Forum: Museum Visitors

Welcome to the second posting of the Plinth Forum.  The forum is a site of discourse on issues involving museum practice and museum professionals.  Our goal is to survey a wide range of opinions from people working in a variety of museum occupations. Initially we see this work as written essays (with links to relevant materials).  Over time, however, we hope to expand our range of discursive practices, to take advantage of our digital platform and to make use of tools like YouTube, Pinterest, and other forms of web-based social media.  For now, please enjoy the essays below.

Erik Greenberg, Ph.D., Forum Manager

This quarter’s topic: “Museum Visitors”

This year our museum has been developing a master interpretive plan (MIP), and as part of our preparations, we’ve spent a good deal of time talking to all the departments that come into direct contact with our visitors.  At least, I thought we had talked to all the departments that come into contact with our visitors, but I was wrong. Several months into the process, at a museum-wide meeting dedicated to sharing our progress on the MIP, staff from a number of departments observed that our definition of the “museum visitor” was too narrow.  First, our Events and Sales department (which handles venue use for gatherings that range from conventions to high school proms) reminded us that their clients visit the museum, and may in fact spend more time in the building than the average visitor.  Our research librarians then spoke of their visitors, who typically come to the museum to do research in our archival collections, rather than to explore the galleries, but are nonetheless visiting the institution. Our Collections and Native Outreach staff spoke of the numerous meetings they hold with tribal officials, who frequently visit to view our extensive Native collections and to address issues of NAGPRA compliance.  And the people who oversee our website made clear that their constituents were visitors, too.

Clearly my definition of the museum visitor had proved too limited (and limiting).  And so, naturally, I have spent more than a little time rethinking the meaning of the phrase “museum visitor.”  What does it mean to be a museum visitor? Should the phrase only refer to those who travel to our institutions with the express purpose of viewing our exhibitions and installations, or should we broaden our definition to include people who come to the museum for a range of purposes? And what about web visitors?  Should people who come to our websites to view our collections online, learn about our hours of operation, or browse our events calendars be considered visitors as well?  What about those who just come to the museum to use our bathrooms or eat in our cafes and restaurants – are they visitors, too?

It seems to me that there are two issues at stake here.  The first is that today’s museum serves a range of functions that extend well beyond its expected, “traditional” realm of exhibitions and programming.  As noted above, many of today’s museums are significant sites of academic research.  Some museums have partnered with caterers and local eateries to create restaurants, coffee houses, and bars, while others have focused attention on the land that surrounds them to create parks and other spaces for social gatherings.  Museums have become the backdrop for annual business meetings – and even proms.  If, like me, you live in Los Angeles, you may see your museum serve as a backdrop for your favorite T.V. show. And as museums begin to address their historic association with the West’s colonial projects in numerous places around the globe, they have become sites of reconciliation between collecting institutions and those whose lives and cultures may have been appropriated and displayed in the name of enlightened investigation into so-called “ancient” or “primitive” cultures.  In each of these iterations, people come to visit the museum, but their range of activity varies greatly, and so, too, should the institution’s efforts to welcome and engage them.

And this variety of activity points to the second issue that confronts us when thinking about museum visitors, namely language.  I seem to employ only one word to describe the vast range of people who interact with museums, and I am not sure that it’s a particularly good word, at that.  Think about “visitors” to your own home, for example.  Naturally there are people you care about and like, people who you go out of your way to make feel at home, such as friends and family, but others visit your home too.  The cable guy is a visitor, and so are the landlord, the door-to-door salesman, and the exterminator, to name a few. I am sure I speak for every museum professional when I say that I hope we treat those who walk through our institutions’ doors better than we do the cable person who promised to arrive sometime between 12p.m and 4p.m. and finally rings your doorbell at 4:06.

This kind of linguistic parsing may seem silly to some, but I would argue that the terms we employ to describe those people who visit our institutions can (or should) help us understand the best way to treat them.  For example, we could call them guests.  After all, the word “guest” implies a kind of welcome that “visitor” doesn’t seem to get at. Whether they be dinner guests or house guests (i.e., guests that stay the night) most of us typically go out of our way to ensure our guests’ comfort and to make them feel welcome. I think we can all agree that we would like those who come to our institutions to be comfortable during their visit, just as we aim for comfort when welcoming dinner or house guests into our homes.

