September 15, 2009

Museum Metrics

A post over at Real Clear Arts got me thinking once again about museum metrics.  The author suggests that attendance is the principal measure of success for museums, at least in the eyes of those outside museums. Those of us who work with museums know this is not the case, but here, as in many things, perception trumps reality.  I posted a response citing the on the Real Clear Arts site, but thought a few of those links would be helpful here as well, especially give the focus of my last two posts.

Max Anderson, the Director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art has thought a lot about museum metrics. His museum's "Dashboard" is a model of clarity and depth of information:
His article The Metrics of Success in Art Museums is the best summary of different kinds of museum metrics. It is available through the Getty Leadership Institute web site, where a number of other good articles are also available.
Here is an excellent, if academic, overview of thinking about the issue of measuring success in museums, which includes Anderson's work: Achieving excellence: Investigation into the use of performance indicator in museums by Alessia Zorloni.
The Visitor Studies Association has long been a leader in helping museum understand visitors, although their focus is more often on exhibit evaluation than overall measures of success:
The museum associations have also been active in this area, establishing benchmarks to use. One example is the Association of Children's Museums' Children's Museums Metrics Reports, which proived a massive amount of data. Jim Collins in Good to Great and the Social Sectors puts his finger on the core issue:
The critical question is not "How much money do we make?" but "How can we develop a sustainable resource engine to deliver superior performance relative to our mission?"
The field of museum metrics has a long ways to go, but it is also much more sophisticated than one might suspect. The biggest issue is that every museum needs to find benchmark museums that are truly comparable (often a challenging task) and establish metrics for its own success that are related to its unique mission and vision.

Why do people visit art museums?

This entry in the Miller-McLure blog summarizes a new study from the University of Rome, just published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts. The study finds that
viewing works of art engages both the mind and heart. But whether a museum visit is primarily an intellectual or an emotional activity depends upon the type of art on display, and the era in which it was created. . . . The research team reports that visitors to a museum housing ancient art tended to describe their experience in cognitive terms, while those at a modern art museum were more likely to report they were emotionally engaged.
It would be interesting to apply this methodology to the Nelson Atkins visitors mentioned in the previous post.

September 14, 2009

Looking back at the Nelson Atkins Addition

In a short interview on the Modern Art Notes blog (Part One and Part Two), the Nelson-Atkins Museum's retiring director Marc Wilson talks about the museum's new Stephen Holl-designed wing.

Wilson is a man after my own heart as he emphasizes two things: that you need to for a successful in a building project: 1) to be a strong client and 2) that community participation is critical to success.
In terms of our goals, [the addition] has met every single goal and there's nothing we would change. I think that's an unusual statement. We did our homework and I think so far as the architecture goes we were an exceptionally strong client.
With such an assertive design, and such a strong architect, it is essential to be a strong client and to advocate for the museum's and the visitor's needs. One way to do that is to deeply involve the community in the process, as they apparently did:
From the beginning, the building project had tremendous community participation. It wasn't just the director and a couple people. We interviewed 250 people. We went to our market cities like Wichita and Omaha and we talked to taxi drivers and teachers and patrons and so forth. It had broad input and that helped us end up with our goals.
And response to the new wing is measurably positive:
The guards have a stopwatch and we can track how much time people are spending with certain works. In the [new wing] they are spending about three times as much [as in the 1933 building] and we're loving that.
More controversial may be his notion that visitors have changed:
I think audiences have abdicated their responsibility and put the success of their experience on the institution, on the producer, on the musician, the orchestra or whomever. They don't seem willing to take into account their level of preparation, their willingness to exert of themselves. I think that's a huge change.
Perhaps it isn't the visitors that have changed, but our understanding of our visitors. The traditional museum visitor (affluent and classically-educated) comes to a museum with a certain background and perspective. New audiences (more diverse, less affluent, differently educated) are going to come to the museum with different needs and expectations. Meeting these new visitors on their own terms will be critical to the long-term success of the museum.