Despite long-standing calls for greater inclusivity in U.S. museum practices by the American Association of Museums (Hirzy, 1992) and the leading U.S. museum theorist (Weil, 1999), I maintain that many art museums have continued curatorial practices that address the interests of traditional museum-goers while leaving other audiences disenfranchised. At the same time, public funding is decreasing (Katz, 2010), and museums must look for new sources of support. I argue that by becoming responsive and relevant to diverse audiences, museums can become vital to their communities and thus sustainable.
I apply Collins’ (2001, 2005) research on achieving sustained great results in the business and social sectors to art museums. Key is the so-called hedgehog concept that involves determining what an enterprise is deeply passionate about, what it can do best, and how it can develop a sustainable resource base. Given that art museums are passionate about art but are experiencing funding challenges, I suggest that museums seek new audiences and sources of support by adopting visitor-centered exhibition practices (what they could do best).
Supported interpretation is such a practice. It is a new model for museum exhibitions that uses a team curatorial process incorporating both the educational and exhibition functions of a museum. The exhibition is reconceptualized as an interface, or point of interaction between the museum and its visitors. The interface is imbedded with resources—mostly non-text-based—from which free-choice visitors, regardless of their prior knowledge, may choose to support their own interpretations (Villeneuve & Erickson, 2011). I illustrate the model with examples from two exhibitions.
|Keywords:||Sustainability, Visitor-centered Exhibitions, Supported Interpretation, Inclusivity|
Professor, Department of Art Education, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL, USA
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