Museum Studies at Tufts University

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Membership Models for the Modern Museum

For visitors seeking immersive exhibitions or riveting programming, memberships may seem to be the least exciting offerings at museums. That’s no surprise—without exhibits or programs, memberships would have little value to museum visitors. Internally, however, memberships can be one of the most integral components to a museum’s operations, and the structure of these programs can reveal the institutional priorities and value with which museums hold their members.

For museums with an established membership base, memberships can be a critical source of operating funds. Members are, after all, repeat donors. Other fundraising efforts often produce restricted funds that can only be used for specific projects (often exhibitions, programming, or DEAI), whereas unrestricted revenue allows museum leadership to apply the funds to other underfunded initiatives such as staffing or facilities maintenance. This study by Colleen Dilen shows just how large an impact members have. Many members are unaware that their support allows their museum to keep the lights on, so it is important that museums express their gratitude to their members.

Valuable benefits are critical to a sustainable membership program.

While acknowledgement letters and other expressions of appreciation are important means of recognizing members for their contributions, studies have shown that members feel more fulfilled by meaningful benefits such as museum shop discounts, complimentary admission, and members-only programming. These deliverables can come at a cost to museum operations, showing that membership programs are not just another method of donor cultivation, but a more involved investment into key community relationships. Many museums struggle to fund staffing positions that can dedicate sufficient time to membership, meaning these programs should be integrated into feasibility studies and strategic plans to ensure the development of a sustainable program.

The ideal membership program has options for both guests seeking affordable experiences and patrons seeking philanthropic opportunities. An interesting study by Audesh Paswan and Lisa Troy examines the many motivations of members, and museums must cater their levels to match these interests. Membership levels that are too expensive may alienate a significant portion of a museum’s audience, while too many low-cost options may not attract higher-level donors. Museums struggling to produce meaningful benefits should look into reciprocal programs, such as the North American Reciprocal Museum Association, that allow members to enjoy the benefits of museum membership beyond the walls of their host institution.

With the purchase of an admission ticket, Museum of Us visitors may seek complimentary membership for one year.

Many museums are experimenting with new models that may shape how we perceive museum memberships in the future. Some museums, like San Diego’s Museum of Us, have embraced a free membership program aimed at increasing accessibility and audience retention. Other museums, like the San Antonio Zoo, have launched monthly membership options. Similar to a Netflix subscription, these levels seek to increase giving by providing a more digestible alternative to annual membership fees.

Whether following a traditional model or offering more updated alternatives, museums offering memberships must continue to evaluate the efficacy and accessibility of their programs. Luckily, there are many professional development resources designed to inform museum staff of the latest strategies and theories in membership cultivation and retention. Those interested in learning more should visit the online resources provided by the American Museum Membership Conference and the American Alliance of Museums.

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Article by Danielle Maurer

MA Candidate: History and Museum Studies

Tufts University

My Home is a Museum: Balance

Layla Gabulova

Baku, Azerbaijan

For me one form of balance, is depicted on the Strength card which is the highest arcana of the tarot deck. It shows a woman who is taming a lion with her bare hands. The image stands for the balance of strength, wisdom and kindness. One needs to have inner strength to avoid break downs in sight of challenges. Therefore, it is crucial to maintain a healthy balance of forces, otherwise one will turn into a victim or a tyrant.

The characters and their actions also serve as symbolical representation of balance. The lion stands for human passions and fears, while the woman symbolizes awareness and the higher self. If the woman treats the animal with cruelty, the latter can cause unpredictable destructions. Thus, taming the lion needs strength and understanding, power of will and goodness. The infinity sign above the woman’s head, informs of her connection to supernatural. There needs to be a harmony of consciousness and subconscious.

 

Prashant Mishra

Pune, Maharashtra, India

“Mirror on the wall, here we are again through my rise and fall you’ve been my only friend”
When Li’ll Wayne says that in a song, I am reminded of this piece of balance hanging on my wall. Every day I wake up and right before I walk out into the world, it makes me stop and look for a second, doing away with any doubts about myself, assuring to walk out with confidence.

Then once you are through our day, it is the same you reflected in the mirror there. Knowing this brings me back to myself, overlooking the scars on the surface and bringing the focus back to myself. After all, when I look back at the reflection, I hear Wayne’s voice.


“I see the truth in your lies
I see nobody by your side
But I’m with you when you’re all alone
And you correct me when I’m looking wrong”

What’s With All the Gay Penguins?

Ronnie and Reggie, two Humboldt penguins at ZSL London Zoo.

Over and over again, zoos and aquariums around the world are making headlines for their same-sex penguin couplings. One of the most iconic couples was Roy and Silo, two male chinstrap penguins who began performing mating rituals at the Central Park Zoo in 1998. After successfully incubating a rock and then a dummy egg, zookeepers decided to give the loving couple a real, fertilized egg. Roy and Silo hatched a baby, a female penguin named Tango. Tango then grew up to form a partnership with another female penguin named Tanuzi.

