February 26, 2017

Museum Interpretation & Visitor Engagement

The Weisman Art Museum offers many opportunities for students to get involved, whether through the student tour guide program, the WAM Collective, employment as student staff, or internship opportunities. This spring semester, I am rounding out my coursework with an internship at the Weisman in museum interpretation and visitor engagement. After a semester of reading and researching interpretation and engagement strategies, observing visitors to the museum, and implementing different trial strategies at WAM, I will be presenting my findings to the Weisman’s staff.

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Right now I am in the research observation phase of the project and have been reading about everything from the history of museums, to studies on the demographics of visitors, and texts on different approaches to visitor engagement and education. The best part of this process is taking everything I have learned and applying it to the galleries.

One tactic for increasing visitor engagement and creating lasting impact is integrating into exhibitions objects or platforms for visitors to interact with. This effect is something we saw first hand at WAM last year with our exhibition Clouds, Temporarily Visible. Visitors loved pulling the dangling chains on CLOUD, a work by Caitlind r.c. Brown and Wayne Garret, and using their body to activate Aniccha Arts Weathervane Project. They enjoyed the interactions that the presence of these two works impacted the museum’s overall number of visitors for the months that they were installed.

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CLOUD installed in Calgary in 2012

Two of our current exhibitions, The Talking Cure and The Beautiful Brain, also include interactive components. Come to the museum to find out more about them!

It’s been very interesting to see who interacts with what aspects of the exhibitions and to consider the different access points and barriers affecting these interactions. As I continue with my research, I think it will be more apparent what is working and what isn’t and I will be able to propose ways to get more of our visitors engaged with the art.

Here’s a bit of what I’m reading as I do this research:

The Participatory Museum by Nina Simon

Museum Materialities: Objects, Engagements, Interpretations edited by Sandra Dudley

Teaching in the Art Museum: Interpretation as Experience by Rika Burnham and Elliott Kai-Kee

Museums and the Interpretation of Visual Culture by Eilean Hooper-Greenhill

Digital Technologies and the Museum Experience edited by LoÏc Tallon and Kevin Walker


Lauren Gengler is a second year from Wisconsin working on majors in Art and Journalism. She currently works at the WAM as a gallery guard. She spends most of her free time dancing around the kitchen, cooking noodles, eating entire avocados, and listening to the Hamilton soundtrack on repeat.