Quick chat about engagement, and a very exciting announcement!

ELAN’s Public Relations Chair, Cat Bradley, shares some thoughts about Nina Simon’s blog, Museum2.0, along with an exciting opportunity.

As emerging leaders, we strive to stay ahead of the curve for audience participation, and up to date with exciting audience opportunities. Audience engagement has been one of these hot topics for the last couple of years. As many ELAN readers know, Nina Simon is one of the forefront leaders of engagement in the field of arts institutions.

I love talking about Nina Simon. First off, I mean c’mon, she’s awesome. She’s got a great blog, an awesome book, and she knows her stuff. Plus, she is unstoppable and a great example for our emerging leaders. She graduated with her B.S. in electrical engineering and a minor in math from Worcestor Polytech, and continuously pumps out creative ideas to help get our museums on the best audience-relations/engagement/involvement track we can.

AAD has some great connections with her institution, the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History. Alum, Emily Hope Dobkin holds the position of Youth Program Manager at the MAH, and ELAN Administrative Chair, Alexandra Richardson had a great internship with them over the summer of 2013.

Nina recently posted about something that relates very deeply to many of our students… the hashtag. ELAN member Meghan Burke has made the hashtag a staple through our vocab, through it’s straight-to-the-point references, and comedic relief. This is currently a national phenomenon, even becoming part of a sketch for Jimmy Fallon. But what does this mean for audience engagement?

Nina points out that the hashtag provides the museum with so much more information than museum experts originally thought it would.

Simon states,

“Here are a few of the hashtags I’ve seen applied to photographs of museum objects on Instagram lately:

“I think this means huge potential for museums to better understand visitors’ emotional and affective relationship with specific objects and experiences–what surprises, delights, confounds, and connects. In this way, I see the shift in the use of tagging as opening up new opportunities in visitor research.” Via Tagging in Museums…

This is great, and relates to a lot of other museum research we’re seeing right now. Last year, at the University of Oregon, Phaedra Livingstone assembled a series of professional museum lectures from some amazing leaders in the arts and institutional field. I can’t help but recall the lecture by John Falk and Lynn Dierking titled The Museum Experience Revisited (also the title of their book)

One of the points Falk made in his lecture is the difference between Identity with a capital I, and identity with a lower case i.

  • Identity with a capital I helps us to understand the demographics of the individuals visiting the museum.
  • identity with a lower case i helps us to understand the role each individual is playing during the time of their visit.

One individual’s Identity (with an upper case I) will remain constant: their age, ethnicity, collegiate experience, etc. The same individual’s identity with a lower case i will change.

  • Using myself as an example, my Identity is that of a 20-something with a Master’s degree, Jewish, Female. This is always the same.
  • My identity is inconsistent. Sometimes I play the role of a native Floridian Southern-Jewish girl with tan lines and a serious appreciation for sugar cane and fried chicken. Sometimes I play the role of Pacific-Northwest Graduate Student who is also a complete coffee snob and can tell you why you should hold a wine glass on the base or stem, rather than the bowl.
  • Similarly, the Identity of a random visitor may be the same, for example: 30-something mother of two children.
  • But the identity of the same woman can change. Imagine how her needs are different when she brings her children to the museum as a way to help educate her kids about culture and entertain them, versus when she comes to the museum by herself as a way to relax and enjoy some quiet when she has a baby-sitter for the day. The demographic Identity of the same exact constituent is the same, but her needs are completely different in the two situations.

As it turns out, the reason people visit museums and become engaged with institutions has a lot more to do with their identity (with a lower case i) than their Identity (with an upper case I). Nina Simon’s point about the #hashtags helps museum professionals to delve deeper into audience insight in order to understand more about their identity (with a lower case i), therefore allowing us as museum professionals to understand their needs and why they are visiting the institution. In other words: #themoreyouknow, #socialmediaisawesome, #yourlifeisonfacebook.

Here’s the exciting announcement I promised:
ELAN has just finished a fundraising campaign to hold a professional development lecture with Nina Simon on May 22nd, 2014! More details to come, but Ms. Simon is confirmed so I urge everyone involved in ELAN: come! bring friends! Let’s get personal!