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Dallas Museum of Art Publishes Ignite the Power of Art: Advancing Visitor Engagement in Museums

January 26, 2011 by  
Filed under Education & Research

DALLAS, TX.- The Dallas Museum of Art is releasing an important new book that offers groundbreaking insight into how museum visitors connect with art and how museums can create enriching and engaging experiences for diverse audiences. Distributed by Yale University Press, Ignite the Power of Art: Advancing Visitor Engagement in Museums reveals findings from the DMA’s innovative seven-year research on the different preferences and behaviors of museum goers. The book documents how the Museum’s new understanding of its audience and community transformed its practices and programs, leading to a 100% increase in overall attendance and dramatic increases in the Museum’s visibility, membership, and public programming participation.

Written by Bonnie Pitman, The Eugene McDermott Director of the DMA, and Ellen Hirzy, Ignite the Power of Art captures the vibrant and collaborative spirit in which the Dallas Museum of Art engages with its community, and offers dramatic insight that can be applied readily by art museums throughout the country seeking to expand their reach and connect with their audiences more deeply. (Price: $25.00; ISBN: 978-0-300-16754-2; Pages: 222 with 141 color illus. + 6 tables)

Ceremonial mask A.D. 900–1100. Peru north coast Sicán culture. Gold 580x388 Dallas Museum of Art Publishes Ignite the Power of Art: Advancing Visitor Engagement in Museums
Ceremonial mask, A.D. 900–1100. Peru, north coast, Sicán culture. Gold, copper, and paint. Overall: 11 3/4 x 17 3/8 x 1 3/4 in. (29.84 x 44.13 x 4.445 cm) Weight: 7.21 oz. (0.2044 kg) Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc.

“Ignite the Power of Art examines a fundamental change in our approach to our visitors, both on-site and online, and our understanding of our own mission to connect art and people in the most purposeful way,” said Pitman. “The book is a record of our ongoing process of experimentation and evaluation, and of the dynamic, all-encompassing renewal that has occurred at the DMA—including innovation in our multi-disciplinary programming, transformation of our spaces, and the strengthening of relationships both inside and outside the Museum. It represents an extraordinary achievement for the DMA, and for Dallas, and provides an important new model for arts communities around the country.”

Ignite the Power of Art first provides an overview of the Framework for Engaging with Art, the DMA’s visitor research initiative that was developed jointly by DMA staff and Randi Korn& Associates, Inc., which identified four distinct groups of museum visitors. The book also offers an intimate look at how, as a result of the study, the DMA transformed its institutional thinking, developing a new comprehensive operational strategy and broader range of experimental programs with the variety of visitor preferences in mind. Ignite the Power of Art also contains interviews with several Dallas community leaders who offer their perspectives on the Museum’s significant revitalization.

About the Research Initiative and Its Impact at the DMA
Conceived in 2002, the Framework for Engaging with Art research was driven by the desire to deepen visitors’ connections and experiences with art at the Museum. Probing beyond traditional museum visitor studies, this research posed a series of qualitative questions about how visitors prefer to engage with art in the museum setting and their comfort levels looking at and talking about art.

The DMA administered six different studies from 2003 through 2009, encompassing some 3,400questionnaires from visitors to the Museum and its website, and from local teachers, as well as nearly 40 in-depth interviews conducted on-site at the Museum. The cumulative findings identified the following four related “visitor clusters,” grouped according to individual preference for interpretation types and comfort levels with art:

• Observers, who have the most limited background in art and art history, and who tend to prefer a guided experience at the museum.

• Participants, who have a stronger knowledge of art than Observers and have the strongest interest in connecting with works of art through a variety of ways, including through music, dance, dramatic performances, and readings.

• Independents, who prefer to experience a work of art without explanations or interpretation.

• Enthusiasts, who are most emotionally affected by art, and are most interested in the artist’s materials and techniques, and in explaining the meaning of a work to a friend.

Armed with this new insight into its audience’s preferences and interests, the Museum developed a new comprehensive operational strategy that unites and integrates all departments—from visitor services and public relations to curatorial and education departments—during the programming development process. The result has led to the creation of new experimental initiatives at the Museum, including the DMA’s Center for Creative Connections (C3), which offers interactive experiences with original works of art from the DMA’s collections; Wi-Fi–enabled smARTphone tours, which provide myriad ways for visitors to learn more about the works in the Museum’s collections; and interactive collections-based exhibitions and special late-night events. In addition to a100% increase in Museum attendance, this expanded program has motivated more than 50% of visitors to participate in educational and public programming at the Museum.


One Response to “Dallas Museum of Art Publishes Ignite the Power of Art: Advancing Visitor Engagement in Museums”
  1. Dallas Museum of Art director Bonnie Pitman’s idea is not new. In challenging her concept, Dallas wildflower artist Chapman Kelley asked Pitman to remove his award-winning painting Sand Dune (1960) from the DMA’s 2010 exhibit “Coastlines” after Kelley learned that Pitman had ‘added-on’ acoustical effects without Kelley’s authorization, approval or collaboration. Art historian Sam Blain wrote about the Kelley-Pitman artists’ rights issue recently in his Dallas Art History blog, here is the link:

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