One of the questions we often get about 1stfans is whether it is our “young members” group. Most NYC Museums have “young patrons” groups targeted towards people aged 21-40, with annual dues ranging from $100 to $1000. The idea behind these groups is that young people, especially in NYC, strongly value the social aspects of membership and also like meeting other young people. By creating special groups dedicated to serving those social needs of a specific age group, Museums are able to cultivate the “next generation” of annual donors. From the Member’s perspective, groups like these provide an opportunity to mingle with social peers who also have an interest in art. These groups, some of which began as a way for museums to engage the children of Trustees and major donors, are, by most accounts, very successful today.
Though traditional young patrons groups share similar motivations and goals with 1stfans, let me explain why the parameters for 1stfans are different. One major reason Shelley and I started 1stfans was to provide a membership structure that appealed to two specific segments of our community: Target First Saturday visitors and online followers. Because both those groups are filled with people of all ages, it didn’t make sense for us to limit 1stfans membership to anyone within a specific age range. Though we have to rely on news stories to tell us that people who use social media aren’t just young folks in their 20s and 30s, we’re able to see with our own eyes (take a look at the picture above) just how diverse in age our 1stfans are who attend the monthly Target First Saturday meetups. Yes, there are plenty of young people in 1stfans, but I consider that more a reflection of our general visitorship (one of the youngest and most diverse in the country) than of a specific effort on our part to make 1stfans appealing for a younger crowd.
And that’s the main difference between 1stfans and other young patrons groups: the goal of 1stfans is to make our membership base reflect our audience as a whole, and with young patrons groups the goal is to attract a very small subset of folks within a certain age and income demographic. Both efforts are critical to securing the future of museum membership; we as institutions just go about it in different ways. For many 1stfans, their $20 membership is the first membership they’ve ever had at any museum. In those cases, 1stfans is their introduction to the concept of museum membership, and we realize that for many people both locally and far-away, Brooklyn Museum membership—like the Museum itself—should be about access and opportunity for as many people as possible, which means no age restrictions.
Will Cary was the Brooklyn Museum's Membership Manager from January 2008 to May 2010. In addition to making sure all Brooklyn Museum Members got the most out of their Membership, he also developed the 1stfans Membership program in order to grow the Museum’s community of supporters. Before joining the Brooklyn Museum in January 2008, Will worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. Will graduated from Williams College with a degree in Art History and Economics. Will now works in Membership at the Portland Museum of Art in Portland, Maine.