Imagine you need fifty cents to pay a meter, and you only have a five-dollar bill. You ask a person walking by if he can give you change for a five-dollar bill, and he


With You by artist Miyuki Hamaba.

says he will, but you have to give him two dollars for giving you the change. You probably think this is not a fair transaction.

Now picture the same situation, but the person you asked for change from does not have it with him. However, he tells you that he is willing to walk three blocks to a gas station to get the change for you so you can keep your parking spot. In exchange for him walking three blocks to get you the change, he asks you to give him two dollars. You probably think the second transaction is fair because of the work he put into it. But why is it fair? You ended up with the same money in both situations. They have equal financial value to you. The reason has to do with our perception of effort. In the second example, the person walked to a gas station to give you change, so we perceive the effort as more valuable even though we ended up with the same result.

When a new Apple phone comes out, they produce a lot of videos and articles talking about the endless science and engineering that goes into the phone. The point of these ads is to increase the value of the phone in the eyes of consumers. When we see the hours of work and high-end technical expertise that goes into making the phone, our perception of its value increases.

The quilt pictured with this article is entitled, “With you,” by artist Miyuki Hamaba. The artist spent over two and a half years hand making the quilt. Notice how your perception of its value increased after I added that simple sentence.

The reason for this blog post has nothing to do with artifacts, but rather, it’s about the processes that make a museum run. As museums, we do thousands of hours of behind the scenes work. Just on the Curatorial side of the house, we are involved with conservation, preservation, handling, shipping, photography, exhibit structuring, lighting, planning and scheduling, insurance, staff training, exhibit branding, and much more. If you add stories into your communications that show how much work you do to create the museum experience, it will increase the value of the museum in the eyes of visitors and funders.

I was giving a speech once and told an attendee how many employees are employed at the museum where we were standing. He blew it off and said, “It shouldn’t take that many people to put some art on walls.”

Some of your visitors and funders have similar vastly oversimplified opinions of what your museum does to create your experiences and programs. These misperceptions negatively impact their overall perception of your museum and ultimately affect their potential long-term involvement. Add stories about what it takes to create your art and education product, and you will increase people’s perceptions of your value. We value effort!

Article by Frank Bennett

Writers Note: The story at the beginning about the change to pay for parking is not original. I have heard variations of this story several times. If someone knows the original source, please let me know.

The quilt, “With You” by artist Miyuki Hamaba is part of The Collection of The National Quilt Museum.

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