Friday, November 11, 2011

Ignite the Power of Art

Understanding different visitor requirements is something I have recently blogged about, particularly the work of Gail Davitt at the Dallas Museum of Art. Gail has been in Australia for the last few days and gave a great talk at the Australia Council in Sydney.

What was really interesting was to understand the context in which DMA’s research was undertaken and how they reached the conclusions they did. As a reminder they concluded that there are four types of visitors namely:
  • Observers – those that stand back, having limited knowledge of art, preferring a guided experience
  • Participants – those that enjoy learning and the social experience of being in museums and galleries
  • Independents – those that are more confident with their knowledge and prefer independent viewing
  • Enthusiasts – those who are confident, enthusiastic, knowledgeable and comfortable looking at art
Gail first talked to the context, namely a Museum-wide view that it should seek to understand the triggers that get visitors to engage with art, hence the project title ‘Ignite the Power of art’.

The process involved 1) undertaking the research, 2) applying what was learnt, and 3) measuring the impact both on visitors and Museum staff.

  1. Research produced the above visitor category breakdown, with some interesting side issues, e.g. that 30% of the Observers (least engaged) category were members – why?
  2. Application involved everything from changing exhibition labels to provide for different levels of engagement to encouraging responses to exhibitions and using smartphones to deliver varying levels of interpretation
  3. Impact involved both a much greater level of collaboration between staff and visitors and more listening to the visitors’ voice, changing in branding and mission of the Museum, better collaboration between staff departments and a much greater appetite at the Museum for experimentation.
So the take-aways from the exercise Gail identified as:

  • Visitors now being perceived as individuals
  • A much deeper sense of understanding of the quality of the visitor experience by Museum staff
  • The research that DAM undertook, whilst applicable to other museums was also very institutional specific
Julian Bickersteth
Managing Director

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