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The 203-year-old Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) underwent a transformation that physically reconfigured its facilities. Much of what PEM offered was new — new facilities, new ways of exhibiting work and new attitudes and approaches. The transformation was an opportunity for reinvention that no other American museum had ever been presented with. As part of the $197 million initiative, PEM hired Minelli, Inc. to create a brand that complemented and promoted their new aspirations and philosophy.
Working with the museum’s staff to uncover the essence of the new philosophy and vision, Minelli defined a new kind of museum – one of art and culture that uniquely positioned PEM and reflected the bold new promise of the museum. Understanding PEM’s target audiences, motivators and mindsets, led to the development of a positioning model based on the idea of “Emotional Journeys”: self–directed, open–ended, engaged experiences that continue to evolve over time with each visitor. The model not only crystallized the museum’s vision, but also gave the museum the means to understand what they were striving for as an institution and a strategy for consistently presenting itself to the public.
Minelli developed a powerful tool – image–pairs – to bring to life the “Emotional Journeys” concept. A word describing an emotional state (i.e. harmony) was combined with a pair of images, one representing an item from the museum’s collection, another a relevant contemporary photo. Art (the item) meets culture (the contemporary photo) on common ground. The pairings made their way into gallery guides, interpretive material, docent training, magazines and the museum website.
The transformation of the Peabody Essex Museum has been heralded as one of the most successful transformations of any American museum. Opening attendance exceeded expectations by 250%, with nearly two-thirds of those visiting for the first time. Museum memberships have increased substantially at both the family-level and upper-level categories. Exit surveys show visitor satisfaction exceeds 90%, which is one of the highest on record for a major museum.