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Dallas Museum of Art partners with Grace Museum on free membership expansion
The sign-up kiosk at the Grace Museum.
ABILENE, TX.- The Dallas Museum of Art today announced the debut of the first Friends membership pilot program at the Grace Museum in Abilene, Texas. Grace Friends offers free membership to all visitors and is modeled on the DMA free membership platform, which since its launch in January 2013 has welcomed more than 62,000 new Friends members. The introduction of the membership model in Abilene represents the first stage of a broader national expansion supported by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Other participating museums considering aspects of the Friends platform include the Denver Art Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Along with the launch of the program, the Grace Museum has also announced reduced general admission to support visitor participation.

Signaling a shift away from the transaction-based model that has long characterized museum membership, the Friends model is designed to foster long-term engagement with visitors and provides benefits that accrue based on active participation with the museum. A key component of the program is a digital tracking system developed by the DMA to better understand visitors’ needs and interests, based on the accumulation of voluntarily provided data about visitors’ museum-related behaviors and activities. This software will also be incorporated by the Grace Museum to support the success of the Grace Friends program, and expand data collection to a market different from Dallas.

“Fewer than 18 months after its initial launch, the DMA Friends program has already surpassed our expectations, with visitor participation reaching new heights and member enrollment far exceeding initial projections,” said Maxwell L. Anderson, the Museum’s Eugene McDermott Director. “We believe the principles that have made the Friends model successful at the DMA can be applied across the museum field, which is why we’re excited to support the launch of Grace Friends.”

“With the debut of our new program, the Grace Museum is renewing its commitment to fostering a culture of active participation among our community of visitors, and to reducing barriers to engagement with the museum,” said Laura Moore, the Grace Museum’s Executive Director. “We are pleased to partner with the Dallas Museum of Art on an initiative that advances these values, and which holds exciting potential for museums across the country.”

Last fall, the DMA received a $450,000 IMLS grant to fund the research and expansion of the Friends program across the United States—an initiative led by Rob Stein, the DMA’s Deputy Director. The grant is supporting a two-year collaboration between the DMA and partner institutions to create replicable models of visitor engagement, with a goal of better understanding the successes and challenges of enhancing audience engagement more broadly. Stein is presently working with partner leadership to determine which elements of the Friends platform will be adopted by DAM, LACMA, and MIA.

Similar to DMA Friends, the Grace Friends program encourages visitors to sign up as Friends via iPad kiosks in the museum lobby. At the time of enrollment, new Grace Friends will receive cards allowing them to track their engagement with the Museum, both on-site and online. As Friends visit exhibitions and attend educational programs, they will earn credit for their participation that they can redeem for membership rewards, including discounts on special programs, behind-the-scenes access, invitations to social functions, and more.

To further advance its goal of cultivating visitor engagement, the Grace Museum is reducing its general admission price from $8 to $6 in conjunction with the launch of its free membership program. These changes coincide with today’s opening of the museum’s flagship summer exhibition Home on the Range, a celebration of the art and history of Central West Texas, which will be on view throughout the museum through August 9, 2014.

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