Mixing science and booze a good lure

The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia has cracked the code on drawing millennials into the museum.

Once each month, the institute hosts Science After Hours, an adults-only party with booze. Events are themed: One month you might get an education in the science of bootlegging alcohol; during the next, it’s the science of animation company Pixar.

Of course, the Franklin Institute isn’t the only museum to host boozy late-night events for 20- and 30-somethings. The Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh hosts monthly events for patrons age 21 and older. The Science Museum of Minnesota is presenting “The Science of Sex” in February.

These museums have figured out that to draw millennials through the door, putting out some alcohol doesn’t hurt. Hosting events focused on booze, naughty behavior and sex? Also a good idea.

Millennials are social beings, not necessarily tethered to one entity but, rather, one common lifestyle: drink, eat and enjoy life with others. They don’t opt for memberships to museums because the one-time payment of an annual museum membership feels like an obligation. Millennials would rather spend money on one-time experiences: color runs, outdoor adventures and concert festivals.

The data confirm this. Art museum and gallery visits declined 58 million from 2002-12, according to the National Endowment for the Arts. The only age group whose visits didn’t decline: those 65 and older.

But museums are learning how to bring back the millennials by becoming hubs for experiences. Parties are one thing, but museums are adding more free concerts, hosting food trucks (Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts gives weekday lunch food-truck patrons free same-day admission with a receipt) and coordinating young-professional nights to spur networking.

TRENDPOST: Over the last few years, big-city museums have begun adapting to demands of the millennial generation. By taking the focus off the collections and putting it on both the space and power of an established name, these museums have found new ways to draw younger visitors. Of course, cash bars and networking opportunities won’t be enough. In the end, a museum’s future depends on members and donors. Bigger and more prominent museums don’t have much trouble bringing in new donors, but for smaller museums, finding millennials who want to give copious sums of money will be a challenge.

Tim Malcolm

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