There's a video that's been making the rounds on social media lately...people working out at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Take a look...
The comments have been fairly polarized, which will surprise exactly no one who has been involved in the fine arts (especially on the marketing side). Before I make up my mind, there are a few questions I typically like to ask about any program directed towards emerging or non-traditional audiences...
Does it (DIRECTLY) disturb the experience for the established audience?
Nope. Zero disruption.
This class takes place before the museum opens, so they won't be bumping into members, tourists, school groups, or anyone else who might normally be filling the halls.
WILL THE NEW AUDIENCE COME BACK AFTER THIS EVENT?
This is always a big question.
A major challenge for all arts organizations, especially museums, is making new guests feel comfortable and welcome in a new experience or unfamiliar space. If we can accomplish that, then we're much more likely to get guests to return.
For many people, the experience of a workout class is familiar and welcoming (not for me, dear reader, not for me). I'll wager some of that good juju will transfer.
WILL THIS BE A MEANINGFUL/ENGAGING EXPERIENCE FOR THE NEW AUDIENCE?
Compared to what?
In this case, it might be better to ask: how will this experience compare to the more typical experience someone might have on a traditional tour or unguided visit?
Considering the workout includes narration from the wonderfully engaging Maira Kalman (along with the tunes), I'm willing to bet there is enough substance to be called a meaningful interaction (though I haven't heard the narration myself). The class isn't just blasting music and sprinting through galleries. Will it setup a profound, life-changing experience? Who knows. Like I said above, I'm happy if the interaction makes someone feel more comfortable in the space, to set them up for future visits.
WHAT's the ROI?
Pretty strong, I expect. I don't know the budget, but considering the enrollment and publicity this project is getting already, I'd predict the cost of developing and implementing this (what I assume to be) relatively-low-overhead program will turn out to be well worth it.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS?
Note that I didn't ask "are there any risks?" There are always risks.
In this case, there is the risk that people running, jumping, and swinging their arms might somehow damage the art. Fair. But I think that an exercise class of 15 people performing a guided workout in empty galleries is probably less dangerous to the art than a packed exhibit hall with hundreds or thousands of people on a busy day. Or just one super clumsy guest.
Similarly, I don't think the amount of heat and perspiration generated by these folks will give the conservators any more concern than a herd of sweaty people coming off the subway in August.
DOES THIS STICK TO THE ARTISTIC VALUES OF OUR ORGANIZATION (AND OUR BRAND)?
I saved the toughest question for last, but it's also something that I'm going to cop out on a bit, since I'm not enough of an insider at the Met Museum to answer this properly.
I'm confident that any new program at an institution of this size will go through major scrutiny before it sees the light of day. That's enough for me to consider this question resolved. Another little detail: the art hasn't changed. It's not like they swap in different exhibits just for a new crowd.
If you're still uncomfortable with what this means for artistic values, it's probably because you have a particular concept in mind about how someone should experience the art. That's fair. Thankfully you can still continue to enjoy the museum in your fashion, while others enjoy in theirs.
Given all of those considerations, I'd say I can get behind this program. What do you think? Are there other questions you would ask? Do you disagree with my answers? Let me know in the comments.