Highlights from TrendsWatch 2016


Summer is the time of year to regroup, head to the water to enjoy some waves, and look out at the horizon to contemplate the second half of the year. Here at Cuseum we are doing the same, though we are diving into different waters in search of what the future will be like. So much is on our minds… What will rock the industry’s boat (for better or for worse)? What tools at our disposal will be our lifejackets?

In search of answers and fresh off the AAM Annual Meeting kick we found aspects of the  future charted in the Center for Future Museums (CFM) TrendsWatch 2016. This report has become an industry standard in discerning what new culture currents are approaching.

For 2016, there are 4 trends that CFM recommends to watch closely and consider seriously: reinventing labor, identity, inclusion, and non-financial metrics. Let’s take a look!

Reinventing Labor


There is a comfortable century-old rhythm in a hierarchical, 9-to-5 job that is about to be disrupted, according to CFM in this report. We have all seen how technology has increased productivity and made working from almost anywhere possible; however, exactly how this changes labor is less obvious to observe. CFM boils it down to a few.

For one, blurred lines go beyond the pop-culture reference to describing the dwindling boundary between work and life - if it still even exists. Employees are constantly connected, tackling work at home as well as the office. Increased hours spent outside of the traditional work environment has triggered a growing number of companies to toss out top-down workplace structures in favor of new approaches more suitable for this work-style like Holacracy. Even hours spent working is decreasing, though employees are still generating equivalent output. A result of automation, this phenomenon is further encouraging greater integration of robots and advanced technology in company operations.  

Will we even have jobs in the future? Yes, but:

(A) We may not know what they are yet…

(B) 40% of us will sidestep traditional company structure by working as freelancers or contract laborers.

Until then, CFM recommends the following for museums:

  • Abandon outmoded practices to attract the best and the brightest.
  • Shape the museum around your community (i.e. what visiting hours are most convenient, who can use underutilized space?)
  • Increase employee appreciation.
  • Address wage and other workplace inequities.



Objects, according the report, are “explosive points of contention” because they are power symbols for various identities. They are fragments of the past, bits of at-times tangential history that empower or degrade the people who are living today. Discussion of “safe spaces” has grown significantly at universities and workspaces, yet should museums become what CFM dubs cultural hazmats by choosing sides and stories?

Museums are incubators for discourse on social issues. Museums are places to objectively present the past and present. The truth of the matter is that museums exist on a continuum as does identity, and as society grapples with its countless distinctions so will cultural institutions. What voice and role will your institution play?

To help guide cultural institutions through this uncertain terrain, CFM suggests:

  • View exhibits from cultural, racial, historical, and scientific standpoints to see if most - if not all - perspectives are acknowledged.
  • Confront sensitive topics regarding the institution’s and surrounding community’s history.
  • Encourage dialogue that may positively contribute to the community or a social group.



From addressing disabilities to diversity, there is an ongoing shift to expand the inclusivity of environments and education through technology. CFM directs the reader to adopt a particular mindset: work towards broadening the limitations of human capabilities. Step away from the idea that you are curing, fixing, assisting, and/or creating a level playing field.

Cultural institutions are in unique positions to promote this mindset and expose every visitor to the work they do in a compelling way. Some people may be deaf, some may speak different languages, et cetera, but with technology there is potential to create a seamless museum experience for everyone.

CFM advocates for museums to:

  • Be thought leaders on disability and diversity.
  • Work towards meeting Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards and prep for the next wave.
  • Partner with independent living centers or related NGOs to audit ADA compliance.
  • Integrate people with disabilities onto staff, committees or boards.
  • Deliberate how disabilities are discussed in interpretation.
  • Highlight how disabilities do not impair individuals from generating positive impact on society.

Non-financial Metrics


Money equals happiness, right? Comparing different individuals’ happiness is akin to comparing apples to oranges, which explains why societies have desired to shy away from tackling subjective happiness by approximating it through money spent. Something has altered in this calculus in recent years because there are signs of a global pivot to measure happiness and overall well being.

Maxwell Anderson, one of our favorite veteran museum directors and thought leaders, underscored that within the museum industry, the turning point occurred when measuring the success of a museum with traditional parameters such as attendance and value of the collection painted an incomplete picture. These metrics masked the failures of museums in engaging their visitors and accomplishing the institution’s core values.

CFM sees extraordinary potential in the coming years to design metrics that measure the long term wellbeing of cultural institutions. To start, they propose:

  • Consider the level of happiness visitors are experiencing as they walk through the space
  • Track employee wellbeing (also called a “happiness audit”)
  • Partner with nonprofits and businesses to promote community wellbeing


There is a considerable amount to mull over by the water’s edge. CFM’s message this year is two-fold:

  1. First, embrace progress, whether it is a technological advance that opens your museum up to everyone or evaluating the quality of life, work and visitor experience your cultural institution generates. 
  2. Second, greet society’s diversity and conflicts with an open mind. The best approach to both? Partner with communities, nonprofits, or businesses to collaborate and create reciprocal impact. 

The coming transformations are monumental but surmountable with CFM’s advice. We are in this together both as a local community and a global one as we move towards this positive and exhilarating future.

Download the CFM’s full TrendsWatch 2016 report here.

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