Reaction to Museum Magazine: Engaging Visitors

I decided for this week I am react to something different than I have reacted to in the past. As an American Alliance of Museums member, I receive regular subscriptions to Museum magazine published by AAM, and I thought I would give you my thoughts on the most recent edition of the magazine. The July/August edition of Museum magazine compiled many articles about engaging visitors in the museum. In addition to my thoughts on the Museum magazine, I am also going to briefly talk about other resources I have read on visitor engagement as well as my experience on engaging visitors to the museums I have worked for.

This edition of Museum magazine has the regular pieces from the departments. In the beginning of the magazine, a letter from the President and CEO Laura L. Lott discusses what is in this issue and additional information available to AAM members to sharpen the institutions’ focus on audience engagement through professional networks such as the Committee on Audience Research and Evaluation (CARE) and the Public Relations and Marketing Network (PRAM). There is a “By the Numbers” section that shares brief statistics of how museums impact the nation; this edition focuses on visitor statistics for museums.

One of the statistics shared in the magazine was in 2016 forty-eight percent of those who participated in the U.S. leisure attraction visitors survey, published in the Voice of the Visitor: 2017 Annual Outlook on the Attractions Industry, visited museums. The magazine also shared what is new going on at AAM’s member museums, an article providing information about creating collaborative community-based programming, and an article on museum educators sharing ideas with Chinese counterparts as part of the strategic plan to connect U.S. museums with international organizations.

After the regular pieces, Museum has five features related to the magazine’s main topic.

Greg Stevens wrote about the 25th anniversary of AAM’s 1992 publication Excellence and Equity: Education and the Public Dimension of Museums called “Excellence and Equity at 25: Then, Now, Next” which includes an interview with the individuals who wrote the original publication discussing the document then, how it has changed to reflect what is happening in the museum now, and what they think the document will be used in the future. Everyone who was interviewed for the article agreed that the effort to address diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion (referred to as DEAI in the article) in the museum field is still ongoing especially since as one of the contributors put it there will never be an endpoint where they will sit back and congratulate themselves on finally being inclusive. I thought that this last point shows there is always room to improve our inclusive programming in museums.

Another article is “Converting Family into Fans”, written by Bob Harlow and Cindy Cox Roman, which is about how the Contemporary Jewish Museum changed its focus and increased visitation to this museum. Their article shared various strategies they had used when they put together strategy and tasks including designing major exhibitions designed to attract families and new programs and a welcoming environment, reduce financial barriers, and develop community partnerships. Since I began my career as a museum educator, and when I started working at the Maritime Explorium, I have seen different ways of engaging families with museum programs and activities. I have participated in engaging families during programs such as family concerts, First Night Hartford, Family Fun Day, and the Mini Maker Faire. These programs have taught me how engaging families with museums are beneficial for not only museums but for families looking for ways to spend time together.

Sara Lowenburg, Marissa Clark, and Greg Owen discuss creating programs uniquely suited to build confidence, comfort, and community for veterans in the third article called “Serving Those Who Served: Engaging Veterans at Museums”. The article includes case studies from the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum in New York City, the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Pennsylvania, and the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington on how their programming attracts veterans. Lowenburg, Clark, and Owen proved in the article that veterans can benefit from programs and activities museums can offer.

The article “Think of a Time When You Didn’t Feel Welcome”, written by Barbara Cohen-Stratyner, Michael Lesperance, and Renae Youngs, discuss how museums can align and apply the LGBTQ Welcoming Guidelines in their internal and external museum operations. I appreciate that this article is included in this edition since our mission for visitor-centered museums is to allow all visitors to not only engage with the museum programs and exhibits but to make sure all visitors are able to express themselves as well as feel comfortable within the museum while participating in its programming and interacting with the exhibits. It makes me sad that at different points people did not feel welcome in the museum, and by using the guidelines Lesperance and Youngs discuss in their article this shows that we are making sure that all visitors and staff members can feel they have a space to go to no matter what sexual orientation and gender they identify as.

The last feature “A Visitors’ Perspective on Visitor Engagement” by Max A. van Balgooy discussed how understanding visitors’ needs will greatly inform museums work in visitor engagement. I appreciate that this article was included in this edition because to understand what the visitors want we should learn from the visitors themselves.

Visitor engagement as a topic is not new but it is worth discussing because our audiences wants and needs change as the community and nation values change. I have discussed this topic previously with my book review on the Visitor-Centered Museum by Peter Samis and Mimi Michaelson that introduces various methods of creating visitor centered programs (the link to the original blog post can be found here: https://medium.com/@steward.lindsey/visitor-centered-museums-how-we-can-appeal-to-our-audiences-6a5ebc33853).

MuseumNext, an organization that joins museums from across the world together to discuss what happens next for the museum field, posted a brief article on their website called “Visitor Centered Museums in Practice and its Future” covering a discussion Lath Carlson and Seema Rao (MuseumNextUSA speakers with 30 years’ experience in the museum field) had about what museums are doing now to be more visitor-centered and what directions the visitor-centered museums may be like going forward. The discussion can be found here: https://www.museumnext.com/2017/07/visitor-centered-museums-practice-future/. We continue to work towards an improved visitor experience for all visitors who come to our museums.

Have you read this edition of Museum? If you have, what are your thoughts? For those who have visited museums, whether you work for one or not, can you describe your experiences at the most recent museum you have visited? What did you take away from those experiences?

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