By Alexa Beaman
In preparing to present as a part of the panel “Defining Leadership Across Generational Divides” at the Western Museums Association 2015 Annual Meeting, I reflected on moderator James Burns’ question of how established leaders can work together with emerging leaders to build a stronger profession and stronger institutions. And with that I also thought, how could I provide insight (given the difference in age and experience between my fellow presenters and myself) that would add to the conversation and be helpful to the wider museum field.
One key idea came to mind.
Leaders of today’s museums need to innovate to ensure their museums’ remain relevant. Emerging leaders are crucial to creating new museum experiences that captivate today’s audiences.
We all know museums have struggled to draw younger audiences, which in the coming decades will not only affect overall visitor turnout but also the crucial donor base. Numerous discussions, panels, and retreats have taken place amongst museum professionals across the world to try and mediate this issue. But as an industry we still rent out cassette players, avoid risk at all cost, and look exclusively at our patrons who will be attending no matter what (rather than those we need to attract).
We also know that public funding allotted to museum programming has declined in recent years, and thus the competition amongst nonprofits to obtain grants and patron donations has increased. Museums struggle to find the time and funding to measure how visitors interact with their programming and they must provide proof of impact to show funders their pertinence. Existing leaders need to look to data to figure out if museum offerings align with their mission and emerging leaders, through their knowledge and use of technology, can collect and present that data in a meaningful way.
As an emerging leader, a millennial, and someone with a lifelong love of museums, my goal is to spread that passion to the next generation of museum-goers. As the Director of Experience at Guidekick, I work with a team where our goal is to bring a seamless and compelling visitor experience to the world’s top museums. We help museums in fulfilling their missions by showing how visitors interact with the museum and its content with the goal to improve overall visitor experience. We collaborate with many brilliant and veteran leaders in the industry to change the face of how museum visitors learn and explore. My aim is to bring the stories, interpretation, and knowledge that we all love to visitors in a modern and accessible form.
I have incorporated what I’ve learned from museum veterans and applied it to my work in order to create a more engaging museum. If veteran leaders are able to do the reverse, a kind of cross-generational exchange so to speak, and build upon their knowledge by incorporating the ideas of emerging professionals, museums will be able to thrive as relevant and captivating cultural organizations.
We’ll discuss this question as well as the art of “managing-up.” I want to gain insight through the exchange between my fellow presenters and myself, and our audience members. My hope is that the conversation extends beyond the 2015 Annual Meeting and spreads throughout the field so that we are all involved in creating sustainable and effective organizations.
See you at the Annual Meeting.
Alexa Beaman is the Director of Experience at Guidekick, a mobile app company that creates 3D maps, analytics, indoor positioning, and content for museums. She has held positions at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Earprint Productions, Museum Management Consultants, and The Walt Disney Family Museum. She has a Master's in Museum Studies from the University of San Francisco and the Founding President of the Museum Studies Graduate Association.