Unearthing Cultural Gems at Santa Ana’s Bowers Museum

Museums and other cultural institutions have come a long way in their marketing. With so many choices as to how to spend your time in Southern California, you have to be extremely adept at attracting visitors. I was recently at The Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, which in several ways is a marketing example that anyone can learn from. On the other hand, it’s still too well-kept a secret.

We were captivated by two exhibits: Gems of the Medici, which runs through September 15, 2013, and the recently closed The Tsars’ Cabinet: Two Hundred Years of Decorative Arts under the Romanovs.

The Tsars’ Cabinet presented hundreds of objects designed for use by the Russian tsars, from Peter the Great through Nicholas II, including everyday items like plates, glasses, snuffboxes and salt dishes. But these were no ordinary household tchotchkes, of course: Instead, each piece was handcrafted and meticulously painted, adorned with scenes to commemorate notable occasions such as births or victories in war. The exhibit offered a fascinating visual representation of the evolution of artistry in tsarist Russia. At the same time, it made you think about the misery of the masses, which the exhibit did not go into.

Similarly, the Gems of the Medici exhibit displays objects from the Medici family’s enormous collection of Roman antiquities, including cameos and intaglios as far back as the first and second centuries BCE. Each piece was intricately hand carved and many set into gold bezels so the Medicis could wear them as jewelry. The complex carvings in the cameos feature scenes from Roman mythology, which the exhibit describes in detail to help illuminate and educate the viewer. In telling the collection’s story, the viewer also learned about the history and timeline of the Medicis.

Given the size of the crowd, it would be a stretch to call the Bowers Museum a hidden gem; still, it is too often overshadowed by the larger art museums in Los Angeles and elsewhere. In addition to their exhibits, the museum has a wonderful destination restaurant called Tangata, and a world-class gift shop full of beautifully displayed, interesting merchandise. I recommend a visit to anyone who has never been or who simply has not been lately, and I hope to return myself in the near future.

From a marketing perspective, this is what I like:

  • It’s an attractive museum, done in the California mission style.
  • The people who work there are friendly.
  • Someone did a good job with their PR.  I read about the exhibit in the Wall Street Journal. 
  • Marketing materials are attention-getting and classy.
  • They have strategic partnership with Target. The first Sunday of every month Target sponsors free admission.
  • The gift shop is a destination in and of itself as is the restaurant.

From the number of people in the museum and restaurant, it’s clear that they are getting their message out to some people. Unfortunately, the museum closes at 4 PM on Saturdays, which meant that our time was sadly limited. For those planning a future trip, get there early and make a day of it!

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