How an art museum became a challenger brand

In an era of cultural distrust of the “big,” consumers are experiencing a renewed interest in the “small.” Some brands are creatively adapting to this shift by presenting themselves as challengers -- convention breakers, industry changers and creative adapters -- rather than tried and tested market leaders who maintain the status quo.

Challenge accepted! Driven by a goal to increase accessibility, our team at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) recently implemented sweeping changes to our admission model that broke down barriers in a big way with a focus on the “small” – meaning, in our case, an intention to create closer relationships with our visitors and reduce anonymity.

At the AGO, we believe that art is essential and that we need to make it easier for everyone to make it a part of their everyday lives. To realize this vision, we took a two-pronged approach: In May 2019, we introduced free admission for visitors 25 and under – all year, anytime. At the same time, for visitors over 25, we launched a brand-new Annual Pass that provides unlimited admission for $35 per year. This new admission model improves accessibility by helping to make the decision to visit – and the visit itself – simple. This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s pretty revolutionary in the museum sector.

By November, more than 100,000 people had signed up for the Annual Pass, and that number continues to grow. Not only are we increasing access for all, we’re also creating the next generation of museum-goers, art-lovers and culture supporters. Our next step will be to continue segmentation and customization as we get to know our new audiences.

The new admission model is a game changer – it’s bold and disruptive in every sense. It has also challenged us as an organization in many respects – from the way we view our customer base, to how we develop and serve content, to the tactics we use to engage with our new, diverse audiences. There’s a real sense of a movement that we’re building, not just for ourselves as an institution but for arts and culture in general.

Great cities deserve great civic spaces. By making the AGO more accessible, we will help cement its place as one of the leading imaginative centres of Toronto. Growing our audiences not only positions the AGO for a sustainable future, but also guides the next generation as they enhance the vitality of our city and our wider cultural landscape.


By Nympha Patel CM,Director, Membership & Database Marketing, Art Gallery of Ontario
Member, CMA Not-For-Profit Council

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