Three years ago, growing competition from other art museums in New England was costing the Fuller Museum of Art in Brockton, MA, the attendance and donor support it needed to compete in a crowded marketplace of art lovers. Exhibit openings at Fuller were drawing an average of only about 50 people per show.
Such low numbers prompted Fuller Museum officials to make a bold move: to change its focus and brand identity from general art to contemporary craft, and its name to Fuller Craft Museum, which became official in mid-April 2004. “As we started looking at (other) museums in New England, the lightbulb went on to find a (particular) niche,” says Gretchen Keyworth, the museum’s director. “A focus group (within Fuller) came together to figure out how we would do this. We made a number of presentations (in 2003) to the board on how we were filling a need by creating a craft museum. “New England is a vital area for craft, and every time there was a craft show (at area museums), attendance would spike,” she says.
Without much coaxing, the board between September and November 2003 approved the bulk of Keyworth’s plan. To help execute, Keyworth hired Sametz Blackstone Associates, a Boston-based strategic communications consulting firm that specializes in branding, design, marketing—and fundraising. Sametz Blackstone’s clients include Boston Symphony Orchestra, Harvard University, Harvard Museum of Natural History, and Massachusetts Audubon Society.
“I was committed to having Sametz Blackstone help make the change— everything from design issues to thinking more seriously about the mission of the museum, to strategy, to marketing, to philosophy,” Keyworth says.
With Sametz Blackstone onboard, the museum would go on to experience a transformation from an ordinary gallery to one quickly earning national and international status in contemporary craft. The shift essentially has positioned the museum—housed in a 20,000-square-foot, contemporary building, circa 1968—as the only one focusing on contemporary craft in New England and one of only six craft museums in the country.
With Sametz Blackstone onboard, the museum would go on to experience a transformation from an ordinary gallery to one quickly earning national and international status in contemporary craft.
Through research, “We discovered that Brockton has a history of people working with their hands… a long history that was passed on from an industrial age of shoe manufacturing. This was important context for what was going to be a craft museum in the middle of this community,” explains Andrew Maydoney, vice president of research and strategy at Sametz Blackstone.
The consulting firm learned there was an unmet need around contemporary craft.
“We found there were many artists working in traditional craft media— fiber, ceramics and glass—who were not getting exposure or well-attended exhibitions by the institutional landscape here. Craft is a discipline that is tactile and familiar and accessible. It’s rooted in materials and objects that are functional,” Maydoney adds. Making over the museum started off with a new tagline: “Let the art touch you.”
Keeping in mind the concept of people “working with their hands,” a new logo design also was born, a white fingerprint pattern imprinted on a light-green background. Green was chosen to emphasize the natural surroundings of the museum (which includes an open courtyard with a lagoon and fountain), while the fingerprint design demonstrates the idea of people touching the art. Along those lines, Fuller Craft launched what it calls the “touch” program in June 2004: selected objects in each exhibition are available for people to touch as long as they use the signature white gloves provided by the museum.
The April grand opening, featuring The Perfect Collection exhibit of 300 objects from collectors in New England, was promoted through press releases sent to newspapers nationally. In addition, word-of-mouth and a direct mail campaign played significant roles. Monthly direct mail brochures were sent out promoting the museum and its new focus to people residing in the New England area. People who received the mailings were on lists Fuller Craft had and those obtained from The Society of Arts and Crafts in Boston.
Collectors clamored to donate their crafts to The Perfect Collection, which, because there were so many loans, prompted Fuller Craft to plan for a second exhibit to accommodate the high level of interest.
“It was fantastic. People had these collections that were over the top. There was a good base of constituents. These people were going to be our foundation… people who go to galleries, move across craft circles,” Maydoney explains, noting that some 400 people attended the grand opening.
“The idea for The Perfect Collection was that we would take a couple of pieces from our museum collection, but the majority was going to be a collection of contemporary pieces selected from private collections across New England. The idea being fully that when Fuller Craft was realized as a craft museum, its most ‘perfect’ collection would look like the one we had assembled,” he adds.
With its new focus and brand, Fuller Craft has managed to lure 20 times more attendees to its exhibit openings, for an average of 1,000 people per show. Membership has exceeded expectations as well, with more than 1,000 new members.
That was the message Fuller Craft wanted to convey to the public, though the inside strategy was to get the most serious collectors into the building—and start to build a base for fundraising.
“People have come from Chicago, New York… even collectors from California (to Fuller Craft),” Keyworth notes.
And the results prove it.
With its new focus and brand, Fuller Craft has managed to lure 20 times more attendees to its exhibit openings, for an average of 1,000 people per show. Membership has exceeded expectations as well, with more than 1,000 new members, about a 40% increase over levels before the change in direction. Individual memberships are $40 and $60 for a family.
The museum’s changes have also boosted admissions. Museum admissions ($8 adults, $5 for seniors and students, free for members and children under age 12) increased by 73%, to a total of 7,065 people for fiscal year 2005 (ended June 30) compared with fiscal year 2003.
Meanwhile, Fuller Craft has been receiving generous donations. In the past, cash and in-kind contributions reached $18,000 for some events. But the most recent event this summer brought in $100,000 in cash and in-kind contributions (donations of artwork, along with ticket, auction and underwriting receipts). Museum tours, held every Saturday, also experienced a jump in attendees. To compare, in fiscal year 2005 the museum attracted a total of 3,800 people for tours compared with 2,300 in fiscal year 2004.
“People are just in awe of what’s happening to our museum. Exhibitions have been extremely well-attended, donor support is significantly higher, and we’re being looked at as a model—nationally.” Gretchen Keyworth, Fuller Craft Museum Executive Director
“People are just in awe of what’s happening to our museum. Exhibitions have been extremely well-attended, donor support is significantly higher, and we’re being looked at as a model—nationally,” Keyworth says.