Website Strategy to Improve Outdoor Museum’s Visitor Experience: Michigan Legacy Art Park (MLAP)

  • Website:
  • Founded: 1995
  • Site built on: WordPress

About a year ago, the Michigan Legacy Art Park (MLAP), an outdoor art and sculpture collection of more than 40 pieces displayed in a wooded setting, redesigned its website. New wayfinding and informational signs had recently been installed around the northern Michigan park, and the organization wanted to incorporate some of the visual elements from the signage into the new website.

In addition, and perhaps more importantly, the MLAP wanted the website to help improve the visitor experience at the park, says Renee Hintz, executive director. That goal connects directly with the Art Park’s mission: to inspire awareness, appreciation and passion through the arts for Michigans history, culture and environment.

To enhance guests’ time at the park, the organization doesn’t only want to convey logistical information — how long the trail is, how long it takes to hike, that it’s hilly and unpaved, so wear the proper shoes. The MLAP also wants visitors to understand more about each sculpture itself and, more generally, “to be open to the idea that sculpture can tell a story about our history, about who we are and about the state we live in,” Hintz says.

To that end, she and a marketing committee comprised of a half-dozen board members mapped out the key site pages and navigation. For inspiration, they looked at other art museum and sculpture park websites and considered their organizational goals. As a result, the one-year-old site now has a “Plan a visit” page devoted to such information as hours, accessibility and fees as well as how to pay if no volunteer is present (use the donation pipe). The planning page also includes sidebar links to accommodations, directions and park guidelines.

On the site’s “Sculptures” page, an interactive map shows each piece of art’s location along the hiking trail. Click on any numbered item and you’ll see information about the work itself and the artist who created it. Users can explore by numbered location, by work of art or by artist name.

An Events page lists upcoming activities, including a popular annual Summer Sounds concert series, the annual fundraising gala and other special tours and workshops given by artists whose work is displayed in the park. On the back end, the site integrates with TREATickets, a regional nonprofit arts consortium that provides online ticketing and event calendar management. Site visitors can buy tickets to MLAP concerts, events and merchandise as well as make donations.

The MLAP’s website strategy to help guests plan and to improve their overall experience at the park seems to be working, says Hintz. It’s difficult to definitively identify the reasons why, but park attendance has grown over the past couple of years, and Hintz believes the improved site has definitely had an influence. “The people coming seem more prepared. Because the park is outside, visitors tended to assume it’s free. Now they’re brining their $3 and putting it in the pipe. That’s huge for us.”

Website traffic too, which Hintz keeps an eye on with Google Analytics, seems to support the usefulness of the content. The site’s most visited pages include, in descending order, the interactive map, sculpture information, events, the summer concert series and visit planning. To add to the analytics data, this year, as part of the MLAP strategic plan, Hintz will begin surveying park visitors. “At least one of the questions will focus on the website–did you use it; if so, how; was it helpful,” she says.

The site is built in WordPress, which Hintz updates somewhere between weekly and monthly, depending on the season and activity level (winter is a slower time, although cross-country skiers and snow-shoers are welcome). “WordPress is user-friendly for the back-end person who’s doing the updates. I’m not a computer person or web developer, and it feels pretty self-explanatory when you get in there,” she says. A contract web developer fixes any bugs and updates the interactive map when new works of art are installed, typically about once or twice each year.

Next on Hintz’s priority list is to create a mobile-friendly site and audio tour of the park. Her vision is that visitors would scan a QR code at the park’s entrance to download the tour, which would include information about each sculpture and a statement from the artist or explanation from a historian. But a tiny staff (Hintz is the only year-round, full-time employee) and myriad technical issues to address have meant the idea is still in the early stages.

Even so, she’s getting good feedback about the site. “The type of information we’re getting back is that the content is rich and useful, and we just want to make sure we continue giving people what they need.”

Editor’s note: this case study is part of the curriculum for the Nonprofit Tech Academy. If you’re interested in participating in the academy, you can learn more here.

Kim Roth