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Center for Creative Connections (C3)

[2008]
A summative evaluation of an interactive gallery with an art museum
Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX

The Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) contracted with RK&A to conduct a summative evaluation of Materials & Meanings, the first installation in the Center for Creative Connections (C3), an “experimental learning environment that provides interactive encounters with works of art and artists.” Given that the C3 is a new initiative for the DMA where the Museum experiments with ideas and interactive strategies, the evaluation of Materials & Meanings was specifically designed to understand visitors’ perceptions of and interactive experiences in the C3.

How did we approach this study?

In designing the study, RK&A worked closely with the DMA staff to understand the objectives of the C3 and the impact they would like the C3 to achieve.  After discussion, we designed a summative evaluation that included 50 in-depth visitor interviews and 100 timing and tracking observations.   

What did we learn?

Visitors to the C3 spoke enthusiastically about their time in the C3, saying they had enjoyable, engaging experiences interacting with art up-close and using most of their senses.  However, there was disconnect between visitors’ enthusiasm for the interactive experiences available in the C3 and visitor’s perceptions of and behaviors in the C3.  For example, visitors often described the interactivity of the C3 as primarily for children and families.  Additionally, use of interactive exhibits was not as frequent as the DMA intended, although observations show that three-quarters of observed visitors participated in at least one interactive experience.  It was not surprising to find visitors in the C3 hesitant to interact with the exhibits as other research shows, and this study confirms, that visitors to art museums behave according to how most art museums have trained them to behave.  Visitors are experienced at passively looking at art and are unaccustomed to touching or participating in interactive art exhibits. 

RK&A also found that visitors did not readily expect to enter into a “dialogue” with art in the C3, pursuing questions and curiosities through museum-provided resources.  Visitors said it was not something they think to do and not something they planned for during the visit. 

What are the implications of the findings?

Since the C3 is a revolutionary space unlike that encountered in other art museums, the DMA must overcome strong (and sometimes erroneous) visitor expectations and assumptions regarding the space, including that it is a space primarily for children and families.  RK&A believes that these expectations and assumptions will be altered over time and through remediation as the DMA molds visitors’ expectations; just as art museums have trained visitors to know what to expect in an art museum, they now need to help visitors unlearn those expectations.  While time and remediation will help alter visitors’ belief that the C3 is a space only for children and families, the DMA may need to explore more obvious strategies for engaging visitors  in a “dialogue” with art, as most visitors are unfamiliar with such experiences.  For instance, the DMA may need to help visitors first generate questions about a work of art before visitors would pursue a dialogue with a work of art.

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