August 15, 2012

Pinterest for Program Planning: Museum of Art and History at the McPherson Center (MAH)

  • $800,000 Annual Budget
  • 8 Staff
  • 1,304 Museum Members

At the Museum of Art and History at the McPherson Center (MAH) in Santa Cruz, California, community engagement is central to both mission and vision: to create a thriving gathering place for Santa Cruz County residents and visitors to experience art, ideas, culture and history. Toward that goal, the MAH uses a number of tools to manage day-to-day tasks — and fuel the creative development of interactive, experiential programming.

In early 2012, director of community programs, Stacey Marie Garcia, started “pinning” inspirational photos related to arts and crafts activities she found online to Pinterest’s virtual bulletin boards. She soon realized she easily could use the site to share her finds — and through them, her vision for particular events — and get input from others, too.

For a recent fire and light festival called GLOW, Garcia and her interns were looking for blacklight crafts participants could make. “The interns pinned up examples, and I pinned up examples,” Garcia says. “It was a great way to search for ideas and start communicating as a programming team about what specific crafts we wanted to do. They’re all here at different times so while I can communicate with them individually, they don’t [otherwise] really have the chance to communicate with each other.”

In a sense, Pinterest has become an idea hub for the museum’s eight full-time and three part-time staff and almost two-dozen interns. “In any museum project, whether it’s an exhibition or program, there is always a long gestation period of just thinking about, ‘What could we do?’ or ‘Oh, look at this clever thing,'” says Nina Simon, executive director. “We have a small enough staff that we have those conversations all the time. Pinterest for us becomes kind of a community bulletin board where those ideas go up.”

As Simon explained on her personal blog, Museum 2.0:

We’re not using Pinterest to do something cool on the Web. We’re using it to solve a basic internal communication problem. I used to constantly email links to individual staff members with a message like “we should try this.” Pinterest replaces those emails by sharing that content a more broadly usable, indexable way. It aggregates design inspiration in a central place we all can share.

Training the interns to use Pinterest in this way took Garcia only about 15 minutes during the group’s regular monthly meeting, since many were already familiar with the fast-growing site.

The museum uses other popular and free sites and tools to foster engagement. On Flickr, Simon and other staff post photos of exhibits and events and share them with sponsors, partners and other collaborators. If Simon is creating a presentation, she’ll head to Flickr for museum images. “The site has become an internal database for our photos. Photos the public can use, too; photographers who want to take photos at the museum agree to make them available on Flickr through Creative Commons licensing.

After events, Garcia routinely uses SurveyMonkey to follow up with and solicit feedback from both visitors and collaborators. Other free or low-cost tools the museum uses include Google Calendar to share schedules; Google Forms to schedule volunteers; WordPress to manage the website; Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to interact directly with community members.

For back-office processes, the museum uses both free and fee-based software such as MailChimp and Constant Contact, Eventbrite, QuickBooks, Adobe products for graphic design, PastPerfect for museum collection management, and The Raiser’s Edge for donor and fundraising data management.

On the MAH agenda is to better integrate museum visitor data, currently tracked in Microsoft Excel, with donor and fundraising data. Simon is looking for solutions beyond museums to fitness center membership systems, “where theyre accustomed to tracking how often you come and what classes you take. Information like that is pretty germane to whats happening here.

As a small museum without IT staff, product selection is less about researching, or custom-building, a perfect tool than staff members organically selecting what they need to accomplish specific objectives. We dont spend three months studying how we want to accomplish a goal and then pick a tool, Simon says. When it comes to technology, we are just looking for the tool thats going to solve our problems.

Kim Roth