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Dallas Museum of Art Trades Memberships for Data

The Dallas Museum of Art wants to know what its visitors are up to
The Dallas Museum of Art
The Dallas Museum of ArtPhotograph by Corbis

When Maxwell Anderson took over as director of the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) two years ago, he told the board he wanted to offer free memberships to anyone willing to share some data—even when it’s just their name and e-mail address. Anderson’s idea is novel in the staid world of art museums, but it echoes what companies such as Google and Facebook have long understood: Learning as much as you can about your customers’ behavior can be more valuable than the price of admission. “We’re trying to incentivize people to represent what they’re doing, where they’re going, and how they’re spending their time,” Anderson says.

Entry fees represent only a sliver of museum budgets except at a handful of global tourist destinations. At the DMA, admissions and entry-level memberships combined would have covered about 5 percent, or $1.2 million, of this year’s $24 million budget. Anderson is betting 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 bulk of the budget—to increase their giving.