Executive Summary

WAM Title

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Museums hold a strong cultural and social importance in their communities. They serve as a conduit for making art and culture accessible to different audiences, play a key role in education, provide insight to the past, and maintain humanity’s treasures for future generations. The Worcester Art Museum (WAM), one of the largest art museums in New England, believes that their institution is currently underutilized by local 18-21 year olds, a major demographic in Worcester. The museum is also in the process of implementing a sustainability initiative, and is looking for ways to apply that to the museum café. As members of the 18-21 age group are often passionate about sustainability, the museum believes that a new sustainable café could help them attract more college students. Thus, this project had two primary focuses: (1) Assessing what changes to the WAM would increase attendance of the 18-21 year old demographic in the city of Worcester to the WAM, and (2) Assessing what sustainable components of a sustainable museum café could be implemented to attract this demographic.

Methodology

How can the WAM better attract the 18-21 year old demographic and what components of a sustainable museum café would be most appealing to that demographic? In order to answer these questions, we addressed the following objectives:

Identify the museum staff’s opinions of the Worcester Art Museum’s efforts to attract the 18-21 year old demographic and suggestions for improvements.

 

We first took into consideration the opinions and expectations of museum staff on the WAM’s current practices using semi-structured interviews. We conducted interviews with 12 full and part-time staff members from a range of different departments. We asked the staff their opinions on: 1) how the museum currently works to attract 18-21 year old visitors, 2) the museum café and its potential for attracting college students, and 3) the implementation of sustainability in the museum café.

Identify the expectations of current museum visitors and their satisfaction or desire for museum improvements to increase attendance to the museum and its café.

 

To better understand current visitor expectations, satisfaction levels, and desired improvements, we surveyed visitors in the lobby of the WAM. We chose surveying because it provides a predetermined set of questions, which allowed us to more easily compare large amounts of quantitative data. We worked with our project sponsor to develop a set of questions that made our survey as streamlined as possible while still covering the necessary topics. We chose to build, distribute, and analyze our survey using a computer program called the Qualtrics Research Suite. Ultimately, our survey had a 12.8% response rate for the days we surveyed.

Identify the preconceptions and biases of 18-21 year old potential museum visitors to determine what might increase their interest in the Worcester Art Museum.

 

In order to understand the interests of the WAM’s potential 18-21 year old audience, we surveyed local Worcester college students. We identified seven schools to survey based on the school’s proximity to the museum and full time student enrollment numbers (listed in Table 2, Appendix 1). We utilized resources including social media, colleges’ on campus organizations, and faculty to get our survey distributed internally on the selected campuses. We also created 150 posters advertising our survey and distributed them around the campuses of the selected schools. This process yielded over 300 responses.

Identify the components of sustainability to be added to the Worcester Art Museum café that would be most successful in increasing visitor attendance.

 

Both the museum visitor and the college student surveys asked questions on how important each demographic found sustainability and what components of sustainability could be added to the WAM café to better attract that demographic.

Findings and Recommendations

After analyzing our data and compiling our findings, we formed several recommendations for the museum.

We recommend that the WAM advertise the café, events, and promotions that cater to college students using social media and direct communication with college students.

 

We discovered that Worcester college students are not well informed about the existence of the WAM. Out of 302 college students surveyed, 39% had never been to the museum galleries. Of the 116 college students that have not visited the museum, 25% never visited because they were completely unaware of the museum. Eleven of the twelve staff members interviewed (out of 66 full time employees) believe that more could be done to advertise on college campuses. We found that the students that have attended the museum enjoyed it, but 83% of the students we surveyed did not even know about the museum, and so we recommend the museum should greatly increase on campus advertising to this demographic.

We recommend that the WAM extend the hours of the Café, lessen prices, and offer a wider range of food options.

Our findings show that one of the most needed changes to the café, according to both museum visitors and college students, is an extension of the café hours. Almost 50% of the museum visitors and 32% of college students surveyed who attend the café said that they would like to see the café open later. Secondly, we found that both the museum’s existing visitor base and potential college age visitors would be interested in a greater variety of menu items, with lower-priced options available.