Perhaps the name we employ for those who visit our museums should reflect more fully our institutions’ missions.  Several years ago I suggested that we call our visitors “explorers” and that all of our language, from the greetings offered by our on-floor staff to the text in our galleries and other sites, reflect the sense of wonder and excitement associated with exploration.  Or perhaps we would be better served to match our language with the purpose of each person’s visitation.  Those who come to the museum to walk through our galleries could be called learners or students. At institutions that place a greater emphasis on audience participation in the museum experience, perhaps their visitors should be called partners, or allies, or even co-curators.  People who come to our institutions for outside events (such as proms or business meetings) might be called clients. After all, clientele have a certain expectation of service that visitors may not.  And I am not sure what to call those who visit us on the web. Increasingly, museum websites have become important sources of information and engagement, and yet I’m not quite sure our institutional strategies have caught up with our digital footprints. Perhaps E-customers? Surfers? Virtual Visitors?

With these questions on our mind, we ask this quarter’s contributors to think about our visitors, our publics, our guests, our friends…you pick the term.  Should we consider all people who come to the museum our visitors regardless of their reason for the visit? How should we accommodate the different range of visitor activities at our institutions?  To what extent should we alter our language, and by connection our behavior, to better reflect the access, purpose, and expectations of those who visit or engage with us? Perhaps your institution already has a different term, or set of terms, for the people who come to your museum, physically or online. If so, please tell us about those terms and how they influence the interactions between visitor and museum. If you’re wrestling with these questions or moving in new directions, we want to hear about it. We look forward to learning from you.


This quarter’s participants are Laureen Trainer, Jonell Logan, and Thomas Canavan

Laureen Trainer 

Laureen Trainer

Jonell Logan 

Jonell Logan

Thomas Canavan 

Thomas Canavan

Erik Greenberg is the Director of Education and Visitor Engagement at the Autry National Center in Los Angeles.  He holds a Ph.D. and MA in American history and is particularly interested in the ways in which historians attempt to engage the broader public.



Laureen Trainer

Ahh, the days of describing the person who came to your institution as simply a visitor seem so sweet – a simple word to encompass all. But as Erik points out in his prompt for this issue, visitor is a word as stuffed with complexities and connotations as most museum storage cabinets. And yet, for all of its semantic baggage, visitor doesn’t tell you much about well…your visitor. Who are they? What motivates them? What excites them? Why do they visit? What do they want to learn? How do they want to learn? How do they prefer to engage on that day in that place?

Before you even get to the term visitor, we need to take step back to “number,” as in a person greeted with, “What is your zip code?” upon entering a museum. Here a visitor is literally a 5-digit number that does not give the museum any information about how to better serve them or craft a more enjoyable visit.

Some museums refer to visitors as audience members, much like a theater or musical venue would. And yet, in practice, the two are interchangeable in that neither word gives you any additional information about your visitors.

Then there is the market-driven characterization of visitors as customers or clients. However, it is the customer who seeks out a specific experience and then hopes that her/his money buys what s/he wanted; the museum does not change its offering to match each customer.

Counteracting the semantic capitalism is the more “homey” idea of visitors as guests. In this case museums would theoretically treat their visitors as they would guests in their own home, but it still rings hollow in relation to a visitor-driven institution, one that enhances experiences in informal settings through research, evaluation, and dialogue with their visitors and community.

But beyond the semantic game of choosing the right word, why does it really matter? I would offer that the word you choose to mean “person who comes to my institution” defines how you interact with and create experiences for visitors: it is the manifestation of a theory that reveals what you know about your visitors, how you approach their needs and wants, their perception of learning and enjoyment, their level of engagement, and how you respond to a changing community. And visitor, audience, customer, user, stakeholder, participant, patron, guest, etc. all lack a theoretical framework that contributes to the development of a deeper and more meaningful experience for and with your visitors. None of them are based on evaluation research and none of them tell you more about your visitor – they only tell you about how you view your visitor.

An entire subset of the larger world of evaluation is dedicated to visitor studies. The field has grappled with the seemingly simple questions of “Who is our visitor?” and “What does s/he want?” The studies and resulting theories often lead to a name for a visitor – a forager or recharger, for example. But beyond the name is a way of thinking about that person and how to provide the best experience for them: how to develop, craft, and deliver programs, content, exhibitions and access with the hope of creating an opportunity for change, for engagement, for wonder, for impact and perhaps for a return visitor. So, let’s explore just some of the names associated with theories and studies, which on the surface seem synonymous with “visitor” but really reveal much more.

