Museum Studies at Tufts University

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Category: What We’re Reading (page 2 of 5)

What We’re Reading: Membership Isn’t the Top of the Mountain

Membership is traditionally a way for museums to increase engagement and have an additional source of revenue; however, museums often struggle to attract new members and keep existing members engaged. In this blog post, Eric Bruce, Head of Visitor Experience at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) provides AAM with the third post in a series highlighting Mia’s recent strategies for increasing their audience, including their membership base. Bruce explains their new approach that prioritizes loyalty over membership. To gain this loyalty, Mia strives to demonstrate loyalty to their visitors. With this mindset, the institution has made membership accessible for all visitors with no annual donation requirement and has since seen a dramatic increase in their membership base. To learn more about how exactly they have done this, read the article here.

What We’re Reading: “This Art Museum Hired a Neuroscientist to Change the Way We Look at Art” -Christopher Snow Hopkins

What We’re Reading: “This Art Museum Hired a Neuroscientist to Change the Way We Look at Art” -Christopher Snow Hopkins

Imagine your professional life as a chaotic compilation of meetings, projects, networking, events, and a traffic-ridden commute – not far from the truth, right? Now think about the way your brain focuses in some of these hectic work-life situations? Can you hone-in on the million things that run through your mind or the numerous tasks you have to complete? Probably not to the extent that you would like.

So, now let’s make the metaphoric stretch of this hustle-bustle lifestyle to the salon style presentation of museum galleries. Chances are, if you have ever found yourself in a salon setting you may find it hard to focus on a specific painting or object, or you may feel overwhelmed by the volume of works on display. From here, questions arise as to why and how the human brain can’t seem to focus on too many things at once, or why we might feel overwhelmed in everyday life or museum salons? Or how can museums best present their collections in a balanced manner that does not overwhelm and underwhelm the audience? These questions, compiled with the declining attendance in museums, are what prompted the Peabody Essex Museum to hire Neurological Researcher Dr. Tedi Asher in the hopes of finding a means to display its collection that will draw audiences in and increase the relevance of museums in today’s world. In his article “Neuroscientist to Change the Way we Look at Art”, Christopher Snow Hopkins explores the measure that the PEM is taking alongside Dr. Asher to offer heightened sensory experiences that challenge, but also meet the needs of the audience.

According to author Christopher Hopkins, the aim of neurological research at PEM is to continue to promote museums to the public in a time of declining museum attendance. Dr Asher believes Neuroaesthetics is the key to this mission expansion at the PEM. As described in the article, neuroaesthetics is “the synthesis of neuroscience and aesthetics.

Neuroscience could hold many answers to the problematic relevance museums seem to face today. Perhaps visitors are not being “wowed” enough, or they are being overwhelmed by an exhibit, as suggested in the salon-style example. Thus, neuroaesthetics is a fresh approach that could help improve the visitor experience and intake through our brain connections. Asher claims that a “satisfying experience has this delicate balance of meeting and violating our expectations.” Therefore, in exhibit design there is a fine balance between surprising the visitor and helping the visitor make sense of the content.

Asher is also aiming toward creating rest areas that act as palate cleansers to give visitors a break between art pieces, exhibits, etc.  She also wants to develop spaces that really highlight one or a few objects, but evoke different emotions and sensory experiences within the space to accompany the objects.

It will certainly be intriguing to follow Asher’s progress at the PEM and to view and better understand neurology’s place in the museum experience.

Click here to read Christopher Snow Hopkins’ full article!

What We’re Reading: Cultural Organizations: It Is Time to Get Real About Failures

Has anyone ever told you “it’s okay to fail” or “failures are the pathway to success”? My guess is yes. It’s pretty common rhetoric these days to hear the advice to admit failure. Which is why, when I went to read this article, I was skeptical about reading much that was new. I was wrong. As she does often, Colleen approaches her topic with fresh eyes and new arguments. In Cultural Organizations: It Is Time to Get Real About Failures, Colleen spends more time questioning how, to whom, and when, museums admit failure than she spends discussing the benefits of admitting failures in general.  Riddled with hard data to back up her thoughts, the article confronts readers with challenging questions to ask themselves and their institutions when talking about failure:

  • Are all ‘successes’ presented at conferences really successes or are some “mediocre outcomes” masked as successes? Who might we be trying to impress by making something look more successful than it really was?
  • What failures do we admit and which do we still hide from view?
  • Whose responsibility is it to call out failures? Where is the line between calling out and shaming fellow institutions?
  • Are failures that are shared actually helping others in the field? What can we do better to prevent colleagues from making the same mistakes?
  • How can we turn the focus of admitting failures from us to those it would help?

What We’re Reading: Brown Girls Museum Blog and The Washington Post

Today’s post comes to you from Sally Meyer, current Tufts Museum Studies and History M. A. candidate. To read some of her other work for the blog, click here.

Brown Girls Museum Blog:

Amanda Figueroa and Ravon Ruffin are consultants in the museum field. Together, they started the Brown Girls Museum Blog (BGMB). Their blog, particularly the critical thought section, is interesting, thought provoking, and addresses a lot of the long term issues museums face. Most notably the need to increase diversity in all facets of museum work: staff, visitorship, membership, interpretation, and approach to collections. They talk to artists, talk about their work, about being young professionals, review exhibitions, and provide fresh perspectives on a variety of issues in the museum world.

The Washington Post: “For decades they hid Jefferson’s relationship with her. Now Monticello is making room for Sally Hemings.

Monticello, the historic home designed by President Thomas Jefferson and built by the enslaved men and women he held in bondage, is gaining a space to tell a more complete story. Jefferson is believed to have had a relationship with Sally Hemings, an enslaved woman who was part of his wife’s estate. This article in the Washington Post tells of how the historians at Monticello are working to restore the room they believe she may have inhabited. The article is a reminder of the importance in museums of working to include marginalized people and of emphasizing the “crueler truth” of the American story.

What We’re Reading: 12 STEM Entry Points

There is often an idea that STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects are incompatible with art and history. Art museums talk about art, history museums talk about history, and science museums talk about science. This is not to say there is absolutely no overlap, but one would be hard-pressed to go to a major fine arts museum and find an engineering-based activity. STEM can seem scary because it might be thought of as outside of the museum’s mission or as too technical and ‘science-y,’ but STEM doesn’t always mean doing a full-scale chemistry experiment in the galleries.

STEM can seem scary, but it doesn't always mean doing a full-scale chemistry experiment in the galleries.

STEM can seem scary, but it doesn’t always mean doing a full-scale chemistry experiment in the galleries.

Instead of siloing these subjects in our museums, we can think about them with another acronym: STEAM. You may have heard of it before, but it’s the idea of incorporating art with STEM concepts. For instance, one could think about the chemistry behind mixing pigments for a painting, or explore the aesthetic design process of an engineering project.  To think about ways to incorporate STEM and STEAM into your museum, I find the following article by Tom Vander Ark and Mary Ryerse, 12 STEM Entry Points, to be helpful. Although the article does not strictly discuss incorporating STEM and STEAM in museums per say, they do mention museums and the ideas they present are just as valid. They can even provide your museum with a welcome challenge, like adding a makerspace or challenge-based learning to your activities. If you are looking to diversify your museum’s subject matter and educational reach, check out their article!

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