Designing the Museum: Inspiration from the AAM conference

This week’s blog post is written by our Associate Curator and Director of the Gardiner Gallery, Shawn Yuan, about one of his experiences at the American Association of Museums’ annual conference, held a few weeks ago in Houston, Texas.

I have found that the annual conference of American Association of Museums offers a great opportunity for museum professionals to step out from their offices, meet colleagues across the nation and the globe, visit art institutions, embrace fresh ideas, and get inspired. In this year’s conference in Houston from May 22-25, sessions covered a wide range of challenges faced by museums, large and small, in today’s sluggish economy.  Topics ranged from audience development, financial management, education programming, to collections stewardship.

I was particularly interested by sessions focusing on fundraising and donor cultivation. The Gardiner Art Gallery, an integral component of the future OSU Museum of Art, is the prime venue for promoting visual arts on campus at present. However, like many other academic art institutions, the Gallery needs more significant financial support in order to better serve the students, faculty and the community through presenting innovative exhibitions and contributing to transform Stillwater into one of the arts centers of the southwest.

A photo taken by Shawn at the exhibition “Joan Son - Part Geometry, Part Zen: A Personal Exploration through Paper,” at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. Thanks to its successful fundraising, the Center for Contemporary Craft hosts cutting-edge exhibitions and runs an extremely successful artist-in-residence program.

Realizing the Gallery has to expand and diversify its current funding sources, I went to the session titled Trends in America’s Philanthropic Support and Their Impact on Major Gifts Strategies. As its title suggested, the session portrayed a big picture of philanthropic giving, which all nonprofit art institutions have to face before they approach their potential funders. For both the Gallery and future OSU Museum of Art, successful fundraising will require an understanding of the following:

  • Of all funding incomes for art institutions, individual giving counts for the largest, with 64% in 2010.
  • Governmental support has been shrinking in recent years. This is particularly true for some public funding for which the Gallery applied, as art has frequently been among the first programs eliminated when governments face budget cuts.
  • As donors give their financial support, they also want to know their gifts make a difference in art institutions. They expect to be involved.
  • It is critical for leaders of art institutions to build up a strong personal connection with their donors.

Currently, the OSU Museum of Art team is working on creating a membership program for the Gallery, and this will lay a foundation up from which future museum membership will be built. Meanwhile, as the Gallery tries to present more cutting-edge exhibitions involving both established and emerging artists, soliciting support from major donors has to be on the team’s agenda. As one of presenters in the session pointed out, donor cultivation is not only a single person’s job; rather it should be the entire staff team’s.

More news on Gallery membership and other Museum programs will be coming over the next few months. Interested? Drop us a line — or subscribe to this blog to get new posts and information in your inbox!

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About osucurator

Louise Siddons is Associate Professor of Art History at Oklahoma State University and founding curator of the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art. She maintains this blog as a record of her students' work with the Museum's permanent collection as well as more generally with topics related to museum studies.
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