There are visitors who adhere to the optimal foraging theory; I have to admit I love the image of visitors as foragers, picking through our exhibits and programs, looking for a tasty morsel. Developed by Jay Rounds, the visitor in this instance is a “curiosity-driven visitor.” [i] Foragers engage in “shallow but wide learning,” a type of leaning often derided by museums, who believe that if visitors don’t see everything than they missed out. But recognizing that a visitor engages in their own model of learning can lead to more responsive thinking, to more visitor-centric thinking, about exhibitions, signage, programming, and content development.

Or perhaps you follow the research of Zahava Doering and Andrew Pekarik, and you want to greet your visitors by saying, “Good Morning, Novice” (that always sounded very Star Trek-y to me); others might hear the greeting, “Good Morning, Expert.” [ii] In this conceptualization of a visitor, their knowledge on a particular subject embodies who they are and is fluid as they enter different types of institutions and exhibitions. Defining your visitor as an Expert or Novice might mean that, as an institution, you work to meet the pre-existing learning narratives of your visitors and then thoughtfully, intentionally challenge them to engage and question.

You could categorize your visitors as “frequent” or “occasional” as defined by research conducted by Marilyn Hood. [iii] Defining your visitor as frequent means that you know they attend museums three or more times a year and that when they do visit, they seek out opportunities to learn and to be challenged. Meanwhile, your occasional visitors want to be with people, participate actively and feel at ease in their surroundings. When labeling your visitors as occasional visitors, you also know that they are more likely to visit special exhibitions, come to family events, or bring out of town friends and family.

Jan Packer and Roy Ballentyne did not come up with any clever names that roll of the tongue, but they did identify five reasons people come to museums: 1) learning and discovery; 2) passive enjoyment; 3) restoration; 4) social interaction; and 5) self-fulfillment.[iv]  The researchers found that visitors come for both learning and enjoyment. Today that might not seem like groundbreaking research, but many museums still focus only on content learning as the ultimate goal; this thinking demonstrates museum-centered focus.  Moving beyond the one word – visitor – encourages museums to recognize and program for, and with, different motivations in mind.

Building off of a lot of the research already mentioned, John Falk describes visitors in terms of their motivations and desires, which are fluid within and between institutions.[v] Falk makes the case that by understanding the underlying motivations that drive a visitor, a museum can create an experience that reflects a person’s identity and therefore satisfies their motivation for visiting. According to Falk, this level of personal connection increases meaningfulness to the visit and develops and sustains a community of learners. Falk introduced five new ways to say visitor:

Explorers are curiosity-driven and expect to find something that will grab their attention and fuel their learning.

Facilitators are socially motivated; they enable the experience and learning of others in their accompanying social group.

Professional/hobbyists feel a close tie between the museum content; their visits are typically motivated by a desire to satisfy a specific content related objective.

Experience Seekers are motivated to visit because they perceive the museum as an important destination.

Rechargers are primarily seeking to have a contemplative, spiritual and/or restorative experience; they use the museum as a refuge from the work-a-day world.

Museums spend a lot of time and money creating exhibitions and programs for the public. Curators, collections managers, educators and designers dive into research, talk to other experts, seek to understand all aspects of their collection; they strive to know everything about their topic. And yet, when thinking about visitors, institutions do not apply the same level of research – evaluation – to learn about the people who come to those exhibitions and programs. Moving beyond the word “visitor” to a more defined, nuanced understanding of your public demonstrates that an institution has begun to apply the same level of research and study to their visitors as they do to their collections. The corollary to this is that conducting the evaluation necessary to understand visitors at this level allows institutions to be more responsive to the community and funders and create informed dialogue at the societal and policy level. By exploring visitor research and conducting evaluation, you not only learn how you want to define your visitor, you also gain insight into how your visitor derives value and benefits from attending your institution.



Denver-based consultant Laureen Trainer has 17 years of experience in the museum and informal learning field. Ms. Trainer started Trainer Evaluation in 2012 to build evaluation capacity in museum, libraries and non-profits. Previously Ms. Trainer was Manager of Audience Insights at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Director of Education at the Autry National Center in Los Angeles, and Acting Curator of Education at the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University. She received her MS in Museum Studies from the University of Colorado and her MA in Art History from the University of Arizona. Ms. Trainer is Adjunct Faculty at the University of Denver and Guest Co-Edited the Spring 2015 issue of the Journal of Museum Education, Empowering Museum Educators to Evaluate.


