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Engaging the Public

Posted By Amber Ludwig, PhD, Curatorial Assistant, Department of European and American Art, Honolulu Museum of, Monday, July 22, 2013
The focus on visitor engagement at this year’s annual meeting of the Association of Art Museum Curators was particularly timely, as my institution, the Honolulu Museum of Art, has made education and visitor experience priorities now and in the years ahead. From conducting employee forums on customer service to the creation of a space curated by educators, the Honolulu Museum of Art is actively seeking to engage the public in a positive and meaningful manner, and I was pleased that the sessions this year dealt directly with issues I am currently tackling.

The AAMC session "Museums and Civic Responsibility” shared how some museums and curators have adapted their practices to build audiences. The Dallas Museum of Art’s simple yet elegant solution to switch from using the word "members” to "friends” to describe museum supporters represents a way in which museums can alter a seemingly insignificant practice and hope for big returns. Other museums, like the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, are testing labels for special exhibitions or reinstallations before installing them permanently. Such a practice ensures that labels are clear and accessible and offers curators the opportunity to modify their approach to serve better their constituency without sacrificing content. "Participation, Engagement, and the Curator” considered exhibitions from the perspective of the educator, and the panelists encouraged curators to incorporate participatory features into their plans to inspire visitors to connect with museums and their collections on a personal level. When accompanied by or founded upon scholarly or historical principles relating to the exhibition or art on view, participatory activities like those described in this panel can enhance the exhibition’s educational potential. As sites for learning and repositories of culture, art museums bear a responsibility to visitors both to educate and inspire, and the 2013 AAMC annual meeting focused curatorial attention on these important obligations.

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