Book Post #5: Young, Hip & Fun – POP Thursdays!

In 2009, I attended the Museum of Photographic Arts POP Thursdays with a couple of girlfriends to enjoy a great night of food, drinks, live music, art and film. And last week, I was lucky enough to speak to two folks at the Museum of Photographic Arts (MoPA) about this night-time series event:

  • Larry Berry, MoPA Board member, POP Committee Chair and Gen Xer
  • Sue George, MoPA Membership Manager and Gen Xer

The museum started POPPhotography off the Prado — to engage young professionals each quarter through an event that blends photography and film with drinks and music.  The focus of the event is a cult film that guests can enjoy in MoPA’s state-of-the-art theater or projected on the atrium wall while sipping a cocktail or noshing on appetizers.

MoPA wanted to get younger people excited about the museum in order to cultivate the next generation of donors. They also wanted to have an event that would compete with the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Thursday Night Thing (TNT) and the San Diego Museum of Art’s Culture and Cocktails.

In 2007, the average current museum visitor was over the age of 50 years old. At the same time, there was a feeling that the organization wanted to attract a younger audience.  The museum leadership realized that they needed to update their “stuffy” events to be able to attract this demographic.  In response, the museum’s Public Relations Manager and Director of Exhibitions designed an event that would screen a cult film that would match the current exhibition.  A bar scene would be created in the museum’s atrium with live music, food, and drinks. Mr. Berry commented:

“You’ve got to have a focus for the event. Figure out the one thing you can do really well to get people in the door and then build off of that concept. You only have that one chance to make a first impression.”

The kick-off event was inspired by MoPA’s exhibition, Harry Callahan: The Photographer at Work, with a screening of the cult classic Dirty Harry. Over the past three years, MoPA has screened crowd-pleasing films like: The Big Lebowski, Animal House, This is Spinal Tap, Blade Runner, A Hard Days Night and most recently Labyrinth. The first event attracted 115 people and today the event consistently attracts about 500 attendees.

To get the word out, MoPA created a postcard that they distributed in young, up and coming neighborhoods like North Park and South Park focusing on coffee shops, independent movie theaters (Ken, Landmark) and art scene events like Ray at Night. They also spread the word via their email list that has grown from 7,000 to 12,000 people. Word about the event spread in a grassroots way. Ms. George commented:

“We market the event as a nighttime series for the young, art-minded, “in the know” people.  We are able to attract various segments: film lovers, young art collectors, prospective young members, students, people in the art scene, working artists, and people who are fascinated by film we are featuring.”

Keys to success:

–       Brand the event with a hip, young look: 

–       Ask local, trendy restaurants, wineries, breweries and others to donate food and drinks for the events

–       Engage local media to help get the word out about the event

–       Keep ticket prices low ($8 and free to members)

The purpose of the POP event was to attract a younger arts audience, but MoPA also wanted this audience to continue to patron the museum.  At the events, museum membership (one year free access to the museum) is offered at the discounted rate of $35.  If an attendee becomes a member that night, their ticket price is credited towards the cost of their membership and they receive free drink tickets to use at that evening’s event.  Annual memberships will help MoPA build a group of lifelong supporters.  Ms. George commented: “We want to inspire them so they feel like it is their museum.”

POP has had great success in engaging the younger generations:

  • Each events sells between 20-30 new individual members and 10-15 dual/household memberships
  • The 2009 Members’ Survey showed that the student membership base grew by 8% from fiscal year 2006/07 to fiscal year 2008/09
  • In fiscal year 2009/10, there was a 5% growth rate of 18-35 year-olds who upgraded to a higher membership level (over $100)

The next POP event is February 17th screening Easy Rider (1969) to promote their new exhibition Streetwise: Masters of 60’s Photography (February 5 – May 15, 2011).

My next blog post is going to talk about how MoPA engaged the help of Generation X and Y to produce these events.

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