Op-ed: The Power of 10
In just a few short years, what started as a conversation among a handful of museum directors has grown into a powerful economic and cultural force in western Massachusetts, a collaboration that—rumor has it—is starting to make neighbors in the Berkshires a little nervous.
Launched in 2005, a new collaboration of ten museums and academic galleries in the Five College community, known as Museums10, has collectively promoted the area’s unique artistic, historical and literary resources with the goal of putting the Pioneer Valley on the cultural tourism map. The group connects the diverse collections of the Five Colleges’ academic art museums and galleries with the Emily Dickinson Museum, the Amherst College Museum of Natural History, the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, the National Yiddish Book Center and Historic Deerfield – a type of Smithsonian Institution for this region.
The Museums10 initiative includes both an ongoing effort to promote a collective identity as well as a periodic effort to promote special projects that feature exhibitions and programming organized around a specific theme. The first of these thematic projects was 2006’s GoDutch, a valley-wide celebration of Dutch art and culture. GoDutch was launched with a catalytic grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which recognized the value of efforts to tap the wealth of area cultural assets to stimulate tourism and economic growth. Last year the Massachusetts Cultural Council made a second grant to the collaboration of $150,000 -- the largest in that granting cycle -- to solidify the Museums10 brand and promote a second collaborative project, Bookmarks, a celebration of the art of the book, literature, bookmaking and literacy.
Bookmarks attracted more than 30 area businesses as partners for the project and drew more than 70,000 people to the member museums in the fall of 2007. Surveys conducted during Bookmarks provide a valuable snapshot of those visitors. Of our survey respondents, 61percent came from outside of Massachusetts including residents of 48 different states and five countries. 36 percent indicated that they planned to stay overnight in the area, 72 percent said they planned to dine in area restaurants, and 47 percent noted that they planned to shop in the area while visiting Bookmarks attractions while an equal number reported having visited another Museums10 location.
Based on the impact of Bookmarks, there are rough projections as to what Museums10 contributes annually to the local economy. Conservatively estimated, 150,000 visitors attend exhibitions at the ten sites during the course of the full calendar year (in fact, during 2007, 180,000 people visited), each paying an average of $3.50 in admission fees. Using this measure, Museums10 directly adds more than $500,000 to the local economy. With food and miscellaneous purchases at local stores and restaurants projected at a conservative $20 per visitor, the museums funnel another $3 million to local businesses. And, if only 10 percent of those 150,000 visitors stay in a hotel for one night, the museums generate an additional $1 million.
In just three years of operation, Museums10 has emerged as a leader in the Five Colleges area in recognizing the centrality of the arts and culture to the identity of the community and in harnessing this sector’s power for the purposes of greater economic growth. The model of collaboration, shared marketing and themed exhibitions has expanded the individual partners’ opportunities for exposure and has brought new and increasing numbers of visitors to the area. And the model has already been copied; the collaboration’s success inspired local independent booksellers to organize themselves as Booksellers10.
Museums10 is well positioned to continue the work of stimulating the atmosphere for cross promotion and collaboration among cultural institutions and economic partners. If a region’s strength can be measured by its cultural and intellectual resources, then the Pioneer Valley has muscle, and Museums10 is shaping the scene.