One of the big questions Linda and I have been working to pin down is whether you can be creative on a small budget. Based on our own experiences working in and with small museums, our gut reaction is to say yes, you absolutely can be creative on a small budget, and in fact, sometimes lack of funding forces you to be even more creative than when you have resources.
On the other hand, when we asked you about barriers to creativity in our survey back in May, lack of resources topped the list as the number one barrier, cited by a third of respondents. Here are some of the comments people made:
It takes money to staff some of my big ideas and money to bring them to life.
There are lots of things we would like to try, but we can’t afford it. Our staff does amazing things with a very small budget, but it reaches a point when creativity is stretched to breaking. On the other hand, we can’t afford to be traditional either.
I am very new to my position, but upon first impressions, it seems that a lack of resources prevents creativity. A very small budget and a very small audience are challenges for us.
I think our lack of substantial resources make us more creative, but sometimes executing creative ideas does require funding.
Two of these responses acknowledge that you can be creative on a small budget, but only to a point—you can make some improvements but you can’t actually transform your institution without more resources. While we too have certainly felt the pain of having a really great big idea and no money or staff to execute it, we don’t want lack of resources to be an excuse for sitting on your hands and doing nothing. And we are also holding out for the possibility of full-blown transformation through creativity. See, for example, Nina Simon’s post this week about doubling attendance at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, using public programs with budgets of less than $100.
Doing things the same way you’ve always done them (or the same way everyone else does them) versus implementing creative ideas and solutions is like the difference between putting your savings under a mattress and putting it in a high-yield bank account—the creative projects accrue interest. Small museums need this interest just as much, if not more than, the big ones. We worry that there are a lot of small institutions that might be spending their limited resources putting stuff under the mattress—acquiring a larger collection when they haven’t yet figured out how to use the artifacts they already have in a compelling way, or spending a lot of effort keeping the doors open 40 hours a week to serve a handful of daily visitors even if it prevents the staff from getting out to be present and involved in the community.
But we want to hear from you. Tell us about some creative ideas you’ve implemented on the cheap. Or suggest a creative small museum we should study for this project. How have you overcome the lack-of-resources barrier? What would you say to your colleagues who are worried they can’t do this without more staff and funding?