[i] Rounds, J. “Strategies for the Curiosity-Driven Museum Visitor.” Curator: The Museum Journal, 47:4, 2004, p. 389–412.

[ii] Doering, Zahava D. and Andrew J. Pekarik. “Questioning the Entrance Narrative.” The Journal of Museum Education 21:3, 1996, p. 20-23.

[iii] Hood, Marilyn. “Staying Away: Why People Choose Not to Visit Museum.” Edited by Gail Anderson. Reinventing the Museum: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on the Paradigm Shift. Walnut Creek, CA, AltaMira Press, 2004. p.150-157.

[iv] Packer, Jan and Roy Ballantyne. “Motivational Factors the Visitor Experience: A Comparison of Three Sites.” Curator: The Museum Journal, 45:3, 2004, p. 183-198.

[v] Falk, John H. Identity and Museum Visitor Experience. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2009.

Jonell Logan

Erik has raised a series of important questions – many of which I have asked and addressed throughout my career. How do we refer to our museum visitors, and how do those terms affect the way we see them? I have worked in institutions in which docents have referred to non-traditional museumgoers as “those people” and can absolutely confirm that titles can affect the way we treat our guests. Are we kinder to “guests” or “visitors?” Do “donors” receive a higher standard of care and engagement than “members?” In an industry dedicated to audience, these ideas must be considered.

I conducted a series of informal surveys with colleagues in the field, and found that many institutions have different titles for those coming to museums. In general, the term “visitor” referred to people coming to experience exhibitions and programs, while “guest” was used for those attending meetings or private events. In some cases, guests (as defined above) were directed to enter institutions through staff entrances, as opposed to those for the general public.

In considering what we call museum visitors, the question of reporting attendance numbers is also important. Should we include everyone who walks through our doors in the admissions numbers, regardless of intention? It is often true that museums count everyone who enters the building, as attendance numbers play an important role in funding. While I don’t always agree with that practice, a colleague argued that a bathroom visitor may in fact be inspired by a work of art they experienced while entering or exiting the space. Are there specific terms we should use in light of these possibilities? With grant writing and reporting an important part of the non-profit world, we must have standard terms for those we serve and their level of engagement. I don’t believe, however, that these terms will remain static.

We are all aware that language transforms over time, and that rate of change is happening even faster in the digital age.  In museums, our choices of words shift as meaning and intention are directly affected by the reconsideration of our role in relationship to the public.  In a 2013 AAM Center for the Future of Museums blog discussion, Engaging with a Director of Audience Development, Adam Rozan, the Director of Audience Engagement at the Worcester Art Museum, discussed his views on “audience engagement.” Throughout the conversation he refers to the public both as the “audience” and “visitors” to the institution. He also discusses what he believes museums must do remain in business in the future:

I am hoping that the smart museums will toss up their hands and realize that our futures depend on a new model, one that allows museums to play a role in contemporary society that balances the visitor’s needs and wants with the safety, preservation and engagement of its collections. If we can adopt and implement more of this kind of thinking today, then we can move forward toward the bigger work, addressing how to sustain these types of institutions.

In January of this year, the National Endowment for the Arts released its summary of three reports on the arts and engagement. While the data comes from reports completed in 2012, the information has had an immediate ripple effect on museums and audience perception in 2015.  On the question of museum attendance, the report revealed that 73% of people’s first motivation for patronizing performances and exhibitions is to socialize with family or friends. Learning was a secondary motivator, coming in at 64%. At the same time, 50% of adults attend arts events with friends, while 68% of parents with children under six go to socialize. When it comes to technology, an amazing 71% of those surveyed used electronic media to watch or listen to art.

The findings of the NEA report support Rozan’s position on museums and their need to develop a new model as more and more people see museums as social spaces, and demand online access and a greater use of technology. In these new museums, the term “visitor” can no longer just apply to those traveling to institutions with “the express purpose of viewing our exhibitions and installations.” In many cases, seeing our various collections may be secondary to the social environment that large, public organizations can create.

The NEA statistics not only illustrate the various ways people interact with museums, but highlight barriers for public interaction. While attending events are social activities, 47% of those participating in the survey cite time as a challenge, and 38% referenced cost as a barrier. Possibly more significantly, the report also details the relationship between arts, culture, and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Over 4% of the GDP, which is equivalent to about $698 billion dollars, was contributed to the US economy by the arts and culture sector in 2012.  This information is encouraging institutions to reconsider how to better serve parents, adults, and the online community. As museum-goers strategically use their dollars to support museums that are more successfully meeting their needs, this increasingly important economic layer of the of audience engagement also brings another term to Erik’s list – “consumer.”

