Museum Group Takes Magazine Readers to the Future with Special Issue
In the latest edition of Museum magazine, the American Alliance of Museums transports its readers to the year 2040, with the hope of getting them to think about the changes they can make now to create the future they want later.
From advocating for their industry’s best interests to forecasting the economic environment, associations equip their members for success by helping them prepare for the future.
The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) is doing its part by publishing the November/December issue of Museum magazine from the year 2040, aiming to create an immersive experience where readers stop to consider not only what they want the future to look like but also what they can do now to start building that future. While the special issue—which is simply called 2040—hits members’ mailboxes today, behind the scenes AAM put months of planning into the effort.
The initial idea for this issue spun from the desire to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of AAM’s Center for the Future of Museums, which is coming up in 2018, said Elizabeth Merritt, AAM’s vice president of strategic foresight and founding director for CFM.
“One of our major purposes is to help museums envision potential futures because that leads them to creating better and more successful strategies and helps ensure that they’re going to be able to deliver on their missions and that they’re going to be financially sustainable,” Merritt said.
While CFM has done this in a variety of ways over the last 10 years, including through lectures and workshops, an annual report called TrendsWatch, and a free weekly e-newsletter that shares news about how things may be playing out in the world, Merritt said, “This time, we decided to integrate our futures content into our mainstream communications of the alliance.”
To do this, Merritt noted it was important to specify which particular version of 2040 AAM was asking its members to envision in this magazine. “We decided to create a scenario that would result from all of the current trends shaping museums today, just continuing to play out over time,” she said.
Next, it was time to recruit writers who would “play along,” Merritt said. To help with this, she wrote out framework of this future, in addition to hosting a couple of webinars to flesh out the 2040 scenario, describe the process, and answer potential author questions. There were also a lot of individual one-on-one calls to further hone story concepts.
This careful curation of stories is reflected on the pages of the magazine. For example, its front-of-the-book “By the Numbers” department, it includes these eye-popping stats: There are almost as many seniors as there are children in America in the year 2040. There are also more than 2,000 schools run by museums—serving half a million U.S. students.
In the issue’s feature well, there are in-depth pieces about sustainable practices in museums, how museums are a force for healing, understanding, and reconciliation; and the role museums play in health and wellbeing.
In all of these stories, AAM is asking its readers to think about whether these stories are plausible. “Do they describe things you would like to happen? Do you think—if you like it—does it have to wait until 2040? Or is it something you could make happen sooner?” Merritt said.
Still, Merritt noted that there are risks with publishing a magazine like this, including whether readers will buy into the concept. “We’ll find out when it lands in mailboxes. Are they going to say, ‘This is so great,’ or are we going to have people calling up and saying, ‘I don’t understand?’”
But she also said that this issue reflects one of the AAM’s strategies in founding CFM: to be the association’s think tank or idea lab. “It’s where we try out new practices and take risks, and it’s OK to try out new projects that fail because unless you try out a number of things—some of which aren’t going to work—you’re never going to find the enduring things that turn out to be good practices that you incorporate in the mainstream,” Merritt said.
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