When Less is More

With government cutbacks and economic hardships shadowing the last several years, museums have been bludgeoned with the outcry for more programs, more events, more visitors, more twitter and facebook followers, and to do it with constantly shrinking budgets. Every institution I’ve worked in has faced difficulty not only accomplishing those feats, but finding ways to balance the weight of all of their other responsibilities in addition to meeting new requirements. Even if visitors and social media engagement reflect the more, more, more, is it worth it? What is actually gained from all that time and effort?

I found this lovely article by Randi Korn (ala Randi Korn & Associates) that gently argues for more careful consideration of quality over quantity when evaluating output and end results. A nice reminder :)

“Museums’ measurements of achievement are often tangled up in building larger buildings, counting visitors and increasing programming. But to maximize their impact on the communities they serve, the fastest and most efficient path may be embracing the very un-American idea of scaling back.

Doing less feels scary, especially when other museums are still on the treadmill. All sorts of fears emerge when considering program reduction. Will the museum’s traditions be lost if programs are discontinued? What might fill the void? Will you receive a poor performance review? Sometimes such concerns prohibit organizations from taking a risk, pursuing a brilliant flicker of an idea or simply moving on when the time is right.

The less-is-more approach necessitates changing how museums plan, care for collections, select programs and exhibitions, and engage their communities. If numbers of digitized objects, visitors, programs or exhibitions are no longer accurate measures of success, then what is? Approaching work with different goals—for example, balancing quantity with quality, satisfaction with meaningfulness and national appeal with community relevance—may help all of us in the museum enterprise realize the true value of our institutions. Museum work isn’t only about how much or how many; it is also about providing the public with meaningful experiences that are personally relevant, significant and enduring.” – Randi Korn

Korn, Randi. (2010) “Less Is More”. Museum, 89/5: 25-27, accessed online 02.20.2012 (http://www.randikorn.com/docs/less_is_more_museum.pdf)



Extraordinarily excited to hangout at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit all day tomorrow.

Gary Panter & Joshua White exhibit!!! #volunteeringisgreat :)

Also: I keep thinking about how great it will be to see the Mike Kelly exhibit at the Whitney in NYC soon, and remember his Detroit arts roots along the way! RIP – you are sorely missed!

How Can Your Institution Better Involve Educators?

Well, there are lots of ways! But the easiest place to start is to look at who’s already doing a great job. Learn from their strengths, and build from their weaknesses – applying what features make the most sense for your organization.

Example in Best Practice: the Seattle Art Museum

In my opinion, one of their greatest strengths is recognizing that teachers are already crunched for time, for energy, and for enthusiasm outside of their working days. To get them jazzed about your programs, institution, and potential influence on their students – you’re gonna have to meet them where they’re at and you’re gonna have to make it easy for them.

Try to subsidize bus rides, or even send your educators to local schools to talk about exhibits and design interactive programs and events around what the kids seem most inspired by! Go to a PTA meeting, or offer programs that get parents involved!

Here’s where the SAM goes above and beyond: first, they give educators a choice: ‘you come to SAM, or SAM comes to you.’ Sure, it’s simple – but it’s surprising how few institutions remember to let patrons pick what’s right for them. Although I think the educator web page could be more interactive and made to facilitate a first-impression of the services to come, the resources are definitely there: between professional development opportunities, the chance to have an artist come to your school, availability of ‘Outreach Suitcases,’ and the Teacher Resource Center (despite the search interface being a bit clunky, it’s amazing!)

You don’t have to be an art museum to adapt some of these resources and implement them at the ground level! If you’re not sure they’ll work for you, the way to find out is pretty easy: go & ask the educators. Involving your community in the discussion about what would be most  beneficial for them (since, well, it’s for them) will go a really long way!!!

Toledo Museum of Art: Incorporating Technology Interactively

Recently saw a temp. exhibit at the Toledo Museum of Art called Small Worlds.

The exhibit was quaint, and stuck with me because it did such a fantastic job at incorporating technology in the right way: an interactive way. The exhibit is perched on  philosophical statements explaining the reality of our humanity’s small-size in comparison with the grander scale of the universe. To bring it into perspective, the exhibit has chosen tiny dioramas and displays that bring humans’ smaller scale to light, allowing us to see our ‘ourselves’ with distant eyes.

[the exhibit] brings together intricate, charming, disquieting, and thoughtful works of art on the smallest of scales. Each of the engaging works creates an intimate space or environment and shows scenes which are familiar, but perhaps slightly askew. – Exhibit description from the museum website

Smartphones can be incorporated into the experience – in fact, they have to: Some of the dioramas can only be seen with bright light or cameras pointed directly through a tiny hole into a house or tiny structure to see the detail inside. It’s brilliant because it requires interaction. And, while you have your phone out, you can also scan QR codes, tweet brief statements about your experience, & tag yourself alongside friends at the museum on facebook or another social media outlet.

Joe Fig

Joe Fig's Self Portrait. Interior view. 2007.

Lori Nix

Lori Nix's: Church, from The City series. Chromogenic print, 2005

I love that patrons are so engaged in this exhibit! What fun!

