Inspire, Engage, Connect

This semester, we focused on likeability, research, participatory strategies, and public engagement in relation to local museums and how these steps could be used to develop new programming. I chose to focus on the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in University City, as it is one of my favorite institutions in the city. I also recognized that with their programming, or lack there of, they were missing out on connecting with a key audience, one that could greatly benefit from and enjoy everything the ICA has to offer. After speaking to Alex Klein, the assistant curator and head of programming, I found out that the education department had been eliminated a few years prior, and had been absorbed into the curatorial department. As the ICA is driven by curatorial direction, their programming revolves around current exhibitions. There isn’t any permanent programming, however each exhibition has the curatorial staff and featured artists working together to develop programs and events that would best reflect the artist and their work. I saw it as my task to create a new program, that would reach audiences that may not be familiar with ICA and modern and contemporary art.
I first looked at model programming, which led me to the peer-learning group model that is an initiative at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. I wanted to translate this concept into the ICA, as well as Philadelphia. I then decided, in order to determine a whether there was a need and interest in this type of programming, to conduct front-end evaluations and focus groups at local arts organizations. I chose to stay in University City to find these specific organizations, as I felt these were the people that already had a strong interest in art and their community. One challenge I faced was that the ICA does not perform any type of evaluation process into their exhibitions or programming. My idea to go forth with this type of evaluation would mean starting a brand new process for the museum. Once evaluations and focus group research was collected, I would then be able to start designing programming that would fit everyone and their shared interests.     
Peer-Focused Group Learning means that participants in this program would choose a category that interested them the most; they themselves would pick their groups based on shared interests and insights. The ICA would merely act as a facilitator. Once groups had been chosen by the participants, the ICA would give them a menu of program choices and the group again would pick which events, workshops, talks, films, etc., that they would like to incorporate into their program. Shared interests, as well as new ways of thinking and opinions would be shared during the groups time together, which would promote further dialogue on the subject of modern and contemporary art, while also remaining true to the ICA’s mission, which is to inspire and inform, while allowing all to engage and connect with the art of our time. Several other arts organizations and museums would be included in this programming, which would allow the ICA to partner with these organizations while also creating an outlet for cross-promotion between all of these institutions. At the end of the programming, evaluations would be given to each participant, and the ICA would be able to gauge what programming should be added or eliminated, based on participant feedback and suggestions. Again, this would reinstate that the peer-learning groups are the ones controlling the programming, while the ICA merely acts as their guide.

I see great potential in this type of programming at the ICA. I believe that the ICA can sometimes cut themselves off from their target audience. Their institution, art, and exhibitions are incredibly strong and I would like to see them reach out to the public more, while also partnering with other local organizations and their community, which would create a greater bond between the arts and Philadelphia.
In the end, I felt this project was incredibly interesting and insightful. By exploring the challenges, weaknesses, and opportunities that a museum has, one is able to see what is lacking and find a way to solve that problem, which again, would make the institution stronger and promote their mission and vision.