As museum professionals, we are all invested in cultivating a stronger relationship between the institution and those we serve. I am aware that we must be conscious of the language we use to describe the people coming through our doors. If I am honest, however, I would argue that the terms we use are secondary considerations. Curating experiences that are not only mission-driven, but serve the specific needs of our various audiences (visitors, patrons, guests, facility rentals and the like) – is key. The ultimate goal is to transition our meeting attendees to visitors, members, and ultimately longer-standing patrons of our organizations. To do that, we must not only consider the reason for the visit, but also how to make that visit the first step in what will be an ongoing connection.

I think Erik’s question is an important one, as museums and cultural spaces are created to engage and serve people. I am not sure, however, if the industry will every really be able to settle on a single term. We refer to those we serve as visitors, patrons, constituents, guests and event friends because we are dealing with people. Relationships with people are complex. As museums continue to explore this relationship, needs change, expectations change, and language will need to have that flexibility as well.


Jonell Logan is the Director of Education and Public Programs at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture in Charlotte, NC. She has an extensive background in museum education, having worked at various institutions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum, and Studio Museum in Harlem.


Thomas Canavan

Thank you, Erik, for giving us another great topic to discuss here within the Plinth forum. It is an interesting question, or series of questions, which brings a lot of different ideas to mind. I hope our responses provide an equally intriguing read.

In these questions, I think I am identifying questions related to branding, engagement, and programming as main themes. First, how do we identify our visitors? Once we do, what’s the best way to provide a particular group with what it is they came to engage in? I’m going to try to wax poetic on this and will, guaranteed, ultimately trail off in multiple directions. That said, these multiple directions represent the multi-faceted vantage point I have on museum visitors, and it’s this vantage point that has shaped my thoughts on this topic. I’m going to speak from and to a few different perspectives: my experience at the Millard Sheets Art Center, my role at Plinth, and to our readers.

Millard Sheets Art Center:

Currently, I do not manage a museum, but rather an art center. As museums continue to consider new programs and their roles in their communities, art centers and other cultural institutions can provide interesting insights. The art center I manage has existed in various states, for multiple purposes, throughout its 78-year existence. We are located on the 500-acre campus of the Los Angeles County Fair and are one program within a broader educational organization called The Learning Centers, a non-profit organization of the Los Angeles County Fair Association, also known as Fairplex. As a result of this relationship to Fairplex and The Learning Centers, we have a wide variety of visitors or guests. I use the two terms interchangeably day to day. We have volunteers (or, as we call them, “Ambassadors”), students, parents, teachers, principals, superintendents, art lovers, artists, board members, plumbers, electricians, construction workers, event teams, custodians, catering staff, neighbors, and legacies of past participants and relatives of the great artists that contributed to the founding of our art center. The list goes on and on as it does within large organizations. In addition to navigating our own huge umbrella organizations, we’re less than 30 miles from Los Angeles on the very tip of the massive, complex ecosystem that is Los Angeles County. As a result, the Millard Sheets Art Center must correctly identify its audience and its brand, and provide programming that reflects its audience’s needs, or else.

It’s that simple: we do not survive unless we correctly identify and engage our audience. Without them we are an old, empty building -- with an awesome patio, I might add -- on the outskirts of town. In order to create that engagement, we need to first identify our audience, our stakeholders. I like the term “stakeholders” because it reflects the idea that everyone has a piece of the action. Everyone involved benefits in some way from our existence and would see this benefit disappear if we ceased to exist. I’m headed down a perilous path in this discussion intentionally, in order to drive home the question of identifying our stakeholders as fundamental to our vitality. Only when we invest in this process can we know who we work for and what they need to feel invested in our institution.

As the manager of the art center, the most exciting part of my work has been listening to and reflecting on our audience. The center’s foundation and its contributions to art in the 20th century are amazing, and the vision for its future is incredibly ambitious. With a history that spans back to 1937, how do we carry it into the 21st century? The short answer: by listening.

Erik sets off on a noble path in the process he describes at his museum, listening to his stakeholders within the museum and learning from these staff members’ insights on the external stakeholders with whom they, in turn, interact and listen. But when we serve so many stakeholders and see ourselves as institutions for “the public,” how do we make sure we’re listening enough? Those passionate about the institution will certainly feel comfortable telling us what they think, but we also need to pull from those who don’t immediately think of themselves as stakeholders. Here we will begin to compile the information we need to successfully provide the experience our visitors will ultimately expect from us.

