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Colin Mulberg highlights how to make the most of connections to your local area to help tackle many of the issues facing museums.
Museum and heritage venues face numerous challenges, and a common thread among them is the imperative to focus on the local. By promoting the local area, venues can cultivate stronger connections with visitors, embed themselves within the community, foster partnerships, generate income, support local businesses, contribute to a sense of place, and help address the climate emergency.
The enduring impact of the pandemic has underscored the necessity of forging deeper ties with local visitors. The ongoing decline in tourist visits, influenced by factors such as the cost of-living crisis, inflation, and international events like airspace closures, indicates a prolonged period of reduced international and national tourism. To navigate this, venues must pivot towards their local audience, capitalising on the sustained interest in local activities that emerged during the pandemic.
Encouraging repeat visits becomes crucial for venues looking to thrive amidst reduced tourist numbers. Give visitors a range of incentives to return – for example, think in terms of seasons for local audiences and not just single events, encourage year round use, especially outside of peak season. Local audiences often visit for a variety of reasons, and some may visit little and often (e.g. to use the café).
Becoming embedded in the local community requires outreach and partnership initiatives, transforming venues into versatile community assets. This could involve hosting various activities, collaborating on events, leveraging marketing expertise to promote partners, and contributing to local/regional activities and networks. Looking to be highly visible in your local area will help ensure that your venue is used, valued and supported. Bow Street Police Museum, London is a great example of a small museum working to become more prominent in its local area. It has negotiated discounts for visitors at a local café and pub; offers local residents discounts on admission; runs talks for local businesses and joint walking tours with other local venues; participates in local events; holds local participation meetings with the local council, residents, businesses and police and hosts yoga classes in its galleries.
Local procurement emerges as a strategy aligned with post pandemic preferences, where visitors value the uniqueness of and stories behind locally sourced products. Museums and heritage venues can champion local producers, supporting local businesses and economies while actively contributing to environmental goals by reducing carbon footprints. By tapping into local/regional business networks, these venues can also play a role in business development.
A focus on localism not only aligns with visitors’ values but also adds value to their experience. It provides reasons to visit, promotes venues, and enhances a sense of place and local pride. This approach proves highly attractive to visitors and becomes a compelling story worth sharing.
In conclusion, navigating the challenges faced by museum and heritage venues involves considering a strategic shift toward localism. From encouraging repeat visits to becoming integral parts of the local community, championing local businesses, and actively contributing to sustainability goals, prioritising the local narrative offers a range of possibilities to consider.
Colin Mulberg is Director of Colin Mulberg Consulting. Click here to visit the Colin Mulberg Consulting website>>