Museums in Western Europe are losing visitors as they are failing to attract Millennials. Britain’s leading museums and galleries have dramatically lost some 1.4 million visitors in 2016. The Louvre alone has seen visitor numbers decline by about 2 million in 2016, and the trend is similar among other French museums.
Why are these cultural institutions losing visitors? Is it just because people are afraid of terrorist attacks? According to the French City’s Tourism Observation Office the number of visitors to Paris dropped overall by 6% in 2016, while the Louvre lost close to 15% of it visitors.
If tourists are not visiting our museums, how can the residents be attracted? Which targets shall the museum address? The most important target group for marketers these days are Millennials. Who are Millennials? Everyone born between 1980 and 1995, with the highest purchasing power of all the generations.
Millennials are constantly online, engaging in discourse with others in their networks. 93% take their smartphones to bed with them, explains Dutch behavioral researcher, Tessa van Asselt. “They want to actively participate and not just listen” says van Asselt. They want to be given skills and knowledge, and share this with others. They are searching for experiences and adventures instead of for possessions and wish to be surprised as they search.
How can curators involve Millennials?
The digital revolution is disrupting our daily lives, can we still think about a traditional museum where visitors just go and passively look at a work of art? Used to interactive technologies, Millennials considers just admiring a painting or a sculpture as something terribly boring. They want to live an artistic experience. They want to be involved, to touch, to be part of the work of art and to share it on the social media. “Pics or it didn’t happen” is the mantra of the Instagram social media era. 700 million Instagram users post 40 million photos daily, about 8,500 likes and 1,000 comments are made per second.
Most curators have a profound artistic culture, they know everything about the artist, his works of art, his life, but they know very little on how to attract young people to museums. Young people want to be involved in an emotional experience, in as personalized a manner as possible, that they can share in their networks.
Curators should amplify visitor experience starting from a multisensorial approach. Museums are perceived as dark-serious-dull building where we go and passively admire canvas, let’s turn them into bright-exciting-joyful environments. People want to use all theirs senses when visiting an exhibition or a museum.
Let’s create an artistic experience with music, lights, fragrances, touchable items. Some brilliant curators have understood it and are starting to introduce these elements in their collections.
How to adopt a multisensorial approach in a museum ?
Mikail Piotrovski, Director of Hermitage, was the first to introduce the sense of smell in a traditional institution as the Hermitage. Piotrovski created an exhibition with an olfactory illustration of Caravaggio’s Lute Player canvas. He asked the famous “nose” Laura Tonatto, who has George Clooney and Queen Elizabeth II among her personal clients, to produce a personalize perfume for the Caravaggio painting. Thanks to Mikail Piotrovski’s brilliant idea and to the amazing work of Laura Tonatto the visitors could smell a fragrance of flowers and fruits that Caravaggio him selves was enjoying while painting this work of art. The lucky visitors who had the chance to live this experience could discover the art masterpiece through the sense of smell with an intense multisensorial experience.
People want to be part of the work of art itself. Artist like Yayoi Kusama, “the princess of polka dots”, perfectly understood the new generation need to live the artistic experience. Yayoi Kusama’s interactive Obliteration Room begins as an entirely white space, furnished as a monochrome living room, which people are then invited to “obliterate” with multi-coloured stickers.
Over the course of a few weeks, the room is transformed from a blank canvas into an explosion of colors, with thousands of spots stuck over every available surface. TateShots has produced a great time-lapse video of The Obliteration Room.
Music and sound should be part of the visiting experience.
Incredible but true, there are still museums with no audio guide. I recently visited the exhibition “LOVE: contemporary art meets love” in Rome by Danilo Eccher (currently at “Permanente” Milan until July 2017) and I was impressed by the innovative targeted audio guide: visitors could choose among 4 different proposals according to their characters, emotions, desires, and they were guided through the exhibition in a very involving experience.
This exhibition had a huge success in general and in particular successfully involved Millennials. Eccher was able to engage the Millennials in an interactive experience, where the public participated in the exhibition by writing on walls.
The younger audience obviously wanted to share “their artistic creation” and posted thousands of messages with the hashtag #chiostrolove. A different approach from the traditional “no icecream, no pictures, no phones and no talking” we find in most museums.
At the exhibition “Consider Take Me (I’m Yours)”, the Jewish Museum in New York visitors were invited to take home original works of art by more than 40 international and intergenerational artists and to “eat” work of art like fortune cookies by Ian Cheng and Rachel Rose, or placebo capsules from Carsten Höller‘s “Pill Clock”.
Moreover, on the final day of “Take Me (I’m Yours)” visitors could eat artist Daniel Spoerri’s “Eat Art Happening”, a skeleton made entirely of sugar paste. (I’ve spared you the picture).
The exhibition was a huge success and each morning before the museum opened, the show had to be restocked. Visitors were not only engaged in an interactive experience but they were part of the work of art possessing it, eating it, living an intense experience and sharing it on #TakeMeImYoursNYC
“The biggest deficit that we have in our society and in the world right now is an empathy deficit. We are in great need of people being able to stand in somebody else’s shoes and see the world through their eyes.” Barack Obama
The philosopher and writer Roman Krznaric brought this concept to life by creating the “Empathy Museum”. In this new concept “visitors” can experience and understand what it’s actually like to be another person.
The saying “Never judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes” literally inspired the first exhibition of the Empathy museum “A Mile in My Shoes” featuring a shoe shop, where you walk in and the shop assistants fits you with a pair of shoes belonging to someone from a completely different walk of life. You step outside and literally walk a mile in their shoes while being immersed in an audio narrative of their life.
The shoe shop includes the sky-high heels of drag queen Timberlina, the boots of a sewer worker, the skates of a Roller Derby champion and the dress-shoes of a Grand Master in chess. Every pair of shoes comes with extraordinary, moving, and surprising stories.
The Empathy Museum has also a Human Library, where instead of borrowing a book you borrow a person for conversation and you can find yourself discussing with a Quaker pacifist, a Syrian refugee or a Wall Street banker.
Forget all those dusty museums with exhibits behind glass cases: the Empathy Museum is launching a completely different concept of museum, making the visitor part of the exhibition itself.
Modern technology and art
Technology can, and should, bring enrichment to museums.
Millennials are born digital, technology is part of their life, they would feel much more comfortable finding digital supports in museum and exhibition than not finding them. So rather than not even having an audio guide, museums should consider offering a virtual reality experience next to the traditional visit.
Visitors could first admire the work of art, and then with a VR device directly experience the artist’s life in an empathic way. These experiences are the ones that can attract Millennials to museums (and not only them), engage them and take them to share images and videos within their community of friends in the social media.
Curators are usually very well prepared from the cultural point of view but they need to understand that just putting together a great collection is not enough to attract young people, they have to try “to walk in the shoes of Millennials” in order to involve them.
A new concept of interactive, multisensorial, digital and empathic art experience is the solution to convince Millennials to invest their most precious resource, their free time, in visiting a museum or an exhibition.