Believing that these stakeholders, the silent smiling visitors, are completely satisfied will certainly cause problems in the future, a slow degradation in participation. The simplest reason is that our visitors and their interests change. In order to keep up, we need to provide an open path of communication and empower each of our visitors – from students to board members – to come forward and share their ideas. If I only listened to my students, then all we’d be doing is 3D printing, without providing fundamental skills in drawing and painting. If we only hear from our catering crew, we’d be serving something with fennel at every reception. As amazing as 3D printing and fennel are, in order to achieve balance, we need to listen and engage our whole network of stakeholders in conversation, allowing them to contribute to the broad vision.

It’s tricky, right? We’re busy, really busy, and it’s hard to reach out to everyone we need to. That’s why we need to empower our visitors to feel comfortable including themselves in the conversation. I’ll get to this shortly.

At times, some groups will be disappointed in our programs, while others will be pleased, but overall everyone should agree that at our core, we’re achieving our mission and providing a benefit to the community – and that they have a stake in our existence.


A disclosure: I am the founder of Museum Force, the non-profit organization that operates Plinth, this fine digital publication. I mention this to provide a perspective as someone who is leading and adjusting a product for the museum community that we hope ultimately supports museums themselves.

So, who is Plinth’s audience, our visitors? Aren’t we part of the museum’s stakeholders? Or are they ours? When we first began to think about Museum Force and Plinth, we set out to support museums by educating the public that engages with museums as places for education and community. We did not aim to speak to museums, but rather to highlight and demystify the programs within them so that they could be more accessible for their communities. We soon realized that the majority of Plinth’s visitors were actually museum leaders, not their guests.

What can we take away from this? Well, maybe we had started building something based on our own assumptions and ideas, not based on listening. With so many different kinds of institutions and types of visitors, museums see all kinds of engagement (some visitors might choose a museum on their annual DC trip and hope for the best, others might be using online collections information to do their homework, others might just want a place to take their parents when they visit). What might be demystifying for some could be meaningless for others. Rather than thinking audiences would come to us to read about museums, we should be helping museums go to them, offering a space for ideas to cross-pollinate and for people “in the field” to learn about the ways others were connecting with communities.

So, we listened and we shifted. We try to provide insights from a range of people, so people working at all kinds of museums can learn, connect, and try new ways of serving their visitors – or their explorers, their customers, their neighbors, or whatever term best fits their particular museum’s mission and role. Engaging and educating museum leaders ultimately serves their audience, and hopefully an improved experience helps this audience feel they have a stake in supporting the museum. So we’ve kept our core mission, but put a twist on the methods based on our listening: ta-da!

I admit, identifying Plinth’s visitor audience is, objectively, easy. We look at our data and see who’s reading and from where. We also look at the email addresses of our newsletter sign ups and if the extension is .edu or of a cultural institution, we might assume our readers are interested in our content for educational and professional purposes. We use these as our indicators, our “ears” as we continue to “listen” to our reader, and in response we adjust our programming. That’s the simplified version, but this is how we shape content, by looking at all the indicators we can access and learning who our audience is.

The question to the museum leader is: Are you also looking at your “data” – not just the “simple” stuff, but also the big picture - and are you making the appropriate adjustments in your language and your practice?

To Our Readers/Visitors/Stakeholders:

One last disclosure: visitors, explorers, consumers, guests -- we’re also all the museum leader. Whichever role you’re playing at the time, whether you’re visiting, volunteering, or reading online, you’re part of a larger system. If we do not engage one another then we have less of an opportunity to improve the institution, to make an impact or a memory, and to share knowledge with others.

Museums and cultural institutions are built by us and for us, and for future generations.  It is our collective responsibility as stakeholders to get more involved, to be a leader within the institutions we care about. It’s the responsibility of museums to think broadly about what it means to be a stakeholder, listen to what their stakeholders have to say, and consider how they might respond to it. Let’s open these conversations, both through what we say and what we do. We’ll all be better off for it.


Thomas Canavan is the Millard Sheets Art Center Manager and Museum Force's founder. Thomas received his MS in Arts Administration from Boston University and holds a BA in Studio Arts. He currently lives in Los Angeles, CA with his wife, Juli, and Cannonball, the baby-on-the-way.