There have been many articles lately about the financial plight of the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.
It's an incredible place ---- palace, really --- in what was the City's main library, in the Civic Center, right down from our school. The permanent collection may be unequalled in quality in the United States. Shows and exhibitions have included "The Dragon's Gift: the Sacred Arts of Bhutan" and "Emerald Cities: Arts of Siam and Burma".
So why are they in hot water?
This is a good example of a genuine marketing problem to be solved. What would you do to help the Asian Art Museum increase visits, increase memberships, and perhaps increase donations? It's certainly a worthy cause.
To start, we'd obviously have to do some digging and researching. We need to know where we're going, how to get there, and what to expect once we're there.
I've had a great deal of experience with museums, including the monumental Detroit Institute of Art, the University of California/Berkeley Art Museum, and the second largest museum in America, the 200-acre Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village. I've also been invited to speak and teach at the Museum Management Institute, sponsored each summer by the Getty Institute. Here are some insights that could be helpful:
First, visits to museums are endlessly deferrable. It's either too hot, too cold, too rainy, too humid, or too beautiful out, and the museum will always be here. We need to fix the garage, go to the store, water the lawn, cut the grass, paint that room, take a nap, or go to a ballgame on a day like this. And the museum will always be here. The word "museum" even sounds stuffy. Even miniature golf is more fun. So is shopping! Then there's always the "we've been there" plea and its educational variation, "the kids go there with their class".
My experience tells me there's something else going on with the Asian. I think it's a matter of interpretation. Most of us don't know a thing about Asian art. We don't know what we're looking at, or looking for. We don't know good from bad, or fantastic from the ordinary. A dragon's a dragon. We know who Michelangelo is, and that Van Gogh cut off his ear, but what did Drukpa Kunley do?
I know it sounds naive to say all this, but it's key. We're ignorant on the subject of Asian Art, so why should we spend hours looking at things we don't understand and appreciate? It's not just advertising the museum needs; it's education that we need.
If this insight is true, we can design programs and materials that overcome the problem, and ads that transcend it.
When you're in advertising and marketing, you have to take a conceptual leap sometimes, and go beyond beautiful visuals and clever words. You have to question everything until you see the real problem and how to solve it.
Even if your problem turns out to be Drukpa Kunley.