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Holden Forests & Gardens working to diversify and grow its audience

The organization hired a consultant to help
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Posted at 9:00 AM, Jul 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-10 09:00:34-04

CLEVELAND — Emmanuel and Jessica Baako visited the Cleveland Botanical Gardens to explore what Northeast Ohio has to offer. They moved to Brecksville right before the start of the pandemic.

“We are without our kids today, so it’s a good quiet escape for us,” said Emmanuel Baako. “Being able to just walk around and enjoy the day, kind of just an escape from every day.”

And they’re not alone. Every year, around 380,000 people travel to Cleveland Botanical Gardens or Holden Arboretum to get out and enjoy nature.

“You see something different every single day you come here,” said Nicole Wong, who has a membership to Holden Forests and Garden and brings her 6-year-old daughter Hannah to the two campuses often. “It’s a chance for the kids to run around and play and, also, be stimulated in different ways than just they would in their backyard.”

Connie and Ed Babcock are also members. They have been visiting Cleveland Botanical Gardens for the past 20 years.

“You need inspiration. You need to come here and it’s inspirational to come and see the gardens,” said Connie Babcock. “I’ve seen a lot of growth, a lot of change, even the trees.”

While the decades at the garden and the arboretum have provided new exhibits, flowers and plants, Jill Koski, the president and CEO of Holden Forests and Garden, said it was time for the audience to grow, too.

“We need to reach audiences that may not have traditionally found a home at either campus,” she said.

Koski said visitors that come to enjoy both campuses are primarily and majority white.

“Our current membership base is probably 90% white, Caucasian and what we are really hoping is to balance that with what the true population of Cleveland is,” she said.

Holden Forests and Garden hired a consultant and collaborated with the research group ThirdSpace to diversify and grow its audience. According to its website, ThirdSpace is a grassroots research, strategy & design cooperative, dedicated to prototyping creative place-based solutions to complex socio-economic problems.

The group's job is strategically planning and researching how to get more people to come out and enjoy both campuses.

“We are going to have a real big focus on family experience, improving visitor amenities and simply finding out more ways to engage broader communities and making this everyone’s backyard,” said Koski.

It is in the early stages of the planning process but Koski said the organization has started by talking to people from different and diverse backgrounds.

“Instead of coming up with a plan and saying ‘hey what do you think,’ instead it's like first let’s listen and tell us what you think we need as a community and how you might connect best to us, so very early phases,” she said.

Ed Babcock thinks marketing the arboretum and botanical garden is a good idea.

“You always have to try and market to get more people coming in, otherwise, you keep the same people you always have and they’re going to die and you got to start over again,” he said.