Population Surveyed

Lower Prices

More Variety

Total WAM Café Customers (35)

46% (16)

37% (13)

Students who attended WAM Café (48)

51% (25)

38% (18)

Figure 1: WAM Cafe Survey Results

 

Most existing café customers expressed great satisfaction with the current menu items, finding them to be of “good quality.” However, as one visitor said, “It would be nice to have one or two lower cost entree choices.” Out of the survey of existing café customers, 46% said they would like to see lower prices in the café as did a full 51% of college students surveyed.

We recommend the WAM offer night programming, extended hours and events geared toward college students.

 

From the results of our surveys and interviews, we determined that the current programs and events offered by the WAM are not appealing to college students. Offering night programs and events directed towards 18-21 year olds would be effective in attracting that demographic to the WAM. We recommend that the museum offer programs and events that target college students, and we recommend additional research be completed to identify specific events that would appeal to this demographic.

Cycle through exhibits more frequently

We found that college students and current museum visitors are not satisfied with the rotation of artwork through the WAM, and would like to see a greater number of modern art exhibits. Thus we recommend the museum cycle through exhibits more frequently and provide more modern art exhibits in its current temporary gallery space.

Café layout options

From our visitor survey, we found that the current WAM café audience appreciates the café and its atmosphere. Conversely, we found that the café is not currently a space designed to attract college students. Our college student survey shows that of WAM’s target demographic of 18-21 year olds, only 3.2% of those surveyed viewed it as a nice place to spend time or study. Over half of the museum employees that we interviewed agreed that the café needed to be changed if it were to appeal to college students. As such, we present three different options for ways to continue to improve the museum café and potentially serve both audiences.

Option 1: Discontinue table service entirely; offer a more comfortable space.

The primary intention of this option is attracting college students. As discussed above, the café does not currently appeal to college students, and many of the college students surveyed said it feels “more like a restaurant than a café.” We recommend the space be opened up by removing the constricting single entrance, so that customers may enter and exit freely. The table service should be replaced with a counter from which food may be ordered. We also recommend an overhaul in décor and atmosphere of the café to make a more hip and modern environment to attract college students. The downside of this recommendation is that while these changes may attract a new audience, it may alienate the café’s current clientele.

Option 2: Keep the current café; replace the SIP cart with a permanent, open lobby café.

The current café appeals to its current audience, but would need to be completely redesigned in order to appeal to the college student demographic. This option allows the museum to keep the current restaurant-style café open in order to retain the current audience. This option replaces the portable lunch cart in the lobby (a.k.a. the SIP cart) with a permanent café counter and seating area with a more open, contemporary, and welcoming atmosphere and a layout that encourages longer visits and use as a study space (perhaps with music and couches) in order to appeal to college students. The drawback of option 2 is that it requires the construction of a new café space, while still maintaining the old café as well, which could be prohibitively expensive.

Option 3: Create a “hybrid” café to appeal to both demographics in the existing space.

We explored the possibility of creating a café in the existing space that had two sections: one formal dining section and one casual section with counter service, to appeal to both demographics. We ultimately decided this is not suitable for the current space, which is too small to allow both environments to comfortably coexist. Therefore we do not recommend this over the other two options.

Implement Sustainability into the museum café.

We found that both students and museum visitors have a strong interest in sustainability. Because of the overwhelming interest in sustainability and its popularity among the target demographic of 18-21 year olds, we recommend that the museum café utilize sustainability as a means of attracting college students and new visitors. All the suggested components of sustainability were found to be widely supported, but our data shows that the incorporation of locally grown food, recycled plates, cups, and paper materials, and energy efficient lighting were the most popular with survey participants and museum employees. Therefore, we recommend these components be incorporated into the café. We recommend a cost analysis be completed on these components and that the WAM implement each component that is financially feasible.

Conclusion:

By implementing these recommendations, the museum can improve its appeal to the younger demographic and reinforce its position as a vital cornerstone of Worcester’s culture for years to come.