Museum Studies at Tufts University

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The Things I’ve Learned During a Year of Membership

Today’s post comes to you from Gina Parente, graduate of the Tufts Museum Education Masters Program and Membership Manager at the New England Aquarium.

The Things I’ve Learned During a Year of Membership

After spending six years in the Education Department of the New England Aquarium, it was time for a change. Luckily for me, I didn’t have to go far as a position had opened in the Membership Department that fit my skill set perfectly. Starting in March 2016, I became the new Membership Manager. However, I had never worked in membership! I had a lot to learn but had a lot to offer to my new department. Here are some of my observations from the past year that I think will be helpful to anyone working in an institution with a membership program.

Give members access to build trust – This idea is important in all our institutions whether they are science-, art- or history-based. Recently we received results from our quarterly visitor surveys conducted by our partners at The Morey Group. They found that millennials, visitors aged 18 – 32, need to have trust in an institution before they support it. For zoos and aquaria, this is even more important. This is an active group of supporters that want to change the world, make a difference and build a community even more than the generations before them. They were raised by parents in the baby boomer generation who taught them to question everything, including the ethics of an institution. For our member base, this means seeing where the food for our animals is prepared, meet and greets with aquarists responsible for the daily care of our exhibits, and access to information not shared with the public which we incorporate into all our events.

Membership isn’t always about the discounts – With over 21,000 member households, we have a diverse member base all over the world. We also have a number of members that have been with us since we opened in 1969. Our Charter members rarely visit but continue to support our mission from afar. It’s important to have these mission-based members, new or old. They are like-minded individuals who are informed on the issues that face our oceans and support the work that we do every day both at the Aquarium and in the field.

Sometimes it is about the money – We also have members that enjoy the fact that our membership pays for itself in about two visits or that they can skip the line during a busy school vacation week. These are great people to have as well. This group keeps us honest in the price we charge and the benefits we offer. For most of 2016, we worked with Keene Independent to survey our members about our current membership program. Many felt it was a great value but would pay a little bit more for more access to the Aquarium staff, fun events, and better parking rates. We listened and will be unveiling our new membership structure starting April 3rd. We tried to include everything that members felt made their membership a good value.  Except for the parking – that’s another blog post entirely.

Adults need their time – The Aquarium is a popular family-friendly attraction in New England. However, the popular trend in zoos, aquaria, and children’s museums has been to give adults time in the building without kids. Throw in some food, a cash bar and you have a great event! We have increased our retention rate by adding a number of adult-only events to our annual offerings. Again, this is a great way to add value, build trust through access, and educate your member base without it always being about the kids.

Members are our best ambassadors and advocates – Members have chosen to support YOU with additional visits and their money. They feel invested with your institution and freely share their experience with others. They are a group that can easily mobilize around an issue and provide honest feedback. In past years, our member base has helped to encourage their children’s schools to book outreach programs in the off-peak season, support the need for marine protected areas off our coastline, and lend their voice for the need for smart waterfront planning in Boston.

No matter what department you work in at your institution, you are sure to come in contact with members. Make sure to thank them for their continued support. It goes a long way.

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New April Calendar!

Looking for something educational, fun, and festive to do this month or during school vacation week? Events for April 2017 have been added to our calendar! Check them out to see what’s being offered at museums in the Greater Boston area for families, kids, and adults!

If you have events you would like to see posted on our monthly events calendar, please contact us here.

Meeting the Standard: The High Stakes of Shifting Practice

Today’s post comes to you from Sally Meyer, current Tufts Museum Studies and History M. A. candidate. To read her other work for the blog, click here.

Education in the United States has become more than the imparting of knowledge onto the country’s young people. In a more globally connected world, school quality and performance has become a national and international issue. Testing to evaluate students’ progress has been a large part of this process, and as a result, a large part of how schools receive funding and support in the most recent decades. The high stakes students and teachers face have created tensions across the educational system. It also presents a difficult question for museum educators to grapple with: where do we fit in?

The first step for museums is to recognize that this barrier exists. Teachers often have a quick response to a new field trip proposal: there is not enough time or money. Some teachers however, believe that “standardized tests and Common Core Standards…are actually the largest constraints.” Often field trips or school programs can only happen after the stress of these exams have passed. Many museums understand this landscape and recognize that to many teachers, field trips are a luxury or a fun outing. Yet while teachers call for reform of testing, museums largely do little to debate the format of the required exams. Instead, many museums have tried to stay relevant by fitting themselves to the mold that the national and state standards present. However, the museums that do not follow this path have found phenomenal success. Museums and cultural institutions that push from the outside and work to prove the validity of what they can best provide that schools cannot are largely more successful and farther ahead of the curve.

To achieve the goal of staying relevant and helpful in the age of increased accountability and standardized testing, museums must be leaders in the field of informal education research. One example is the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, which has worked hard to foster a program that moves with students through their entire high school career. The Gardner has used a basis of theory as well as extensive research to determine what skills their students acquire by coming to the museum and working with the museum educators. The Institute of Contemporary Art’s (ICA) Teen Program is another example of a highly successful program that has become an integral part of the museum’s framework. The teens involved in the program lead tours, make video art, do photography, learn slam poetry, and participate in a wide variety of other subjects. This program is giving teens a place to go after school that provides emotional support as well as supplements the lack in arts education in public schools. The program serves about 8,000 urban youths annually, at little to no cost for the students, and has won numerous awards for its success in fostering future artists, museum visitors, and engaged citizens.

We say over and over that the system must change, the tests must change, and expectations must change before we can have the biggest impact. The status quo however, is a difficult thing to break. Museums cannot just sit idly by waiting for the standards to shift in our favor or the testing format to reflect what children learn in our spaces. Instead, museum educators must become societal and political advocates for change in the American education system, sticking up for students, parents, teachers, and themselves if they hope to make any meaningful or lasting change. Also essential in encouraging change in the system is for museum educators to get involved in the community. Learning about school board meetings and attending them to be knowledgeable enough to speak up could create a shift in thinking. While the future for students, teachers, and museums looks bright, museums that choose to engage in K-12 programming moving forward must continue to keep their eye on their strengths and work to support and advocate for schools, teachers, and students within these frameworks.

Weekly Jobs Roundup

Here’s our weekly roundup of new jobs. Happy hunting!

New England 

Mid-Atlantic

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West

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