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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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The key word “open to everyone” is present in many museum programs' descriptions. Especially for education programs that aim to provide information outside of the physical artworks, most program managers are willing to demonstrate the knowledge to anyone regardless of their cultural, social, and economic backgrounds. However, the audiences for LGBTQ-related education programs at Brooklyn Museum, British Museum, and Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A Museum) are neither as many nor as diverse as the program managers wish them to be. From the interviews with Lindsay and Ximena at Brooklyn Museum, Mrs. Hoskin and Mr. Clayton at Victoria & Albert Museum and Mrs. Rose at British Museum, it has appeared that historical repression of LGBTQ culture, loose attention from powerful senior level staffs, limited museum resources, and illusionary positive public receptions are the barriers that keep them from obtaining audiences as they previously desired.

It is worth looking retrospectively at how LGBTQ-related education programs, which discuss a marginalized culture, exist in mainstream museums. There is a growing professional and academic interest in museums' potential to stand at the frontline of human rights issues, to be activists, to engage in shaping conversations about differences, and to provoke audiences into having challenging discussions about social justice. While some voices express discomfort towards museums' social role, it is recognized that this has social value. Fierce backlash from opponents has not prevented the growing support for the idea that museums should focus beyond their core business of collecting, researching, and interpreting materials for the public, and instead, address social and political concerns. Through participation, audiences construct and adopt moral narratives that have social consequences and impacts. Through their physical presence at museums, audiences get to encounter, negotiate, and exchange different social values.

This could be the cause, result, and catalyst for the increasing number of LGBTQ-related programs in mainstream museums like Brooklyn Museum, British Museum, and V&A Museum. The educational function of museums encourages the emergence of these programs. Underrepresented social groups pressure museums to launch unconventional, or even controversial programs that are thematic of marginalized cultures. Furthermore, LGBTQ-related programs could serve as small-scale models of the ideal structure that some of the larger mainstream museums are working towards. Inclusivity is the goal for museum professionals who want to give voices to underrepresented social groups, and also for those who wants to eliminate marginalization and avoid segregation.

Museum Associations (MA) in the United Kingdom and the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) are two organizations that oversee the practices of many museums. Both have encouraged museum professionals to advance LGBTQ-related programs. In 2016, MA gathered 150 museum professionals to walk in the London Pride Parade. Also in 2016, AAM established the LGBTQ Alliance as a branch within the AAM Professional Network. The LGBTQ Alliance describes its mission as “facilitating transgender, queer, gay, lesbian and bisexual visibility by promoting and enhancing awareness, understanding and acceptance regarding museum-related LGBTQ issues”. The AAM specifies that the focus of the LGBTQ Alliance “includes both internal needs and opportunities including staff, leadership and organizational structure, and external, stakeholder-related work ranging from visitor amenities and messaging to programs and collections. The network serves as a visible and accessible safe space for museum professionals who identify as LGBTQ or allies”.

Even though the platforms for the underrepresented voices have been established, these programs have not yet attracted the ideal groups of audiences. Thus, it has created a situation that even though these programs are designed to engage everybody, the participants are still mostly composed of people who are insiders and who are already familiar with LGBTQ culture. It is great that LGBTQ community members find a safe space to express themselves artistically, but what is the meaning of “open to everyone” in the program description if the audience composition stayed the same as programs that “open to LGBTQ community”? Indeed, the sense of inclusion and diversity is truly important and it is perfectly appropriate to describe the programs as being “open to everyone”. The facts that these programs are small-scaled, program managers are relatively young, and the programs' specific dependency on other museum activities are not the direct contributors to the challenging situation. It is the combined effect of all these characteristics that makes these programs not desirably marketable for the museum marketing team, thus these programs appear to be less attractive comparing to other programs that are properly advertised.

However, without the attention from people who are higher on the power hierarchy in the museum, it has far exceeded these programs' power to engage people from outside the LGBTQ community. All three programs involved in this paper have not yet officially worked with their museums' marketing team, consequently all of them have had a difficult time reaching out to the public. Since 2010, Brooklyn Museum's main social media channels have not actively promoted LGBTQ Teen Night. After the birth of the program in 2016, British Museum's main social media channels have not and, according to Mrs. Rose, will not promote LGBTQ-related education programs in the recent future. After taking over the program managers' positions in 2013, Mrs. Hoskin and Mr. Clayton at V&A Museum have not gained confidence to receive help of the marketing team. One marketing method they all share is the spreading from mouth to mouth. Many of the participants are recurring visitors of the programs, and their recommendations of the programs to others attract new participants. Brooklyn Museum is a relatively special case among these three museums because it will have its very first official marketing team in late 2017 or early 2018. Considering it as a new beginning for the LGBTQ Teen Night program, Lindsay has proposed to rename the program as Intersection: Gender and Sexuality. Compared to LGBTQ Teen Night, the new program name builds a broader scope of possible contents that might sound more presentable to a diversity of audiences in terms of marketing.

