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Art & Data

An art museum that offers free memberships is reaping big rewards, reports John Tozzi in Bloomberg Businessweek (2/24/14). The reward, for the Dallas Museum of Art, is that the free memberships are offered "to anyone willing to share some data — even when it’s just their name and e-mail address." The idea is that having such information "can be more valuable than the price of admission" because it gives the museum a window into how their members are "spending their time."

Museum director Maxwell Anderson also believes "that by getting more people in the door and measuring their engagement he can use the information to persuade major donors, foundations and the city — whose dollars make up the the bulk of the budget — to increase their giving." He has reasons to be optimistic. The "data he’s gathering helps him pitch deep-pocketed donors … When he can show members joining from low-income areas, that tells supporters that their gifts aren’t just subsidizing wealthy visitors."

So far, the museum has netted $5 million as a result — $4 million directly in support of free admissions. "If everybody coming in is old, rich and white, pretty clearly we’re failing as an institution," says Maxwell. Meanwhile, the increased number of visitors "also means more revenue from ancillary sources such as parking and gift-shop purchases." Since introducing the free memberships in January 2013, the number of memberships has increased to "more than 50,000," up from 18,000 paid memberships.