Last week, Jennifer wrote about “what is a museum?” and this week, I’ll be jumping off of that by writing about how our visitors see museums and how we can understand their expectations. This post is basically an encouragement of more evaluation in our practice to better our understanding of visitors and their expectations of museums. While summative evaluation sometimes appears in the museum field, I think that formative evaluation is just as useful, but less common, in museum practice.
For the Tufts’ Museum Evaluation course this summer, each student had to formulate an evaluation plan to determine what visitors associated with museums and what the visitors expected to gain from their museum visits. My evaluation resulted in most people expecting the atmosphere to be quiet and contemplative while they observed old objects from afar. These answers echoed John Cotton Dana’s commentary of the museum in his book The Gloom of the Museum in 1917. This idea of the museum as a – well – gloomy steward of static objects has clearly survived, despite the fact that many institutions have wonderful programming and amazing, relatable stories that they tell. Of course, in some cases, a reverent museum atmosphere might be the best choice for a specific institution, but it certainly isn’t the only choice. Institutions can also use evaluation with their marketing to make sure that their audiences know about the programming that already exists.
Mostly, institutions should be responsive to their surrounding communities, and they can use evaluation to do so. Specifically, formative evaluation allows the institution to gather information about the needs and desires of the community before pouring time and money into projects. Summative evaluation can provide useful information about success of the project in meeting its goals, but formative evaluation really provides the opportunity to set goals that are in line with what visitors hope to see. Formative evaluation also makes it clear that the institution values the input of their visitors because the organization is making a concerted effort to gain insight into the wants and needs of the people who it is serving.
My class on evaluation and my interviewees’ views of museums have encouraged me to incorporate more formative evaluation into my practice, which I have found to be incredibly useful, and I encourage you to do the same!
I don’t know about you all, but now that I am busy with graduate school and work, I don’t have a lot of time to read for fun like I once did. I spend a lot of time watching TV that inspires me, but maybe isn’t teaching me anything new. Feeling cerebral while also being relaxed is one of those small joys in life, and I find those moments through podcasts.
With this post, I hope to introduce people to podcasts about museums and by museums and museum professionals, but also about history, art history, and education, which are the three disciplines associated with the Tufts’ Museum Studies program. The disclaimer is I haven’t listened to all of these podcasts, but if anyone has a special review of one, please leave a comment so we all know which ones are worth checking out. Also, this just a taste of what’s out there, so feel free to share ones that interest you, too.
Hopefully, this list has some podcasts that will entertain you for many weeks to come. Also, I hope this demonstrates what museums can do to further educate and entertain the public and what museum professionals can do to help each other.
The British Museum Podcast: The British Museum has over 2 million years of human history and culture, and this podcast looks at the stories that shaped that Museum.
The British Museum Membercast:This is a monthly series that has part of the exclusive Members’ lectures held at the museum. The comedian and podcaster Iszi Lawrence hosts this show.
Service on Celluloid: The official podcast of the National WWII Museum. They look at films portraying WWII from the past 70 years with experts and lively guests debating the historical merits of the films.
Spycast:The International Spy Museum in D.C. offers us a look into the world of espionage. The podcasts include interviews with ex-spies and intelligence experts.
Historically Yours: The University of Iowa’s Special Collections investigate the letters in their archives, peering into the lives of those past.
History of Art at the University of Oxford: This series covers medieval architecture to modern Chinese art. Over fifty associated staff discuss their research from backgrounds in anthropology, classics, history, etc.
National Gallery of Art: Their notable lectures held at the museum can be found by searching their main website or Apple Podcasts. There are over 300 episodes to choose from discussing art and major events surrounding art from historians, curators, and well-known artists.
Museum of Lost Objects: This podcast found on BBC Radio’s website discusses antiquities and landmarks destroyed or looted in Syria, Iraq, India, and Pakistan.
History, Bitches: This podcast discusses women through history, giving a fresh perspective on their classic stories.
The Modern Art Notes podcast: Tyler Green hosts this weekly series that discusses a work of art with guest artists, authors, and art historians.
99% Invisible: This podcast discusses all the things we don’t think about or take for granted in this world. It’s a deep dive into cultural tidbits that is fascinating. It includes episodes about art, history, technology, design, and more.
National Public Radio: You knew this would probably show up. It’s not just your grandpa’s radio show anymore. There is a whole section about education in this ever-changing world filled with technology.
Museopunks:Suse Anderson hosts this show that investigates the museum world’s personalities. This podcast looks at hot topics surrounding institutions, best practices, and the new ideas in the field. The AAM’s Alliance Labs hosts this site.
Museum People: This is a NEMA podcast that hasn’t updated recently, but it’s intriguing to look back through their archives. Their podcast examines New England museums behind-the-scenes, individuals connected with the museum field, and trends.
With climate change as a constant impending threat, historic sites must consider their future sustainability with regards to the environment. Sea levels are rising, and many historic sites are located close to harbors and ports, which used to be the economic centers of many towns. However, this puts them in the prime position to be damaged by the environment. While the historic house field is very aware of this problem, it is something that requires continuous attention.Personally, this issue has been on my mind because I am interning at the Nantucket Historical Association this summer, and this problem is something that the entire island will face in the next several hundred years. However, some historic sites have come up with creative solutions to combat the sea level rise, as well as other natural issues.
The Sankaty lighthouse on Nantucket was moved inland in 2007 because of eroding shorelines and a terrible storm. Mounted on rails, the entire lighthouse was pushed farther inland in one piece to preserve it for longer. While this solution saves the lighthouse for now, it is not a permanent solution to the problem, and it will probably need to be moved again in the future.
Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois experiences flooding that has damaged many different parts of the property, including textiles and flooring. The National Trust owns the house, and they are very open on their website about the different methods that they considered when trying to redirect the flood water. In conjunction with Robert Silman Associates, they explored five different options before finally choosing a system that will raise the house up temporarily when the area floods, and then the house can be returned to its original state afterwards. This option preserves both the architect’s vision and the physical house.
Many houses in Newport, RI are experiencing the same issues of coastline erosion, including the Christopher Townsend House that the Newport Restoration Foundation (NRF) owns. A recent New York Times article highlighted some possible ways to adapt historic houses for the future. The Townsend House currently employs a method of “dry-proofing,” which involves sandbags to block flooding from the house as well as a pump to keep water from standing in the basement. Some other suggestions for the house include replumbing houses so the water diverts underneath the house and is drained elsewhere, a cistern under the house to collect the water, or a way of floating the house using guide posts.
We may not be able to change what has already happened to our planet, but we can at least be as prepared as possible to try to adapt with these environmental hazards, as well as advocate for conservation and environmentally sustainable practices. Many historic sites are organizing conferences and trying to set an example of innovative planning while also maintaining the integrity of their sites.