CMoA Visitor Evaluation: She Who Tells A Story

 

CMoA Visitor Evaluation: She Who Tells A Story

Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History - Spring 2016

As an intern at the Carnegie Museums, I work closely with Assistant Curator Dr. Erin Peters on analyzing visitor evaluations of the recent exhibition She Who Tells A Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World. The exhibition displayed the works of 12 women photographers with themes ranging from personal identity to the social and political issues of the Middle East. In one gallery of the exhibition the museum provided visitor comment cards, each of which corresponded to particular artworks on view. My work this semester has been to code and analyze visitor experiences from these comment cards.

Myself and two other interns categorized and entered the visitor’s self-reported demographic data from the comment cards by age, gender, location, and other information written on the cards. We then created codes for when visitors responded to a specific work from the show, as well as their general responses to the themes from the exhibition. I broke down the transcribed data further by extracting more specific qualitative information such as the percentages of visitors’ age ranges, languages, genders, and works that received the most response. The quantitative information that we gathered is what we presented at HAAARCH, a showcase of undergraduate research for the History of Art and Architecture and the Architectural Studies programs.

Once we completed the quantitative aspects of our analysis, we moved onto more in-depth qualitative analysis. Again, we came up with codes but this time focusing more on the content of the cards. I have just finished coding the cards into groups such as comments thanking the artist and/or museum, positive reactions to the exhibition, negative or differing opinions to exhibition content – this includes comments on Muslim traditions negatively or positively, and on political or human rights more broadly – personal stories, quotes, visual analysis and many more. Data analysis based on these new codes is integral to our understanding of the impact of the exhibition on its audience and has proven to be very telling of viewer experiences.

Dr. Peters has since presented our project in its quantitative stage to the CMOA staff and they have shown interest in hearing about our final results. We have recently been invited to present our project at the Women’s Committee monthly meeting at the CMOA. It is great to see that our work has reached other people outside of the academic audience we presented to in the past.

Myself and one other intern will continue to work on this project next semester. In the fall we plan to analyze and consolidate the data further. We hope to eventually write everything up as a research paper and then develop a more finalized presentation for the CMOA staff. My time as an intern working on the She Who Tells A Story project has shown me the importance of visitor evaluation and the role it could play in the Carnegie museum’s (or any museum’s) approach to exhibition curation. Our project has served to reinforce the value of evaluating visitor response and also help to establish a process for future evaluation. After Dr. Peters presented our initial findings to the CMOA staff, it seems that future visitor evaluation internships at the Carnegie Museum may be a possibility. This makes my current position even more crucial to the development, ideas, and articulation of our methods for this initiative.

Our visitor evaluations and analysis could lead to the development of new viewer engagement activities and help us to further understand how demographic data and visitors’ responses can be applied to the planning of future exhibitions. Our research documents the museum’s efforts to present difficult subject matter, such as Muslim traditions and women’s experiences. This data not only provides visitor feedback that can be taken into consideration when approaching sensitive topics in the future, but also reassures the museum that exhibitions like She Who Tells A Story are important to present to the public and act as a step towards being more inclusive. My work on this project has shown me the impact that the addition of simple, interactive elements such as comment cards, can have on visitor reception of exhibitions and why it is important to investigate further into future use of these elements. I have learned so much about museum work, evaluation, and possible museum careers through this experience. I am very excited to continue working on this project next semester and hopefully help the museum create a reliable system for continued visitor evaluation.