TrendsWatch 2021: Navigating a Disrupted Future

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

May 26, 2021

Every year the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) Center for the Future of Museums releases a TrendsWatch report. The report announces five new trends, gathers research on each, provides analysis, and offers examples and recommendations to follow. 

The reports can have unifying themes or have no relation to each other, and in more typical years the topics were more futuristic in scope rather than grappling with current events or issues. But 2020 and our entry into 2021 has raised many pervasive issues that can no longer be ignored by museums or society-at-large. This year the report focuses in on one overarching topic: Navigating a Disrupted Future—an obvious reference to the unprecedented events of 2020 and the uncertainty that remains.

Elizabeth Merritt, Founding Director of AAM’s Center for the Future of Museums writes the following opener: 

In 2021, museums face rapid, transformative shifts on all fronts. In response, this edition of TrendsWatch focuses on issues museums must attend to right now, to minimize harm to their communities and ensure their own survival.

TrendsWatch Topics for 2021

The issues tackled in this report are broad, systemic topics that are issues for society-at-large, and that have specific repercussions for museums to address. The topics for this year are titled as follows: 

  • Closing the Gap: Redressing systemic inequalities of wealth and power
  • Digital Awakening: Essential technologies for pandemic survival and future success
  • Who Gets Left Behind?: Caring for the vulnerable in a time of crisis
  • COVID on Campus: How the pandemic is reshaping higher education
  • Strategic Foresight: How to survive an era of uncertainty

You can get your free copy of the TrendsWatch 2021 report from AAM here.

Introduction to TrendsWatch Reports

For the past two years I’ve written a response piece to each topic tackled within the reports. The format for each report has varied over the years and, as a result, so too has the format of my responses. This year’s TrendsWatch report introduces the issue, suggests critical questions for museums to consider, outlines the challenges present, summarizes the societal and museum response, offers a framework for action, describe real-life solutions implemented by museums, and provides additional resources to learn about the topic and how to tackle it. 

Introduction to My Response Posts

My response posts for this year will introduce each issue listed within the TrendsWatch report. I will briefly summarize the topic, review the challenges as presented by AAM along with my own observations, and offer distilled set of recommendations compiled by AAM along with additional recommendations from myself. These response posts are intended to deliver concise and actionable information to support museum colleagues immediately, with clear connections to where they can find additional information and resources as provided by AAM’s Center for the Future of Museums. As Merritt explains:

Since it was launched by the Alliance in 2009, the Center for the Future of Museums has been teaching museum people how to envision the future, and equipping museums with reports, tools, and training to help them integrate foresight into their planning. I hope you are mining this wealth of content, which can be found at Please—pillage the site, make these resources your own, and use them to chart a safe path through the present storm.


The TrendsWatch 2021 miniseries will contain a total of six posts (including this one), with one post published every Wednesday. Can’t wait? Last year’s posts are available and are incredibly pertinent to our goal of cultivating economic resiliency among museums. To read last year’s TrendsWatch coverage please see: Museum TrendsWatch 2020: Financial Sustainability Introduction, Museum TrendsWatch 2020: Earned Income, Museum TrendsWatch 2020: Charitable Income, Museum TrendsWatch 2020: Government Funding, Museum TrendsWatch 2020: Financial Capital, and Museum TrendsWatch 2020: Fostering Financial Sustainability.

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

Expert consultant Rachael Cristine Woody advises on museum strategies, collections management, digital museums, and grant writing for a wide variety of clients, and is a popular presenter and Lucidea Press author. Learn about Lucidea’s Argus Museum CMS for virtual, multimedia presentation of collections, visitor engagement, and museum staff productivity and impact.

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