Donna Williams: Broaden your audience

By Lucie Paterson, National Services Te Paerangi

30 June 2009

On Thursday Donna Williams, Chief Audience Development Officer from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York spoke at Te Papa about how  the Met is  diversifying their audience.

Here are the main points I teased out of the talk:

Relationships is the key word

The Met started the Multicultural Audience Development Initiative with a diverse committee of people who are involved in and believe in the arts.

Pick people from organisations with the right criteria to work with you. Listen to these people so you know what you are doing right and wrong. Listening to what they think should be part of your museum’s strategy.

Friendraising to make your museum work

Make everyone feel like they are a friend of your museum. Approach and welcome new and diverse communities, multicultural and multigenerational groups to be a part of your museum’s fibre.


  • With other museums.
  • With your staff members. They are the best ambassadors for an initiative like this internally as well as externally.
  • With your museum’s trustees. They are just as interested in diversifying the museum’s audience as you are.

Celebrate all communities

Acknowledge and celebrate all heritage events. The Met celebrate Martin Luther King Day, Diwali, Womans History month, Latino Espanic holidays, and have a gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender community group who enjoy special events in the Museum as well.

Don’t be afraid to ask people

Get out in your community and ask people to be part of your museum. Ask people to help you. Celebrities in New York have started doing public services announcements and interviews about the museum on TV for free!

Get out there!

40% of Donna’s time is spent out there in the communities, letting people know they are all part of the same story and the same museum family. Do what ever you can to find out about relevant events you can tag your museum onto.

Media outreach

Make sure you are in the community papers as well as the main paper. Most people read both. By getting your presence in both, it shows you care.

Local outreach

Reaching out to the local community is even more important now in this economic climate. Don’t just target the international visitors, you have to get the people at your own back door to come more often. Make it attractive to them.

Diversity in programming

Acknowledge different communities celebrations at your museum. Through exhibitions, lectures, gallery talks, receptions, education programmes the Met recognises Native American Heritage, Hispanic/Latino heritage, Asian heritage, South Asian heritage, African America heritage, Women’s heritage, social justice etc.

Branching out

Mentoring programme for college students. These are potential future staff members. All communities should be represented. The Met are able to help students go forward in their careers. They are able to come and work at the Met for 10 weeks and receive a stipend. One of their most successful initiatives was a toga party that attracted over 3000 young people into the Museum.

In addition there is a College Advisory Group at the Met for 18-23 year olds. This age group is often forgotten about. 25 students from all over New York strategise about how to get their age group to the Met.

Family programming

The Met has visitation programmes that cover a entire life time:.

– Starting with programmes for parents with babies

– Met then has family programmes which attract 500,000 students per year

– Visitors can then move onto the high school internship programme

– Then the college group at the Met

– Then adult membership…

Everyone needs to be able to find a spot in the museum circle.

Listen to Donna Williams’ talk

Download Donna’s presentation