The Rogers Historical Museum served a community that was, in 2005, facing major growth and change. As part of its long-range planning, the Museum sought to align its programs and services with the needs of its evolving community. In working with the Museum, we developed an audience research project to learn about perceptions of the Museum and the needs of the community, particularly among new residents to Rogers, Arkansas. A primary objective of the audience research study was to learn about the barriers to visiting the Museum among new residents of Rogers.
To collect community perceptions data, we conducted two focus groups with new area residents from Rogers and Lowell, Arkansas and two discussion groups with local Hispanic and business community leaders.
New residents to Rogers associate the Museum with long-time residents who respect the history of what was once a small town. Although all participants with firsthand experience with the Museum expressed positive opinions, several new residents questioned the Museum's service and value to new residents. New residents also said it was difficult to feel they belonged in the community, because many have moved to Rogers from large cities around the country to work with a major local corporation. Hispanic community leaders expressed a lack of connection with the Museum and identified an opportunity for the Museum to promote understanding of cultural diversity in the community.
The project highlights a common challenge among museums experiencing changes in their surrounding populations—to engage new and diverse audiences. In this case, the community's evolution was dramatic. Our work with the Rogers Historical Museum helped inform the Museum's long-range planning, in particular providing insight to the perceptions and needs of new community residents. The audience research provided direction in planning the Museum's role in community life, in helping to find a balance between sharing Rogers's rich history, and in playing a relevant role in its evolving future.