Indeed, the programs mentioned in this paper are established in 2006, 2010, and 2016. They are relatively young programs in their institutions that do not have previous models to follow. Even though these programs have not received the attention they desire from neither the marketing experts nor the senior curators in their museums, their attitudes are positive and optimistic. Even though the programs are not being marketed properly at this moment, the potential development is so big that they could eventually gain the attention they want. “It is a lonely process,” said Lindsay, “but we are not alone.” These program managers appreciate the voices from the public that support the program, and regard the high expectation from the public as the main justification for applying for development budget.

However, the supportive voices do not transform into actual participations of the programs. Even though education programs are theoretically worthy executing with any number of people meaningfully educated, realistically the quantity and quality of participants largely determine the amount of resources distributed from the overall museum budget plan. Shortly before and after the Pride Parade in July every year, many museums have chosen to exhibit previously well-known LGBTQ-related artworks such as objects by ACT-UP, photos of drags during the 1980s, and a variety of video artworks, which is the major medium used by artists in the struggle against AIDS. The intentionally eye-catching and compacted sensory stimulations thrown to the public during that one month are so intense that they have formed a predominantly celebratory environment, which somehow gives more voice to the already privileged groups and further silences the already underrepresented communities. The LGBTQ culture has been overtly appropriated by the tourism for so long that the culture might has become a short-term boost utilized by the marketing team to attract more audiences into the museums. Even though it is important and encouraging to raise the awareness towards LGBTQ culture by introducing it to as many audiences as possible when the audiences are temporarily highly curious about it, the high intensity of LGBTQ-related activities around Pride Parade has unfortunately associated LGBTQ culture with these intransient celebratory phenomenon, and have further marginalized the culture from the “mainstream” society. During the rest of the year, the programs always encounter difficulties to engage the audiences, because staffs might design the programs according to the level of supportiveness expressed by audiences who are strategically overly stimulated during the month of July.

As institutions that carry multiple responsibilities to educate the public, one of the museums' main roles the role is the information provider. The program managers for LGBTQ-related education programs often need relatively longer time to organize the programs because they need to decode the previously repressed information before sharing with the public. The obstacles to collecting and archiving LGBTQ information originated long before the 1980s AIDS epidemics. Stories of LGBTQ communities may ultimately be documented “more through memorials than through museums, through traces of their absence, rather than former possessions that bear their stories and personalities.”  Unlike most other cultures that transmit history through family, the LGBTQ community has been forced to come up with alternatives to keep their excluded history applicable, because queer people are “the only minority whose culture is not transmitted within family.” Yet, after collecting pieces of personal history, digitizing books, building museum collections, and adding to our general knowledge, LGBTQ community still faces barriers to deliver education on sexual diversity to the public because the concept of LGBTQ is inherently related to sex and sexuality – topics which are traditionally criticized as being inappropriate for children. Thus, even with highly accessible digital information, people seeking information online at public libraries or school media centers might still be denied access. Mrs. Hoskin and Mr. Clayton have been studied LGBTQ-related artworks in V&A Museum collection for eight years now, and they have successfully identified and labelled more than three-hundreds of works that have meaningful stories for the history of LGBTQ community. Many artworks by LGBTQ-identified artists and works that represent activist responses to AIDS during particular time have survived because of the repressed and hidden contents underneath the surfaces that match the heteronormative social standard, and many young museum professionals like Mrs. Hoskin, Mrs. Rose, Lindsay, Ximena, and Mr. Clayton are eager to have those silenced voices heard by the public.

Behind their optimism that stands unstably on top of the limited supports from their own museums, there is the rational realization that there are so many other programs are also fighting for that one beam of spotlight on the stage. Similar to LGBTQ-related programs, those are also programs that speak for historically segregated and marginalized cultures. Thus, I not only admire those program managers' optimism, but also appreciate their patience to slowly develop their programs. They understand that creating longstanding social changes requires long-term efforts. The programs are subtle in appearance, but radical at heart. As Crimp said, “the intention of the programs is not to select work on the basis of aesthetic merit”, but rather to show something of the range of representations and counter-representations of the LGBTQ culture.

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