By Dafna Meitar-Nechmad
The saying “timing is everything” has never been truer.
Once upon a time, when Corona was still just a good-tasting beer with a twist of lemon, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art approached my family fund and asked for support to purchase a photography collection for the museum archives. Although we are photography collectors and lovers, my family and I were not convinced that our funding would yield the best return on investment by purchasing photographs, which would probably collect dust in the museum archives without being exhibited. But since we did want to support the museum, we set out, in partnership with the museum’s management team, to identify a worthy cause. The museum presented us with several proposals, and I decided to study them by taking a look at the museum website. I soon discovered that the old website was both technologically and visually dated, and not very user friendly. And I realized that the best gift we could give the museum would be a new website.
Suzanne Landau, the museum’s director at the time, was surprised that the idea came from us, because based on her experience, donors usually prefer to support exhibits or exhibition halls.
A website is perceived as an operating expense, or utility, such as electricity, water, or cleaning, the type of expense that most donors expect nonprofit organizations “to take care of by themselves.” We actually saw the website as a winning combination of content and infrastructure: What could be worthier than investing in a sophisticated instrument that would give the museum exposure in Israel and abroad, upscale museum accessibility, and help increase ticket sales? We envisioned an attractive presentation, not only of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art but of the city of Tel Aviv and even of Israel, one that could draw potential visitors from around the world.
Our expectation was that within a relatively short period of time the new website would significantly increase the museum’s income, above and beyond the amount of money we were willing to invest in a state-of-the-art website. What we didn’t know was that it would be a very long process, taking almost twice as long as we had initially planned. In the meantime, a new museum director was appointed and she joined forces to move this project forward. As for the budget, this too went a bit overboard – not very significantly – beyond the original investment, and the museum stood up to the challenge and raised the extra funds on its own. Bottom line – we are very pleased with the end product.
The process of building the website entailed a deep analysis of how the museum, and all its departments, functions. A wide array of content, historical documentation of the museum, its buildings and of course the many exhibits displayed since its inception was gathered. Historical content about the city of Tel Aviv and the history of Israeli art were also incorporated into the website, expanding its target audience. The website exists in several languages and serves as an important resource for tourists and art lovers all over the world.
When the site was finally launched in January 2020, little did we know that only two months later the museum doors would be shut for an extended period of time, and that the website offering virtual visits would be the museum’s sole connection with the public!
Museum Director Tania Coen-Uzzielli wrote in a recent newsletter to the museum supporters: “Our new website is a critical and significant tool enabling the museum to continue operating in a different format, with online content that will help us weather the storm. For now, it is the main platform of our activity, and enables the museum to be in touch with visitors, friends, and supporters. For this reason we have uploaded a variety of materials including virtual tours, assorted videos, online audio guided tours and live streaming of exhibition tours.”
The total number of website visitors in March grew by 77 percent in comparison to the monthly average in 2019. In the new world, during and post-coronavirus, it looks like this is just the beginning.
This is a story that demonstrates why the field of philanthropy is alive and kicking, constantly changing and adapting itself to the circumstances of time and place. Its impact is unfathomable.
My wish for the museum and for the Israeli public, is for the Tel Aviv Museum of Art to reopen shortly. The needs brought on by the crisis will stay with us for a long time. Now, more than ever, we must come up with creative solutions and aspire always to be pleasantly surprised by our social investments.
Dafna Meitar-Nechmad is Campaign Co-Chair of Tel Aviv University (TAU) and a founder of the Institute for Law and Philanthropy at TAU, which aims to help integrate philanthropy into Israel’s socio-economic policy. A native Israeli, she lives in Tel Aviv and is a board member of Jewish Funders Network.