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This resident has never been here in his 43 years...and he will be back!

So, how do you create a successful Community that draws a legion of first-time visitors from local neighborhoods?

The answer is lots of planning and an events committee composed of local representatives with a solid understanding of what attracts and interests their neighbors. "The goal for our events was to reflect the particular neighborhood we were targeting so visitors would feel comfortable and welcome," says Nancy McAfee, Manager of Outreach and Audience Development at the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA).


The Committee

The CMA's formula for success begins with the creation of a planning committee for each event. Participants generally include CMA staff as well as 8-10 representatives from targeted neighborhoods - for example, the mayor (or mayor's assistant), ministers, school board officials, political leaders and the directors of the local library branch, senior center or Chamber of Commerce.

"We begin each project by asking the committee what is important to their community, what would people enjoy when they come to the museum, how do they get their news, and, of course, will they come," says McAfee. "Outreach for each community day has been different. For instance, the people in East Cleveland told us that the printed media was NOT the way people learned of events. They said we needed to hang a street banner over a heavily traveled intersection. Another community told us flyers and posters would work the best. A third arranged for us to send a flyer home in every single student's report card."

The committees meet four to five months in advance of their respective events, then again six weeks prior to plan the program, plot publicity strategy, discuss printed materials and review other details. In the past, members also spoke to PTAs, ran radio spots where feasible and hung posters.

Photo courtesy of The Cleveland Museum of Art


The Events

Tailored Tours - Each Community Day featured six to ten special gallery tours focusing on parts of the permanent collection. "The community members of Parma love antiques, so we had an 18th century furniture tour for them," says McAfee. "On the other hand, the people of Lakewood had lots of small children, so we arranged a special tour that helped parents learn about docenting pre-schoolers through the museum."

Photo courtesy of The Cleveland Museum of Art

Hometown Participation - Music and performances by neighborhood-based talent were also a highlight of each local event: a strolling barbershop quartet for Parma Day...a high school singing group from Lakewood...Hungarian dancers from Parma. The CMA also worked with a Parma high school to train several students to give gallery tours during all three Parma Days. The students even received school credit for their efforts. "The tours were so popular that by the second year we had to require tickets so we could manage the numbers!" says McAfee.

Photo courtesy of The Cleveland Museum of Art

Greeters - "We knew that seeing friends would make new visitors more comfortable," says McAfee. Therefore, all volunteers for each Community Day were CMA members from the neighborhoods. Greeters from the community were placed at the door - neighborhood celebrities when possible - to welcome visitors and put a "Lakewood Day" or "Parma Day" sticker on their coats. Spotting similar stickers as they walked through the galleries was a way to show visitors that they were among friends.

Photo courtesy of The Cleveland Museum of Art

Lively Arts - Also featured during each event were members of the CMA Art Crew-a team of eight costumed figures that represent works of art and "work the crowd" bringing art to life.

The CMA had already learned that transportation was an issue for potential visitors from targeted neighborhoods. Said McAfee, "They can't afford expensive public transport. Many don't own cars. And most don't really know where we are." As a Community Partner with the Museum, the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) arranged to offer special bus service to the Community Day events at low cost to each passenger. The service was by reservation and was subsidized by the CMA and RTA. New visitors were very pleased with this service and many cited it as the only reason they came.

"For people in the Cudell-Edgewater area, it was probably the first time that any effort was made to formally introduce them to a cultural institution," said Anita Brindza, co-chair of the CMA's Community Advisory Council and executive director of Cudell Improvement, an economic development agency. Easily recognized by many people from her neighborhood, Brindza served as a greeter at the museum's doors during the CMA's Cudell-Edgewater-Lakewood Community Day.

And the visitors' general impression? "They were just enthralled," said Brindza. "They were overwhelmed by the size, how friendly people were, that it wasn't formal and that they didn't have to be quiet and whisper, like in a library."

Concluded one satisfied customer, "This was absolutely the best time I have spent at any museum! Fantastic idea! Please continue this program."