don't think that Ray Oldenburg was talking about places that don't exist...third places do exist in other countries far more than in the US...but I do agree that in the US we have developed a wider range of places that serve this convening function than Oldenburg acknowledges...the volleyball comment reminded me of the world of ultimate frisbee and the power of the convening of people in that context--and there are many other examples...

I do also think that many museums already serve this 3rd place function as Susie also notes...these museums are most often third places for their super users, members or regulars, who come back time and again, and what they do at the museum rarely meets the specfic educational goals offered by the museum...the draw is often conversation with each other, or an activity that they can do in the museum but not at home or work...I talked to a couple in a major art museum in NYC who had come to a workshop in the museum, not to see the art, but to be creative in a non-judgemental, non-work environment...I also think people who are habitual users of museums may appropriate and use the museum space in ways that go way beyond learning...I remember a mother, son and grandfather who went to an outdoor living history museum each week, and they had hidden a coin on a fence post...they went each week to check on it...it was their way of taking some ownership of the museum, and served as a center piece of repeated visits that also eased family tensions by creating a place away from home where less-charged interactions could happen...Lois Silverman talks about this kind of self-healing activities that can take place in museums...
In fact, many frequent users of museums fill museum visits with activities, and interactions that go way beyond what museums may have intended...and its in that territory that I find museums are third places...
However, that being said there are many barriers to museums as true third places...they aren't free, they aren't always easy to access, and until one feels comfortable being in the museum, many of the non-museum activities that might be accomplished there aren't necessarily apparent...

But, I'm not troubled so much by the idea that when using these spaces people are doing things unconnected to mission as currently conceived by many museums...people are doing these "off-mission" things anyway...we can work with them and facilitate their activities and maybe find a deeper mission...

bethany said...

Being only partially through the book, I can already agree with the assessment that it would be an extraordinary and non-traditional museum indeed that fit the stringent definition of a third place. I have never heard of such a museum.

Libraries, on the other hand, can most certainly be third places. My experience has primarily been in college libraries - it tends to be the campus meeting spot, and I've witnessed many students approaching each other in unsolicited conversation. It's a convenient way to make friends with people you wouldn't dare approach during class itself. Of course, it's not always a perfect match to Oldenburg's description of a place policed by its own patrons (can any public, probably tax-funded environment containing expensive artifacts, computers or books truly say this?), or a place of consistent bonding with total strangers (which isn't the case even in his buddy bar vision, lots of people will come with previous friends and merge groups), but I think college libraries have much more in common with the third place than museums do.

Perhaps a large contributor to this institutional divide is that museums often charge admission - and people often assume that they do even when the museum is free - and libraries do not. Though some people might pay for the privilege of their third place in the form of an annual membership, that puts museums on the level of country clubs, those old-fashioned men's clubs, and other places that violate Oldenburg's claim that true third places aren't exclusionary.

Rachel said...

I think that the key to making museums third places is making admission free. In my personal experience, living near free museums such as the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Smithsonian museums has led me to treat them as places to go on a whim and hang out. I now know those places very intimately, and almost think of them as second homes. When I lived in Boston I was a member of the Museum of Fine Arts, and this led to the same effect; I was able to stop by whenever, and as a result I developed an intimate relationship with the place as a second home and with the artwork it contains.

C said...

When I think of great Third Places I think about our local farmer's market. Ours is only open for four hours but it is a fun place to connect with friends, make new friends, get great food and support our local farmers. It also inspires me to grow my own food.Now I wonder...can museums adopt this model? Could they hold a "museum market" held once a week where locals can come and sell their art (music, books, art etc...) and friends and family could come to support them and also be inspired to become artists themselves? Are there museums already doing this on a regular basis?

Miko said...

are cultural institutions really interested in being third places

I think of the four impediments you name, this is the one on which the "third place" dream dies. Let's be honest - with a few exceptions, most museums are not interested in being third places. I believe we could attract the self-directed activites of passionately supportive regular patrons and achieve the first three conditions over time - but in order to do so, we'd have to change the infrastructure. Almost all of our institutions still operate on a dated model of being open during weekday working hours and closed during the evenings. Weekends are the only time we make ourselves available to the kinds of people whose weekdays are busy and who are looking for relaxing social interaction to provide a counterpoint. But because weekends are so short, we rarely rise to the level of "must do" in the lives of busy people. Museums become an exceptional experience rather than an integrated experience that can be a casual part of daily life.

participating in Slow Art this year made our museum momentarily feel like a third place. Sustaining that kind of interaction, though, would require a few things: regular staff presence on weekends, regular evening hours, lower barriers to entry, design that encourages more social experience, and good food and drink. It would mean transforming our traditional ideas of what a museum IS, expanding serivices and costs dramatically, but it could be done if it's a vision we feel is important to the future of museums.