Highly Visible Resources for Visitors with Disabilities

Short post, but worth pointing out:

A case study of a good example for highly accessible, visible, and legitimately helpful resources for visitors with disabilities is front-and-center in the Museum of Modern Art’s web presence. Double high-five, MoMA!

This is so important, and I commend them on implementing a variety of resources that can make the museum a more fun, rewarding, educational, and memorable experience for patrons of all types, shapes, sizes, backgrounds, and abilities!

The only thing that might have been even more helpful, is giving a phone number for more specific advice, pointing to times when the museum is less or more crowded (in general) for visitors who might have a preference one way or the other, and pointing these visitors to a way to organize group visits or to correspond with someone on setting up exactly what they need in order to visit & have the same experience as everyone else :)

On the overall, though – it’s a nice, full-frontal tackle of an issue that a lot of institutions and organizations forget about or gloss over! Hip-hip, hooray!


Breaking News: Interning at the Guggenheim

Very recently I found out that I’ve been selected for an internship at the Solomon R. Guggenheim museum in NYC over Spring Break. I’ll be working full-time for the week aiding archival development, digitization, and metadata creation!! Maybe I’ll even get to work with Spanish/Italian records!! I’M SO EXCITED!

I’m also stoked for the potential (fingers crossed) to participate in the General Assembly career fair on March 3.

Other museums/exhibitions of note that I am anxious waiting to see/salivate over in all my art nerd glory include:

1.) Mike Kelly Project for the Whitney Biennial

2.) Cindy Sherman retrospective at the MoMA

3.) Bellini at the MET – *never thought I’d miss the Renaissance much, but I haven’t seen a major Bellini collection since the Rome’s Galleria Borghese circa 2008…I’m excited!

4.) Being Singular Plural at the Guggenheim – *I love the concept. I think it will be fascinating, moving, and memorable :)

5.) The Ungovernables at the New Museum

6.) Make Art (in) Public at the Children’s Museum of the Arts – *I’m really interested to see how artists like Jean-Claude, Christo, and Haring are framed for younger audiences, and how well kids receive street art and public installation projects. Will be great visitor experience research! Plus, I have 5-year old level excitement about the things I love anyway, so I’ll probably fit right in :)

I plan to visit everything fo’ free!!
I plan to take full advantage of the free-museum time/day breakdowns delivered so nicely by aGogh (formerly known as iheartnymuseums.com). The site also has a friendly, well-organized UX interface to boot! holla!

Museum Analytics

Museum Analyticsbeta defines itself as “an online platform for sharing and discussing information about museums and their audiences.”

After only having scattered benchmarks to compare progress with, The Netherlands’ INTK developed this API-based web platform for collecting statistics and sharing them with other museum institutions. It looks to be building off of the Walker Art Center’s previous museum stats tracker. Social media and web analytics can be tracked over time, and the information is freely downloadable in aggregated PDF reports.

Over 3,000 museums are already participating!

My main problem with the application is that it doesn’t seem to have considered adding measurability factors to help interpret what these statistics actually mean. 

Although having over 1,000 Facebook “likes” might mean that people are viewing and (hopefully) engaging with a given institution’s content, the information that would be more valuable if it could determine what purpose led users to the museum in the first place, and whether or not their needs were met. Asking questions about the data is just as important as collecting it:

  • Did that user have a good experience? What made it valuable?
  • How many of the online visits are return visits?
  • Are there any commonalities in what returners did on the website that led them to return?
  • Will visitors talk about your institution with their friends and family?
  • …In a positive light? A negative one?

I would be really interested to see Museum Analytics incorporate some type of institutional hash tagging, or sorting by museum size, so that institutions can measure metrics against several types of benchmarks:

  • museums of similar size/budget,
  • museums with comparable content,
  • with the same types of patrons,
  • with shared goals,
  • in the same geographic area,
  • …etc.

Collecting information about not only the social media data, but museums themselves and what they are selecting to measure over time will be a more effective tool in generating valuable visitor experiences.

Center for History and New Media

Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media

Screenshot from the Collecting + Exhibiting Page. CHNM has developed remarkable tools for data curation & beautifully archived exhibits

Just spent 3 hours discussing web tools for digital archives & libraries in school today – #ohyeah. Especially mindblowing are projects at the CHNM, which you can access here. The page on Collecting + Exhibiting and Research + Tools are worth the time (especially Omeka). Other super resources that were shared include:

  • Tagasauris – uses software to determine which meaning a user intended for sites with crowd-sourced tagging (i.e. user tags ‘chicken’: do they mean chicken noodle soup, farm chickens, the chicken dance, or chicken-crossing-the-road jokes).
  • Hiroshima Archive Project – self-described as “a pluralistic digital archive that tells the reality of Hiroshima atomic bomb.”
  • Zotero – a personal research assistant – helps you collect, organize, cite, and share research sources.
  • VoiceThread – multimedia slide show experience with new ways for leaving comments and collaborating among peers.
  • Etherpad –  Collaborative online document writing – Google used the source code to build Google Documents.