2 min read December 2022 — People who have relocated to Jacksonville during the pandemic are making the Cummer Museum a destination of choice. “It’s an exciting time to be part of the cultural sector in Jacksonville,” Andrea Barnwell Brownlee, the museum’s director, told Invest:.
What have been the museum’s milestones over the last year?
Three milestones immediately come to mind. Our gardens are an unbelievable treasure and we hired our first Doolittle Family Director of Gardens and Horticulture. We have treasured these historic gardens for so long but almost as soon as he crossed the state line, there was a new excitement and a new, rather fresh air injected into this incredible asset. The second is welcoming people back in a way that allows visitors to experience our exceptional exhibitions again after a hiatus due to the pandemic. Third is our real commitment to collaboration. This institution has consistently, even throughout the pandemic, found dynamic ways to partner with our peer institutions in this city. Those three things stand out to me as great milestones.
Where does the arts and culture sector in Jacksonville stand today?
Jacksonville has this incredible, entrepreneurial, collaborative spirit, which is quite magical. The city is embracing the idea that we’re all in this together. When we think about what the arts and culture sector means for the region, it represents a huge economic impact. More than 1,000 people are employed by this industry. We’re back in a major way, and it’s a very exciting time in the city. Of course, I’m not going to say that all my colleagues have enjoyed pre-pandemic levels because I don’t want to be disingenuous about that, but I do want to say that there’s still very much a focus on us all being in this together and coming back in full force. It’s an exciting time to be part of the arts and culture sector in Jacksonville.
What changes have you noticed in your typical visitor profile during the last year?
Over the past year, we’ve seen people increasingly bringing their families. We’re seeing intergenerational experiences and this idea that we miss being together. The other trend that we’re seeing is that things like field trips and summer camps are back, and in a really big way.
We’re also seeing that the people who have relocated to Jacksonville throughout the pandemic are making the Cummer Museum a real stop and a real destination. We have been the beneficiary of exciting trends.
What are the new marketing strategies implemented to elevate the museum’s brand?
We are focused on demonstrating the experiences that people have here. So, the difference between showing a photograph, for example, of an installation versus showing a photograph of people engaged with work inside that installation is very different. We want people to see themselves here. We want to make sure that people see themselves in a garden having a picnic, so we include more images of people and make sure that we illustrate regularly that this is about your community, your museum. I would say that has been a very successful working strategy.
We also want to make certain that people know that we have two nights where you can enjoy the museum at night: Tuesday nights, courtesy of our supporters and partners at VyStar, and Friday nights, through our friends at PNC Bank. We want to make sure that we are as accessible and as open as we can be to appeal to everyone from working families to couples on a date night. We want to make sure that we are a destination of choice.
How does the museum support the community?
I would illustrate that with a program that was started more than 20 years ago called Arts for All. Arts for All is a festival that is specifically for children with differing abilities and their families. We make sure that this three-day festival in May is devoted exclusively to them. We’re talking about students who have medically complex needs. We’re talking about students who don’t always come to the museum. We want to make sure that they know that this is a place for them. Whether it’s through storytelling and interactive sessions in the gardens with musicians or working with people who have low vision, we make sure they know that this is indeed a place for them.
How has the museum been impacted by the labor shortage?
The museum has been impacted by the labor shortage but we certainly have had an opportunity to welcome new people. We’ve lost some people, but we’ve had an opportunity to crystallize who we want to be as we grow and a big part of that is talent acquisition and talent retention. We have our new director of gardens but we are also welcoming a new CFO, welcoming an incredible fleet of people who are on the frontlines with our Visitors Experience team, day in and day out.
Given the real global hardship, we have found that this has been an opportunity to reinvigorate our staff. It has forced us to be broader and to be deeper. We’ve been able to attract and retain an incredible group of people. We’re all rowing in the same direction in this canoe so it’s a very exciting moment for the institution despite those recent hardships.
What is the biggest challenge the museum is facing?
It is making sure that absolutely everyone knows that they’re welcome here. Museums can be intimidating places, but we want to make sure that everything that we do, that we convey, informs people that, indeed, this is your community, your museum. It’s a challenge and we have to make sure that we are diligent and purposeful about that. That’s tops on the list. We want to make sure this is a resource for all.
What is your outlook for the museum for the near term?
We want to continue to build upon our mission. We stand on extraordinarily broad shoulders. We want to continue to build upon that mission and make sure that everything we do, from exhibitions to what we present in the gardens, is relevant. I think museums do struggle with relevance.
My outlook is that we’re going to continue to grow. We see this moment as an exceptional time of expansive opportunity not just for the museum, but also for the creative capital of Jacksonville. We will continue to lean into our role as a leading arts institution, and drive the next chapter of our evolution with inspiration and gravitas.
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