[NPFX Ep. 36] The Future of Museums: A Crisis of Relevance (with nico wheadon and Melissa Cowley Wolf)

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Welcome to The Nonprofit Fundraising Exchange, a podcast from IPM Advancement. Our mission is to empower nonprofits to succeed so they can make the world a better place.

Today’s topic: The Future of Museums — A Crisis of Relevance

As a sector, museums have been slow to engage underserved audiences and adapt to the evolving needs of the communities they serve, leading to a crisis of relevance for many organizations. In today's podcast episode, our panel discusses how cultural institutions can redefine themselves to stay relevant and better fulfill their duty to the public good.

Time-Stamped Episode Shortcuts:

  • Introductions [1:20]
  • The crisis of relevance comes from a breakdown of values, priorities, trust, and communication [4:54]
  • How some segments of the community have been excluded from the museum experience [8:50]
  • The challenge of serving people who are not present [12:17]
  • What are some of the signs that a museum is losing or lacks relevance? [14:45]
  • Rebranding can't fix the systemic problems [18:19]
  • The most successful museums are engaging their audiences and their communities to help make changes [20:31]
  • Example of an organization committed to transformation: The Studio Museum in Harlem [21:55]
  • Investing in education as a way for a museum to reinvent itself [23:27]
  • Where do the big foundations and corporate funders of the arts sit on this issue? [27:18]
  • How museum leaders can start making their organizations more relevant [29:04]
  • How to enroll leadership, board members, staff, and community in the process [31:36]
  • What can other organizations (that are not museums) learn from this conversation? [34:24]

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nico wheadon is an independent arts consultant, curator, educator, and writer based in New Haven, CT. She is also founder and principal of bldg fund, LLC; a visiting critic at the Yale School of Art; and a board member at The National Academy of Design, and the Arts Council of Greater New Haven. As a consultant, nico delivers cultural strategy to artist-entrepreneurs, cultural institutions, government agencies, and philanthropic foundations—her approach is informed by her unique perspective as a practitioner working across sectors. She is the author of Museum Metamorphosis: Cultivating Change Through Cultural Citizenship. nico holds an MA in Creative & Cultural Entrepreneurship from Goldsmiths, University of London (2011), and a BA in Art-Semiotics from Brown University (2006).

Melissa Cowley Wolf has 20 years of experience in philanthropy, strategic planning, and programming for art museums and higher education institutions across the United States. A philanthropy consultant for nonprofit organizations, an advisor to next generation philanthropists, and arts advocate working across industries, she was named to the Artnet 2020 Innovators List as one of 51 global innovators transforming the art industry. Melissa founded advising firm MCW Projects LLC in 2017 to expand the next generation of cultural philanthropists, advocates, and audiences. She is also the founding director of the Arts Funders Forum (AFF) an advocacy, media, convening, and research platform designed to develop new models of impact-driven financial support for the cultural sector.


Rich Frazier has worked in the nonprofit sector for over 30 years. In his role as senior consultant with IPM Advancement, Rich offers extensive understanding and knowledge in major gifts program management, fund development, strategic planning, and board of directors development.

Russ Phaneuf, a co-founder of IPM Advancement, has a background in higher education development, with positions at the University of Hartford, Northern Arizona University, and Thunderbird School of Global Management. As IPM's managing director & chief strategist, Russ serves as lead fundraising strategist, award-winning content creator, and program analyst specializing in applied system dynamics.


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