One June 27-28, a group of over 80 arts professionals came together at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) for the Association for Art Museum Interpretation convening. The group spent two days reflecting and imagining the past, present, and future of the field. We are recapping some highlights below, but stay tuned as we continue to share posts by presenters summarizing their case studies.

Participants at the Detroit Institute of Arts for the AAMI 2019 Annual Convening

Case Studies

On Thursday, the program began with a lightning round of short talks by members of the AAMI Steering Committee: Deborah Clearwaters (Asian Art Museum), Jennifer Foley (Albright Knox Gallery), Julia Forbes (High Museum of Art), Rosie May (MCA Chicago), and Nina Pelaez (Williams College Museum of Art). The talks explored topics from the development of the High Museum’s app, Heart Match, interpretive development around exhibitions at the MCA Chicago and Albright Knox Gallery, the Williams College Museum of Art’s installation of a community-sourced library centering visitor perspectives, and the Asian Art Museum’s ongoing work building interpretation with and for visitors with visual impairments to help enhance access to special exhibitions.

Jennifer Foley of the Albright Knox Gallery presenting as part of the Lightning Round

Longer case studies explored projects and processes around audience research, visitor response, and The DIA’s Swarupa Anila presented on her and her team’s synthesis of years of culturally sensitive visitor research; Liz Gardener and Jeanne Goswami from the Peabody Essex Museum spoke about incorporating and centering visitor response in PEM exhibitions; Shiralee Hudson Hill and Nadia Abraham from the Art Gallery of Ontario talked about the museum’s development of the Into the Anthropocene Podcast; Joanna Marsh and Melissa Hendrickson from the Smithsonian American Art Museum spoke about audience research conducted around an exhibition on the Vietnam War; Amelia Wiggins from the Delaware Art Museum shared a case study about centering community relevance in the process of the museum’s reinstallation planning.

Michigan Museums

In an interdisciplinary panel moderated by Jennifer Wild Czajkowski, Deputy Director for Engagement of the Royal Ontario Museum, four members of Michigan Museums shared projects from their institutions.

Jeremy Dimick, formerly of the Sloan Museum of Discovery in Flint, MI, talked about the role of public trust within the context of the museum’s work mounting an exhibition on the history and science of the water crisis.

Carries Weird from Ferris State University, shared her work on The Museum of Sexist Objects, a gallery display of everyday objects that challenge sexist ideas, with the goal of promoting conversation and spurring activism.

Vera Grant, Deputy Director of Curatorial Affairs at the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) spoke about Collection Ensemble, a gallery reinstallation that has sought to dismantle the museum’s former narrative of manifest destiny and white supremacy. With an installation featuring unexpected juxtapositions, visitors are invited to make their own connections across time periods and cultures.

Neil Barclay, president of The Wright Museum spoke about his museum’s reworking of the interpretation of the recent Paradox of Liberty exhibition: flipping the interpretation of the exhibition to privilege the individuality of the enslaved people of Monticello rather than the perspective of Thomas Jefferson.

In Gallery Experiences and Evaluation Workshops at the DIA

Over the two days, participants had opportunities to learn from DIA staff during a series of workshops that brought visitors through the museum. Gallery experiences highlighted the interpretive planning for the DIA’s Pop Art exhibition, the community-centered concept development process for the reinstallation of the museum’s Asian Art galleries, and the planning for a three part project called Labor of Love, which included a bilingual exhibition, gallery interventions, and a community engagement component. Participants also had the chance to experience Lumin, the DIA’s award-winning Augmented Reality (AR) tour.

Participants testing out Lumin, the Detroit Institute of Arts Augmented Reality (AR) tour

On the second day, a series of workshops allowed participants to learn and practice different evaluation methods with DIA staff. A Label Testing workshop had participants learning about and practicing label testing with visitors to get feedback on prototypes and drafts. In Tracking and Timing, participants learned about an unobtrusive observation methodology that can help museums make judgements about visitor engagement with exhibitions or installations. A Digital User Testing workshop discussed methodologies for doing user testing for digital visitor experiences using two digital interactives at the DIA. The DIA’s Director of Protection Services shared out on the museum’s award-winning security technology that maps visitor behavior trends and hotspots and ways for incorporating this research into visitor experience planning.

Participants with DIA staff during one of the evaluation workshops

Birds of A Feather Conversations

Participants signed up and participated in short breakout discussions. Topics included: New to Interpretation, Planning for Sustainable Digital Engagements, Accessibility Initiatives, Evaluation Methods that Work, Advocating for Interpretive Work, Co-Creating with Community, Creating a Culture of Innovation, Developing Better Visitor Outcomes, Self-Care in a Challenging Workplace, and New to Management.

Lively roundtable discussions during our Birds of a Feather breakout sessions

What’s New for AAMI

The communications, governance, membership, and annual convening committees shared announcements on work and developments over the past year. Governance shared the upcoming plans to formally incorporate AAMI as a non-profit organization, the development of new bylaws, and the Steering Committee’s upcoming strategic planning process, which took place following the annual convening. Communications presented around the recent update of the www.artmuseuminterp.org website as well the launch of the AAMI Blog! The membership committee shared their plans for the future, including research the committee has done on other membership structures, and potential plans for a tiered membership in the future. In addition to reflecting on all of the incredible work the Convening Committee did to make this year’s convening in Detroit take place, they also announced the location of next year’s convening: Richmond, Virginia! Save the date for June 18-19, 2020.

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