Mary Warner said...

I'm so very glad you wrote about what I was feeling in regards to the book, Nina. Oldenburg's definition is much too tight, not only for museums, but for other places that have some, but not all of the qualities he desires. I work in a museum that is free to the public, but the location, while a naturally gorgeous setting, is not near the action of downtown. Our local library, in contrast, is smack in the middle of things.

Oldenburg has this classification of Home as first place, Work as 2nd place, and then this ideal 3rd place. What of all the other places? How might they be classified? Certainly many of them meet some of Oldenburg's 3rd place characteristics. As strange as it seems, our local Wal-Mart and Coborn's grocery store are great places to bump into acquaintances for conversation. School events in small towns serve the same purpose.

While we may not have perfect third places in Oldenburg's definition, we certainly find places where we can meet some of those needs. Museums are part of that.

Chris Castle said...

I seem to be in the minority but I read this book with an eye to how museums and other cultural institutions could become third places. Oldenburg specifically _excludes_ museums:

"The warmth of the little pubs and their no-delay service stand in pleasant contrast to the waiting, formality, boredom, and frustration evoked by city offices, museums, churches, concert halls, airline terminals, and retail stores. Not far from the likes of these may usually be found a pub into which one, given the least interlude of freedom, may "bolt" and therein soothe the irritation of urban chafing with an interval of pure felicity." (my copy, p. 126)

I agree that little community museums might actually be able to accomplish this - far away from the size & bureaucracy of the big sites - and, like Susie, my local library has a definite Starbucks vibe going on. But the characteristics as described by Nina above seem to elude larger institutions.

Ever notice that there is ALWAYS a third place in TV sitcoms? Generally a bar or a coffee shop. Think "Cafe Nervosa" or "Cheers" or the bar in "How I Met Your Mother." And then think about how museums are portrayed in the same media.

Ellen said...

The National Theatre in London does this really well. They've got 3 performance spaces, but then also several cafes, free music performances in the lobby, a bookstore, an outdoor patio/performance area/sculpture exhibit. They've also got a fantastic website with online tours, etc. http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/40631/online-tour/online-tour.html where you can see some of the community hanging about.

They've been able to create a dynamic, community-oriented space that offers people free and paid events and a place to just hang out. I would think quite a lot of their ideas could translate to museums.

Erin B said...

Museum as a third place is an interesting idea. While Oldenburg excludes them from the realm of third places, I find that many cultural institutions and small museum are able to act in many ways as thirds places. While tradeoffs are inevitable, finding a place where you can become a "regular" is a challenge. Coming from a customer service background I strive everyday to learn about my customers and encourage my team to get to know the customer. Could museum not place more emphasis on getting to know the constituency?

Also I was thinking about the idea of unscheduled programs. I feel very strongly that this could be very successful in museums. The idea of a "flash mob" seems like an easy program for a museum to adopt. For example in Grand Rapids, MI there was a Facebook phenomenon that hit the city. One man by the name of Rob Bliss invited 100 friends on Facebook to join him in a pillow fight in a local park. This turned from 100 friends to 2500 RSVP's and even more people attending. His only method of communication was Facebook, which was then picked up by many local marketing groups and spread like wildfire by word of mouth. Friends of mine, who never participate in community events and groan at the idea of going to a museum with me, were dancing in anticipation about the pillow fight. What if a museum hosted something like this in their parking lot? Or the park just down the road and used their marketing talent to make it successful?

Other ideas could be sidewalk chalk flood, soup kitchens for the locals who are down on their luck, or even just keeping events secret and using a strong marketing approach to announce the event. Would this keep things exciting within a museum, build an audience around the idea of flash events? Bring the some age groups that rarely attend museums events?

Lastly, I have often thought of transparency within museum was an opportunity. I have attended many museums in various states and never have I ever seen anyone other than the admissions person. I feel that if the behind the scene staff creates a program, without a set schedule, that to a point forces the staff in the back to meet one new visitor a week. How would that change that visitor’s experience? Would they leave feeling as if they have just made a new friend? How would the word of mouth communication about the museum grow from this program? If that person leaves and tells just one friend that they interacted with the chief curator in “x” exhibit, would their friend come to the gallery in hopes of meeting this elusive curator?