Developing Museum Audiences: Interview with Morgan Marks, Associate Director of Outreach at the Cheyenne Frontier Days™ Old West Museum

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Morgan Marks (2014) is a graduate of the MMIAM program’s first cohort. As an undergraduate student, she completed a combined Bachelor of Science in Business Economics and Bachelor of Arts in Spanish. Morgan saw graduate studies in international arts management as a unique way to combine her business background with her passion for the arts. Laura Adlers recently caught up with her in Cheyenne, Wyoming to see where her career path has led since graduating from the MMIAM program.

 

 

Where are you currently working and what are your primary responsibilities?

I am the Associate Director of Outreach / Marketing Director at the Cheyenne Frontier Days™ Old West Museum in Cheyenne, Wyoming. I am responsible for all print and digital media for the museum, including web design, writing press releases, managing TV and radio interviews, creating advertising and promotional pieces for our events. As the Associate Director of Outreach, I oversee the development, arts education and volunteer programs and staff for the organization.

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The CFD Old West Museum Hall of Fame Gallery. (Courtesy: The CFD Old West Museum)

Which MMIAM courses were the most valuable to you for your career and why?

All of the marketing courses, the financial management courses, the fundraising course and Kathleen Gallagher’s courses in cultural economics and cultural policy all had a huge impact on my work at the museum. I tap into all of this knowledge on some level on a daily basis.

What did you gain personally and professionally from living and studying in four different countries with students from around the world?

Personally, the connections and friendships that I formed with people in my cohort were invaluable. It sounds cliché, but I am a sentimental person and the people I met and worked with during my study year really are like family to me now. We shared so many experiences, especially as international students with our own unique cultural backgrounds. Professionally, these experiences helped me to gain a new perspective in my career.  It is so easy to get stuck in the idea that “this is how it has always been done”, and so much of what I experienced with my cohort and in my studies has given me the tools to try new things and move in new directions.

Which of the four MMIAM campuses was the most memorable for you and why?

Definitely our trip to Bogotá. That was where everything fell into place for me mentally,

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Street memorial for Gabriel García Márquez. (Courtesy: Morgan Marks)

where I understood the importance of my studies and how the cultural sector impacts people’s lives on a daily basis. The national library system really had an impact on me. The fact that it is built to be accessible to everyone and that everyone was welcome and encouraged to be there. We were also there days after the death of Gabriel García Márquez and witnessed the national mourning for Colombia’s most famous writer. People placed yellow butterflies everywhere in his memory, there was a makeshift memorial created on the street in his honour and we observed a moment of silence before a theatre performance at the Ibero-American Theatre Festival. It was very powerful to see a cultural figure respected and revered in this way, and to understand that he was such a big part of Colombia’s national identity. We don’t see this often in the United States.

What is one of the greatest challenges facing arts managers in your community today?

One challenge that the state of Wyoming and by extension the Cheyenne community is facing is this sense by Wyoming residents and tourists that our state has nothing to offer from a cultural perspective. In fact, Wyoming has six accredited museums, which is a lot for a state of our population size. Wyoming has five affiliate museums of the Smithsonian Institution, including the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, the Whitney Western Art Museum, the Plains Indian Museum, the Cody Firearms Museum, and the Draper Natural History Museum. Wyoming is also home to the National Museum of Wildlife Art, which has internationally recognized artists.

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Bronze artist Chip Jones creating his “quick draw” sculpture during the 2018 Western Spirit Art Show and Sale. (Courtesy: The CFD Old West Museum)

So our challenge as arts managers is that we not only have to put great effort into attracting international tourists and those from out of state to Wyoming, but we also have a challenge in convincing our own constituents that we have culturally-rich offerings.  Interestingly, our number one foreign tourists are Germans, who love all things Western, especially the rodeo! At Cheyenne Frontier Days, we have diehard local fans who visit us on a regular basis, but we have many who think that since they were here when they were kids, they have seen everything we have to offer, not realizing that exhibits are always changing and we have interesting events happening here all the time.

Another challenge we face at the museum which is common for the whole state is finding a balance between accessibility and exclusivity and engaging the community at different levels. We have an exhibit right now, for instance, for which we charge $45 a ticket for the opening reception, which is geared more towards the general public, but at the beginning of the summer, just before the Frontier Days events, we have a big fundraising event at the museum which is $160 per person, targetted towards more exclusive constituents. All this is to say there is a great need for outreach and new approaches to audience development!

What are the current trends in the cultural sector in your community and what new opportunities are emerging for arts managers as a result?

We have a champion volunteer in Cheyenne, Bill Dubois, who is also Cheyenne’s official Historian Laureate, who is widely quoted as saying: “Volunteering is a Cheyenne thing to do!” and so we are in the enviable position of having a huge culture of volunteerism in our community and, at our museum anyway, far more volunteers than we can handle! This is also the case with our corporate sponsors, who encourage their employees to volunteer at events which they are sponsoring  It is a good problem to have as an arts manager, and it provides an opportunity for us as an organization to diversify the roles our volunteers may play and ensure we harness that enthusiasm and engage our volunteers in areas which play to their strengths and which are beneficial to our organization.

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