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Museums' new mantra: Connect with community

Relevance, responsiveness, interactivity is the new road map to success.

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California’s Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger points to an artist’s rendering of the future Frank Gehry-designed Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem.

John Decker/ Sacramento Bee/ Newscom

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From San Francisco to Jerusalem, museums are bustling with new construction – and new visions, strategic plans, and ambitious initiatives, not to mention visitors. This attendance surge is fueled somewhat by the attractively low entrance fees in these tough times.

But the boom in reinvention is powered in larger part by a profound and permanent change going on between museums and their constituents, say directors, educators, and curators. The graying of the traditional museum patron, the shifting global demographic mix, and the new cultural consumption habits of a younger generation are forcing most museums to make fundamental and not always comfortable changes – refashioning themselves from bastions of remote culture into social centers and community hubs.

"It's not about the collections anymore," says strategist James Chung of ReachAdvisors, who consults for cultural institutions around the globe. "It's about community."

Whether it is the impending, state-of-the-art Museum of Tolerance rising in Jerusalem (geared toward unifying a fractured city) or a new museum in the heart of strife-racked Colombia (aimed at helping the town of Medellín heal after years of narco-warfare), community relevance is the new museum mantra.

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