A newsletter on audience research and development for cultural leaders. One reader calls it, "sometimes funny"

On March 13th, 2020, museum members around the world disappeared.

One moment, they were doing all the usual things — pushing pixels into an Amazon shopping cart; Doomscrolling NYTimes Op-Eds; Calling the police to report the strange men emptying the contents of their private garbage into a huge, loud truck before dawn — The next moment they were gone.

One second grandma was pushing the stroller, the next moment little Oliver was rolling into traffic.

It was clear something had happened, but it took a while to identify the pattern: Everyone who had disappeared was a member of some sort of museum. They hadn’t suddenly died or been kidnapped or been sucked up into a spaceship. They were just gone.

The world changed for the world, and the world changed even more for the museum world.

Storm clouds gather

Visitor satisfaction decreased. That is, museums assumed that visitors were dissatisfied because people stopped visiting.

Members — many of whom were also donors — were gone. Funding dried up. After all, who is going to underwrite an organization that makes people disappear?

Big fires fed on little fires.

Museums respond with special offers for Mumbers

227 days later, many museums have been carefully trying to get back to the before-times.

Some museums are inviting returning visitors to become “Mumbers”. Mumbers are people who can visit the museum as much as they like for a flat, annual fee.

Mumbers are not Members, though. Members disappeared. Mumbers are here to stay.

(Yes, many museums do still offer a membership option, but they can’t very well advertise those plans, can they? What are they going to say, “Join the departed now, not later”? Still, museums don’t want to turn anyone away, so knock three times on the freight elevator door if you’re interested.)

And some museums have begun recruiting “Donners” — People who secretly recruit family and friends to become Mumbers, hoping that the effort will protect them from joining the mysteriously departed.

But some people aren’t interested in restoring old models.

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Some museum professionals have begun holding clandestine meetings to discuss more radical changes.

We — The Guilty Remnant — are among those who believe we need to take more substantial action and resist our tendency to return to the status quo.

The Guilty Remnant started as a newsletter and then grew into a community. One of our favorite activities is crashing mumbers-only events.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it.

Now, let’s talk about your museum.

Your museum is a special case because nearly all of your revenue has come from members.

Will it survive?

Unless you’re able to establish a new base of members (or something like them) in the next six weeks, your museum will close forever.

What will you do?

Will your museum create a Mumbership program? Or will you invite us — The Guilty Remnant — to help your organization explore new possibilities?

And what if this weren’t just a newsletter — What if the call is real?

What if you could actually team up with a small cohort of designers and researchers for six weeks to toss the old playbook and develop a plan that responds to these extraordinary circumstances?

It could happen. :-)

— The G.R.

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