A woman poses with an outdoor sculpture of a mama bear and her cub.

Putting Museum Social Impact on the Map

Over the last two years, our staff has been busy advancing the museum social impact work piloted in Utah. In partnership with Thanksgiving Point Institute, the Utah Division of Arts & Museums received an IMLS National Leadership Grant for the Measurement of Museum Social Impact (MOMSI) project. MOMSI is currently working to measure social impact at 38 museums across the U.S. The data is still coming in, and while we wait, our team is sharing about MOMSI and the forthcoming museum social impact toolkit with colleagues at regional and national conferences.

Social impact has been top-of-mind for museum professionals for many years, but as museums continue to think about their relationships with visitors and communities, “social impact” is now working its way into mission statements and strategic plans. In fact, the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) announced their 2022-2025 strategic framework with Social and Community Impact as a main pillar. 

While some museums have worked internally to measure their own social impact, many museums do not have the capacity for such work, and there is not yet a standardized way for museums to measure social impact. Enter MOMSI. 

MOMSI’s 38 host museums recruited and welcomed thousands of participants for this national study. Along the way, host museums and MOMSI’s administrative team have identified successes and challenges of undertaking this work, and it is these experiences that become the backbone of conference presentations. Thanks to the Wallace Foundation and AAM, our 2022 AAM conference session was recorded. You can watch it here and learn how the Calaboose African American History Museum, Florence Griswold Museum, and Minneapolis Institute of Art have coordinated MOMSI efforts at their museums.

In-person conferences located in or near cities of host museums not only provide an opportunity for the Utah-based MOMSI team to meet and discuss the project with staff at host museums; they also contextualize what operating a study of this scale looks like at their museums. These site visits bring the expertise of the division and our Utah partners to museums across the country, and vice versa. 

There is a lot of excitement around MOMSI from museums in every corner of the U.S. (and even internationally!). Through MOMSI, the Utah Division of Arts & Museums and Thanksgiving Point are paving the way for museums to be able to measure their social impact. Laura Lott, President and CEO of AAM, gave us a shout-out during the 2022 AAM conference opening address for leading the charge to make this work possible now and in the future. The MOMSI session presented at the MANY conference in Corning, New York (pictured below) was rated so highly by attendees that our panel has been invited to present virtually this fall. Our team is thankful for the opportunity to share this work with colleagues near and far and is looking forward to analyzing and sharing museum social impact data soon. 

Top image: MOMSI Project Manager Michelle Mileham enjoying the Montshire Museum of Science’s Play Grove, a space that opened in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic and just as the Montshire was selected as a MOMSI host site. The Play Grove offered safe space for visitors young and old to explore and learn while COVID-19 indoor safety precautions were still in place.

Measuring the social impact of museums.
At left: At the Museum Association of New York (MANY) conference hosted at the Corning Museum of Glass, MOMSI project manager presented alongside staff from Cradle of Aviation Museum, Rochester Museum and Science Center, and The Rockwell Museum in a hot shop. Top right: A portion of Marie Watt’s “Blanket Stories: Western Door, Salt Stacks, and Three Sisters” on exhibit at The Rockwell Museum. Bottom right: Compass on the sidewalk approaching the Rochester Museum and Science Center.