I’ve blogged about the emergence of new kinds of positions in museums over the last decade. This week, four leaders in interpretive planning from the Nelson-Atkins, Denver, and High art museums as well as the Detroit Institute of Arts share an evolving conversation about one of these new roles, and invites you to weigh in.
- Increasing sensitivity to visitor expectations. The museum field as a whole is becoming more sophisticated about what visitors want, and art museums are following that trend.
- Diversifying demographics. As CFM has documented, our country is becoming increasing diverse. Current minority groups, which collectively will soon become the majority, often do not have museum-going as part of their culture. It is critical for museums to understanding how to build a sense of welcome and accessibility for broad audiences, from the choice of exhibition theme and message, to the options we present to visitors for engaging with our objects and ideas.
- Dramatic shifts in what society expects from education. As we move to a more democratic, learner-based era in which individuals can access information anywhere, museums must create a broader array of products for learners to choose from, allowing them to be the leaders in their own learning.
- A growing sense that art can be a source of cross-cultural understanding. This encourages museums to develop opportunities to inspire civic dialogue.
- Changing expectations of authority. Audiences are less interested in the anonymous voice of the museum, and increasingly interested in multiple perspectives of both experts and their peers.
- Changing attitudes about the importance of creativity as a vital “21st century skill.” Suddenly, art museums have a strong argument for relevancy: art museums are great places to demonstrate, invite, and promote creative thinking and creative problem solving.
- The increasing role of technology in the museum experience. The integration of technology into our everyday lives, and hence into visitor’s engagement with the museum, forces us to rethink both the delivery of information and the opportunities for new relationships with information.
- Deconstruction of the dominant narrative. Art museums are finally acknowledging their collection and installation choices create a narrative, one that is perceived as unobtrusive but tailored by and to members of the dominant culture. Becoming more democratic involves being comfortable with integrating community input into exhibition development decisions, an advocacy role which is often taken on by interpretive planners.
In response to these changes, art museum educators with expertise in free-choice learning, visitor motivation, cultural attitudes, physical and cognitive accessibility and modes of response and participation are beginning to take a leadership role in the shaping of visitor experiences in gallery spaces. At this moment in time, most such staff work under the title of “interpretive planner.” It is up to us to determine how this position develops in the next decade.
- The impact on organizational structures and resource allocation.
- The creation of interpretive planning documents and processes.
- The importance of a shared understanding of the role of interpretive planning. Is this a moment in art museum history when interpretive planning is really getting defined and codified? (While retaining flexibility, of course!)
- Where do we find the necessary training in interpretive planning and trained practitioners? There is currently no one academic credential or work experience that prepares folks for this work—it’s highly interdisciplinary. People who currently hold the position of interpretive planner have generally apprenticed and are usually self-trained.
Associate Director of Education, Master Teacher, Native Arts and New World
Denver Art Museum, Denver, Colorado