Presented at a symposium on “Disruptive Demographics: Inventing the Future of Place & Space,” sponsored by the MIT AgeLab (October 5, 2012).
For museums, the aging population represents a range of challenges, from accessibility to attracting volunteers and retaining donors to the geographic location or relocation of facilities. But there are also opportunities for museums to serve their communities – and especially the aging members of their communities – in ways that are consistent with their core mission(s).
Here some data from the 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, which tracks cultural participation in the United States. (In 2008, 25.7% of adults age 35-44 visited an art museum vs. 19.9% aged 65-74 and 10.5% of those 75+. Other museum types demonstrate an intensified version of this: failing to recruit younger visitors, retaining a declining percentage of older visitors, yet with an overall mix of visitors that is aging.) Another analysis, based on the American Time Use Survey, shows that per capita leisure time for adults remained remarkable stable between 2003 and 2011 (going up slightly for those with less than a HS education and going down slightly for those with more education), but the average person spent 17% less time in 2011 attending entertainment and arts events outside the home than they did in 2003 (low = ~5-1/4 hours per weekday, high = ~4 hours per weekday).
Older Americans are active givers and volunteers, but not at the same rates as might have been expected if you simply extrapolated from the trend lines of 10 or 5 or even 3 years ago. See, e.g., Great Expectations: Boomers and the Future of Volunteering (VolunteerMatch, 2011). According to a 2012 study from the MetLife Foundation and Civic Ventures, “about 31 million people ages 44 to 70 want ‘encore careers’ that blend personal meaning, continued income and social impact.” But that’s on top of the millions of people approaching traditional retirement age who can’t see an economically feasible way to end their “main act career.” This is cutting into the ranks of potential volunteers at a time when museums especially need them.
Museums are well-positioned to address the issue of cognitive impairment . A great example is the SPARK! Program around Milwaukee (based on a MoMA model seen on right): “Several museums serving Wisconsin residents are extending their cultural and historical collections to create meaningful experiences for older adults with Alzheimer's disease and their caregivers. The SPARK! project connects the museums with local partners in healthy aging to bring the model to the Midwest. The Alzheimer’s Association is assisting with training and support.” Opportunity of accessibility: Note that the head of WHO has written that “Almost every one of us will be permanently or temporarily disabled at some point in life,” so good design for accessibility potentially helps every museum visitor, not just the elderly. A range of accessibility issues, starting with simple things like text size and contrast on wall panels or ramps or good pathway lighting or enough benches in the galleries. Are websites easy on older reader's eyes? Are printed materials legible? Are social media approaches attuned to different digital habits? Are handheld devices for audio tours compatible with hearing aids? Do you offer different styles of audio tours (which are a great boon to older visitors, because you can adjust the volume and pace so easily if the interaction is well-designed). There is also the issue of appealing to audiences of different ages simultaneously.
Geographic relocation of facilities (as older people both come back to the cities and built new multigenerational households in ‘burbs, whether or not they plan to reside in a granny pod). Remember that older Americans are hardly slackers when it comes to embracing the digitally-connected lifestyle. There was a great article in Mashable last year about Boomers and technology, and it’s worth quoting the takeway: “As our society and the web mature, we need to make sure we are building it to empower everyone, not just the young and tech-savvy. New technologies and web services will need to be intuitive and easy to use but not insulting.” (http://mashable.com/2011/04/06/baby-boomers-digital-media/)
MIT AgeLab presentation (October 2012)
Museums in an Aging SocietyPhilip M. Katz American Alliance of Museums October 5, 2012
Center for the Future of Museums text styles Click to edit MasterDesigned to ...• Prod museums to look to the future with a longer time frame.• Find, interpret, digest and deliver trends data.• Help museums collaborate with communities/society to address needs.• Cultivate connections between museums and all sectors.• Encourage risk-taking and innovation. www.aam-us.org @futureofmuseums
Are Museums Age-Ready? to edit Master text styles Click Visitors to SFMoMA (juicyrai at flickr)
Click to edit Master text stylesDecliningartsparticipationwith ageand cohortSource: Mark Stern, “Age and Arts Participation ...” (NEA, 2011)
Click to edit Master text stylesIn thecontext oflaggingdiversity (courtesy of Reach Advisors)
Click to edit Master text styles Source: VolunteerMatch, 2011And uncertaintyabout thepersistence of“traditional”patterns ofvolunteering Source: Center on Philanthropy, 2008andphilanthropy
Museums as Places to Age to edit Master text styles Click (msnbc via YouTube) (juicyrai at flickr)
Museums without Proximity? edit Master text styles Click to
Our trend resources Click to edit Master text stylesvisit CFM at www.aam-us.org
Contact details Click to edit Master text stylesPhilip M. KatzAssistant Director, ResearchAmerican Alliance of Museumspkatz@aam-us.org202-218-7687www.aam-us.org