Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Exhibition Evaluation

An exhibition may have some goals that do not relate to visitors – perhaps the exhibition will help develop staff expertise or extend the collection – but all exhibitions will have some goals that relate to visitors. Exhibitions are more effective when visitor-related goals are articulated clearly during the development phase. For one thing, these goals can help keep the exhibition focused and on track, avoiding those tendencies towards mision-drift that can occur all too readily.

If an exhibition aims to deliver learning outcomes to young children, a clear goal will keep this in view.

Hot and sweaty learning at AWM's 'A is for Animals'


Visitor research is the tool you use to determine how effectively you met your goals with respect to visitors. Evaluation can assess how well the exhibition achieved its intended outcomes and also record unintended outcomes, both positive and negative. This valuable information can feed into future practice.

The Informal Science website is a treasure trove of Visitor Evaluation studies carried out in US museums, Science Centres, Historic Sites, etc.

A 2010 study by Randi Korn, Summative Evaluation: Art of the American Indians: The Thaw Collection Exhibition for the New York State Historical Association makes the following findings.

  • The Thaw exhibition was a tremendously successful exhibition; visitors left the exhibition with the messages that NYSHA intended. 
  • First, visitors articulated deep appreciation for the artistry and craftsmanship of American Indian art—one of the goals of the exhibition. This emerged immediately in the interview process, indicating that the idea was most top-of-mind as well as inspiring.
  • Second, the exhibition strove to convey the message that American Indian arts of the various regions are different from one another. Not only did more than one-half of interviewees articulate this message during the interview, some demonstrated a concrete understanding of how the arts were different, including that American Indians used the materials available to in order to create the things they needed.
Exhibition evaluation doesn't have to be large-scale. Regular, small-scale evaluations are very effective in building knowledge about visitors and exhibition practice – knowledge that is vital for staff professional development.

Contributed by Gillian Savage

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