Building Museum Sustainability through Visitor-Centered Exhibition Practices

By Pat Villeneuve.

Published by The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

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

The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp.37-50. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 885.841KB).

Pat Villeneuve

Professor, Department of Art Education, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL, USA

Pat Villeneuve is professor and director of arts administration in the Department of Art Education, Florida State University. She also directs certificate programs in art museum education, art and community practice, and museum studies for the department. Pat has published, presented, and consulted extensively in art education and art museum education. She is committed to the development of museum education practice and works with both theory and practical applications. Pat organized Gallery Praxis, an art museum education conference held at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in 2007, and has developed the InquiRING, a handheld, self-directed guide to gallery inquiry. In 2003 she completed her tenure as editor of Art Education, the membership journal of the National Art Education Association, and she is the editor and a co-author of From Periphery to Center: Art Museum Education in the 21st Century, published in 2007. Pat was recognized as the NAEA National Art Museum Educator in 2009.


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