To Survey or not To Survey: Conducting Audience Evaluations

Image of the Carnegie Funerary Boat within the Walton Hall of Ancient Egypt


To Survey or not To Survey: Conducting Audience Evaluations

Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History - Fall 2017

A survey is just a piece of paper or an online questionnaire that takes a couple of minutes of your time; a completely insignificant portion of a lifetime. Who knew that the small piece of paper or the few seemingly simple questions could hold so much weight in the world of museum curation.

This semester I had the privilege of interning with Dr. Erin Peters, the Assistant Curator of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, in the development stages of the new Egyptian exhibit Egypt on the Nile. I was tasked with creating and carrying out formative audience evaluations; gathering feedback from the Walton Hall of Ancient Egypt visitors on the plans and ideas for the future exhibit. Before my time on the museum floor, I began by reading articles and past evaluations to gain an understanding of the methodologies and importance of audience evaluation. Although the curators and the museum staff have the final word in an exhibition, audience feedback will feed into the creation of the exhibit; after all, the exhibit is for the visitors.

As they were in the later stages of the evaluations, the survey I created had to be more specific to the designs of the new exhibit. I was focused on the digital display for the Carnegie Funerary Boat, specifically its auditory segment. This resulted in a multi-style question survey about the possible interactive ideas for the boat's installment. In addition to the survey, I used visual aids to give the visitors a clue as to how the exhibit will come together and to illustrate the new themes and digital additions to the current objects on display. This resulted in approximately one hundred and five total responses. I will be concluding my internship by compiling all the responses and analysis into a final report that will be used in the two next stages of exhibit development.

Due to the large number of responses in a short amount of time, the significance of visitor feedback becomes more apparent. While compiling the results you begin to realize how a collective audience feels about a museum experience; what kinds of displays attract the most people, how lines affect a museum experience, whether visitors are willing to stop and read labels, and what they are hoping to learn when they enter a museum space. This survey will help dictate the use of handsets versus the overhead projection of sound, how the boat segments are displayed, whether or not they utilize both auditory and visual displays, and even what themes and concepts are focused on within the exhibit as a whole. As a past visitor I never really get a chance to see the impact I made on the exhibit just by visiting, but working behind the scenes I got the chance to experience first hand not only how important the visitors are, but how stopping to fill out a few quick questions can shape future museum experiences.

Overall, this internship provided me with a greater appreciation and understanding for the work and effort needed to create an accessible and effective exhibit, as well as the skills and the drive to continue working on curatorial projects in the future.