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  • Shawn Gilliam

Getting to Know Lynn Farmer, Our Chief Audience and Engagement Officer

Learn more about her background and her goals for Mia and the guide program.




Since joining Mia last fall, Chief Audience and Engagement Officer Lynn Farmer has overseen programming and engagement efforts—including a resumption of Thursday evening activities, now called “Meet at Mia”—that are bringing museum traffic closer to pre-pandemic levels. It’s just one part of her role leading Mia’s Design, Editorial, Marketing, Communication, Website, Learning (including the guides) and Programming teams. What’s next on the learning and programming front, including Farmer’s thoughts on the Mia Guides program? Insight recently connected with the former retail marketing executive for answers to those questions and other key insights.

 

You’ve already met many of our guides, but not everyone knows your background, which includes majoring in marketing at Howard University and a 20-year career in marketing at Target, which brought you to Minneapolis. How did you end up on that path?

So, I fell into retail as a career, and one of the things I really liked about retail is the human aspect of it. How do you imagine what people want to interact with or want to purchase, and what are their motivations? I started my career at Neiman-Marcus in Dallas, and I have lots of fun stories from that. But I had a sister who lives here—and I decided to come work for Target for two years. That was almost 30 years ago.


Wow! What have you most liked about your work?

The through line of my career is that I've always been what I call “creator adjacent”. I love being near creatives; they always need that business-minded person who's nearby. So working in buying, I was creator adjacent to all kinds of designers—apparel designers, print designers, textile designers—and bringing these products to life. And then, after 20 years at Target and two small kids, I decided I'd like to figure out how to use my marketing skills for good. I’d already served on a number of nonprofit boards even before I left Target. Then I did a pivot and started doing some consulting. But I missed working on teams.

 

So, where did you go from there?

I went to Hamline University as their vice president of marketing and communications. And I worked with faculty—so a different type of creator—on figuring out how to tell the story of a university and the work they do for students and prospective students. Then I went to TPT (Twin Cities Public Television) to work with teams producing documentaries—again, creator adjacent—and finally here, at Mia, also creator adjacent, now working with curators. I love being near creative people.


And as you said, you were interested in working for good, too, right?

At this phase in my career, it's about how do I use my skills to give back to the community that I love? I feel like Mia is really a full-circle moment for me. My staff was looking through some old pictures for some reason, and they found a picture of me with my son at a Family Day 10 years ago. And at the time he was 9, and he's now 19 and off in college. So, I feel like Mia is just a full circle moment. It's the type of work that I enjoy, it’s an institution that I personally love, and it’s been a part of my family and my life. And we do great things for the community.



Above: Lynn with her son, Noah, now 19

Below: Lynn at Mia Family Day with her son, Noah, then 9



We do. Tell us more about your role.

So it really is about all things audience or all things visitor, and looking at that from a 360-degree perspective. So the teams that work with me include Design and Editorial, Marketing and Communications, and Learning and Programming, which includes the guides. And then there’s everything related to the website—so web developers and the like. So, how people think of Mia outside the building is a big piece of it. And then there’s the hands-on engagement of people inside the building, too. To me, it ties together a lot of my passions, which are insights about audiences and visitors. There’s a whole data component and digital component to it, but there’s also that community engagement piece. How do we really ensure that Mia is a community asset, and how do we make sure we're engaging lots of different types of communities?


Absolutely—that’s important. What are your goals for engaging visitors?

If you look at the strategic plan, one of the big parts of it is that we want to continue to grow our attendance back to where it was pre-pandemic. So that is really my charge—to figure out ways to mobilize this team to grow traffic back to pre-pandemic levels. We know that the vast majority of our visitors—well over 90%—are from the state of Minnesota. So it’s local, and how do we continue to keep Mia top of mind? But I'm constantly amazed at people who literally have never heard of Mia. We’re really well known in some circles and not as well known in other circles. And as we talk about building back audiences, what populations are we missing? We want to make sure people know that Mia is here, especially at this time when there's lots of anxiety in our world. Everyone has access to art and the meaning of art and all the things that art can do for us. And so that's going to be a big push messaging-wise for us.

 

For the people who are our regular visitors, those folks are back. They've been back for a year and a half. But 20% of our visitors on any given day have never been to Mia.

 

It’s great to hear new audiences are visiting! How do you aim to continue growing those numbers?

The goal written into the strategic plan is to have 1 million visitors a year. We know that we peaked in 2017, when it was at around 890,000, so it's not unreasonable to think that we would get close to 1 million at some point. We are capable of that, but I do think we are still building back from the pandemic. So that's a lot of my work—figuring out how we get from here to there. We think that goal's pretty far out—we’re thinking in 2030—but we're going to take steps along the way. You're already seeing the reintroduction of programing on Thursday nights—we have a full summer schedule on Thursday nights.

 

Many of those Thursday “Meet at Mia” nights have tours, too. So how do guides tie in?

Guides are so critical because they're the face of the museum to that visitor, to that school child, to that group that came in for a public or private tour. We so deeply value the work and the time and the dedication of our guides—that commitment to education. We couldn't do what we do without guides. And quite frankly, when visitors come in, we get high scores on being welcoming and engaging, and the guides are a part of that.

 

Will guides continue to play a role in growing Mia’s audiences?

Guides are important to how we move forward and how we continue to work together as the whole world evolves around us. And with that, we’re working on a lot of great strategies to come. One of the roles I'll be hiring is a Head of Learning, and the guides will fall under that learning division. We also know that we need more guides; there’s no way we can satisfy the demand we have and will have without more guides. And so, how are we thinking about that? What does growth look like? What are our goals? We’re in the early stages of unpacking that right now. We might be doing a guide study and asking guides for their feedback. I would say there’s more to come, so be on the lookout the next few months. It’s an exciting time.

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