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Collecting a trove of visitor data points, and crunching the numbers, has far greater returns in the form of larger endowments and more public support than the entrance fees previously collected from museum-goers.
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.