Bowling Alone. That was the striking title of an influential 2000 book by Harvard political scientist Robert D. Putnam. Its subject was the decline in recent decades of participation in voting, volunteer activities, traditional institutions, and civic organizations—a trend that Putnam believed was undermining the basis of American democracy.
All that was occurring before the COVID-19 pandemic, but the pandemic brought into full relief the sadness of isolation and the urgent human need for community: for families and friends, neighbors and co-workers, and the affinity groups that embody and reflect the shared interests and values of their members.
Right before the pandemic, the community of Carnegie Museums members had reached a record high of 34,000 individuals and families. But that achievement was fleeting. An early casualty of the pandemic was our ability to join together as a community. Within a year after the pandemic struck, the community of Carnegie Museums members had shrunk by some 7,500 member households.
We expected a drop in membership at least that large. What we didn’t expect was the speed with which our member community would restore itself and, in doing so, help restore the museums our members so deeply value—the museums they turn to, pandemic or not, for inspiration, for respite, and for the sheer joy of discovery. Since summer 2021, our memberships have grown by 7,700—reaching a new record of 34,400!
Credit for the turnaround belongs in part to the work of our museum staff, especially those on the front lines who make our visitors feel welcome and those who create both on-site and online exhibitions and programming that engage people of all ages and interests. But credit also goes to the generosity our members and donors have shown over the past two years. In return, our museums are working harder than ever to engage the communities we serve.
Those efforts are evident in experiences that only the four Carnegie Museums can bring to our audiences. You’ll read about some of them in this edition of Carnegie magazine: the 58th Carnegie International, Mars: The Next Giant Leap, Nature’s Amazing Machines, and the Gen-Z Time Capsule.
We are also working to expand access to our member community. Less than a year after we announced our new Community Access Memberships, more than 12,000 young people have signed up for free teen memberships; more than 3,140 lower-income families have joined at a greatly reduced rate; and more than 70 nonprofit organizations have gained free access to our museums for the clients they serve.
A final word about community. When you join Carnegie Museums, the community you join extends far beyond your fellow members and visitors. It embraces the artists whose imaginations live on in our collections. It embraces the scientists whose theories and discoveries continue to animate our exhibits. And it embraces countless examples of the forms of life that have populated our planet over the past billion years of its existence. A remarkable community to belong to!
President and Chief Executive Officer,
Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh
Receive more stories in your emailSign up