Skipper and Ping, two king penguins at Zoo Berlin.

The list of gay penguin couples goes on and on and spans a wide range of species. Harry and Pepper were a pair of Magellenic penguins at the San Francisco Zoo. Sphen and Magic are a pair of male Gentoo penguins at SEA LIFE Aquarium in Sydney who hatched their first chick in 2018. Electra and Viola, also Gentoo penguins, are raising a chick at the L’Oceanogràfic in Valencia, Spain. At Zoo Berlin, two King penguins named Skipper and Ping have been trying to become fathers, unfortunately with no luck. Ronnie and Reggie are a pair of Humboldt penguins in London. In the Netherlands, a gay African penguin couple recently stole an egg from a lesbian penguin couple. The list goes on. Even in Parks and Rec, Leslie Knope hosts a wedding for two male penguins at the Pawnee Zoo.

The lives of male and female penguins are not as different from each other as we may expect. Regardless of sex, a parent’s responsibilities are similar—both invest equally in raising their chick. Aside from reproductive barriers, there is no reason why same-sex penguin couples cannot be successful parents. Penguins often lay more than one egg, though only one is likely to survive. In captivity, a same-sex penguin couple can adopt any extra eggs (though sometimes they steal eggs instead.) It’s likely that this happens in the wild too—though it’s harder to say. Visibly, male and female penguins really only differ in size, and not by much. That means it’s difficult to tell male and female penguins apart and even more difficult to identify any wild mating pairs as homosexual.

Rocky and Marama at SEA LIFE London.

In late 2019, mothers Rocky and Marama hatched a baby Gentoo penguin at SEA LIFE Aquarium in London. This baby Gentoo made further waves after the aquarium announced that it would not be assigning the chick a gender. The chick is identified with a gender-neutral purple tag rather than the usual gendered name and color coded tag. Beyond that, the penguin’s life will be the same as any other penguin at the Aquarium. Gender means nothing to penguins, so why have we continuously assigned it to them? The General Manager of the aquarium, Graham McGrath comments that the decision to raise a genderless penguin is following an increase in conversations around human gender neutrality. I applaud SEA LIFE London for taking a look at their practices and making changes based on a more nuanced understanding of gender.

The genderless penguin at SEA LIFE London, identified with a purple tag.

Besides, the animal kingdom is constantly subverting our expectations for both gender and sex. Male seahorses famously carry the young while they develop, and are the ones who eventually give birth. Bluehead wrasses all hatch as female. As they mature, some develop into males. These stories should be highlighted more. Most zoos and aquariums stick pretty exclusively to scripts around environmentalism and conservation. While those are incredibly important topics, I would like to see these institutions branch out. For example, a common argument against LGBTQIA+ rights is that “it’s not natural.” Zoos and aquariums have an opportunity to step in and say “actually, that’s not true.”

We shall find balance

The theme for this week of My Home is a Museum project is Balance. The author of the idea is Anuja Jayasekara, he is a PhD student in Physics at Tufts. As many of us try to maintain a healthy balance of work, academic studies, self-care and social lives, I thought this theme idea was a perfect fit. Therefore, I encourage all readers to share the pictures and stories of objects which embody a sense of balance for you. Send a picture (or 2) of your object along with a short description to sayyara.huseynli@tufts.edu. 

If you need a little inspiration, read Anuja’s story. 

5 rocks of various shapes and sizes stacked on top of one another vertically. The stones are in balance.

“I collected these rocks when I took a walk in the National Seashore in Cape Cod. I keep them on the top of my dresser and I try to balance them on top of each other. They stay balanced for a while and whenever I open my dresser to get something, they crumble down and I would have to balance them again. However, I can never get the same orientation of the rocks as before. But they stay balanced in this whole different way too. And the process repeats. It resembles the way of life. Doesn’t it? We try to balance everything but one thing changes everything then we try to balance it again. But it is never the way it was before.”

 

 

Week 10 – Working out from home?

A few months into quarantine, there was a long waited realization that the Pandemic was not going to be over any time soon. Many people started getting back into some kind of routine, especially in regards of physical exercise. Many people started utilizing their neighborhood parks, Youtube workout-videos or created/purchased  in house exercise settings. In the course of past 2 months, numerous gyms, workout studios and other physical training facilities reopened slowly with limited capacity due to which people are will working out at home.

Have you also been working out from home too? Share your home workout tools/instruments/set ups with the world! It could be anything from just a space where you do body weight exercise, a yoga mat, dumbbells, bench, indoor cycling stand or running shoes. Basically whatever you use to move and get the benefits of physical activity that your body needs. – This prompt was suggested by Kumail Zaidi

Send a picture (or 2) of your home workout setting to sayyara.huseynli@tufts.edu. Include your name and location. 

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