At the beginning of September, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts spent an hour with a fun twist on the popular Ask a Curator concept. Instead of the public asking questions of the curators, the curators asked questions of the public.
From an “I like thinking about audience interaction” perspective, I loved this. Why? Two main reasons:
- The range of questions, from “What kind of exhibition would you propose for our 100 year anniversary” to “What’s your favorite place to eat when you’re visiting the MIA?”
- The fact that the questions were coming from the curators. Not the docents, not the membership office, but people whose positions require they interact with the objects more than with the visitors.
Is it useful? I think it could be. Granted, the sample is small and self-selected, but these are people who have an interest and took the time to answer the questions. Will it drive decisions? No. Will it influence them? It might. Will it give visitors a chance to feel engaged with an institution they like? Yes.
One of my favorite questions for potential usability was “Which part of the Asian gallery is your favorite?” There were a range of responses, without a standard favorite rising to the top. To me it starts to get exciting if the curators also answer the question, and the two sets of responses are compared.
- How much overlap is there between the answers of the visitors and the curators?
- Is there a specific object the curator of that gallery would like to get more recognition?
If so, why does it deserve more attention? Why isn’t it getting that attention now? Is it something that needs more explanation? Is it in a low-lit area or a corner people are likely to miss?
The whole conversation came to my attention when I read a post critical of it. The exact criticism wasn’t clear to me, either that the whole exercise was frivolous or that it was silly for the curators to be wasting their time talking to visitors (my inferences, not actual quotes). Regardless, it frustrated me and made me want to get out the soap box.
I’m not in the loop on everything the MIA is doing with their visitors, but my overall opinion is that they are frequently finding new and interesting ways to connect and to encourage people connect with them. I also suspect they’re already way ahead of me in finding ways to use this information.