Emerging Findings & Contribution to the Field

Carrie Jones ’15

As a visitor services associate I witness guests’ orientation behavior. The moment after people purchase their tickets they look for a map, snap a photograph, and browse the racks for brochures. They want to feel comfortable in the space and also to personalize and organize their experience. After I tell disappointed guests that there is no photography in the galleries they often joke, “oh, so no selfies?” The point of this anecdote is to illustrate the influence of participatory culture on my thesis research. Not all museum goers are complacent just being a passive observer, but expect to be participants whose museum experience mimics their ability to curate their own lives. This is important to consider when looking at the models (community and crowdsourced curation, community gallery spaces), which in their own ways hope to better connect exhibition content to their audiences. The museums I’m using as examples are each working to become more “community driven.”

Image taken from The Walters Museum Pinterest page

The cases I’m analyzing in my thesis are stepping stones for museums to rethink and experiment with the way they interact with their publics, while considering participatory culture. Finding a way to tie the models together and illustrate how they are effective has been tricky considering each model is unique to the different museums that have adopted them. Each museum is dealing with different content and community, which makes each model unique. I’ve found common threads of relationship building and dialogue. The key evidence I have is my case study materials and both informal and formal interviews. Thought leaders like Nina Simon and Ron Chew have been influential throughout my my research process. I’ve also found recently published theses dealing with similar content on shared authority. These materials, along with other research, will support my findings.

My thesis research is tied with my interest in community engagement. I think it will deepen my understanding of what it means for a museum to really exist for their public. I will contribute my own suggestions to the museum field. I’m interested in observing these models evolve over time as the public’s needs and interests do too.