Museum Mindshare: Exploring Audience Engagement

Photo by Richard Hirajeta

As we begin to emerge from the pandemic, it seems to be a good time to reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re going next. In terms of audience engagement, it’s been quite a year of trial and error and creative risk-taking. Museums have embarked on developing exciting digital engagement opportunities, some for the first time, to serve audiences while their doors were closed. But as we reopen, it’s a good opportunity to get inspired by the incredible work we’ve done in the last year and beyond.

In the first event of Museum Mindshare, a group of museum professionals gathered virtually to share the projects from the past that they are most proud of and to discuss what gets their creative juices flowing. Here are a few themes that emerged during our discussion:

1. Shared Authority

No longer is knowledge restricted to the realm of curators. Many folks who joined our first session were interested in creating opportunities for more individuals to engage deeply by interpreting collections. From allowing children to give tours to inviting individuals without prior curatorial experience to curate exhibitions, our members are empowering audiences to take control and find agency within their local institutions.

2. Social Justice

Although numbers can be indicative of successful engagement, it seems that for our members that it isn’t the defining factor. We appear much more interested in how we can make change in our communities and positively impact people’s lives. In some cases, museums have chosen a yearly social justice theme, like food justice, to help guide programming decisions. In others, staff have partnered with community organizations to teach children about advocacy and how to use their voice to make a difference in their communities. Museum workers believe in making the world a better place, one visitor at a time.

3. Mindfulness

You may be seeing this term everywhere and museums are no exception. Our members are interested in encouraging visitors to slow down and experience collections more fully. From Instagram programs to web apps, we are developing tools to help audiences engage with collections more thoughtfully, reminding us that art isn’t only a mental exercise, but can inspire us to tap into our emotions, bodies, and experiences.

4. Humanity

It’s been a difficult year for all of us, and the cultural sector has been particularly hit hard with furloughs and layoffs affecting some of the lowest paid and under-recognized workers. It’s been important for our members to remember our own humanity and take care of each other during this time and always. Some of our proudest moments have been extending grace to ourselves as we navigate through uncertainty. This may mean shifting our priorities and redefining our measurements of success. And that’s OK.

Thanks to everyone for joining us for this first workshop. We hope you were as energized by the conversation as we were!

To be notified about future events, be sure to sign up for our Museum Mindshare newsletter, and reserve your spot for our upcoming conversation about keeping programs accessible post-reopening.

Originally published at https://www.gesso.app on June 1, 2021.

Co-founder of Gesso, maker of audio walks through cities + museums. Follow for latest insights on audio, museum tech, travel, culture, and more. www.gesso.app

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