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Framework for Engaging with Art (FEA)

[2003-2005]
An audience research project with an art museum
Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX

This study examined the Dallas Museum of Art’s (DMA) framework for understanding visitors’ engagement with art, called Framework for Engaging with Art (FEA).  The DMA conceived of FEA as an overarching institutional strategy for strengthening staff collaborations for programming, marketing, and exhibition development that would, in turn, promote innovative museum program design and increase visitation.  FEA fundamentally changed the Museum’s organizational culture, way of working, and the relationship between the Museum and Dallas communities. 

How did we approach this study?

In addition to being a systemic institutional strategy, FEA is also a hypothesis regarding how the Museum’s visitors are segmented.  The DMA originally identified three distinct “Levels of Engagement with Art”: Awareness, Curious, and Commitment, based on visitors’ prior art knowledge, art consumer behavior, and quality of participation in art experiences.  RK&A and DMA collaboratively designed a unique questionnaire to explore DMA’s visitors and FEA.  The study’s results validate the Museum’s hypothesis and identify four audience clusters within the three segments.  These four clusters are based on visitors’ preferences for types of interpretation and programming, comfort level with looking at and talking about art, and enthusiasm and passion for art.  The four visitor clusters—Observers, Participants, Independents, and Enthusiasts—exist within the three Levels of Engagement; two clusters—Independents and Enthusiasts—are in the Commitment Level. 

What did we learn?

The FEA transcends demographics and provides an alternative structure for thinking about visitors, the kinds of experiences the DMA would like to offer, and the kinds of experiences that are possible for visitors to have—given their set of personality traits.  The information in this study, while complex, is remarkably concrete and specific, and staff members are using it to design exhibitions and programs.  The challenge for the DMA (and other art museums) is to be sensitive to visitors’ distinctions, as each visitor has the ability to create his or her own unique experience—determined by individual works of art, what the museum offers, visitors’ personality traits, passion toward an individual work of art, intellectual curiosity, and art background.  When all these variables, in all their varying degrees, interact, the possibilities are endless and extraordinarily rich.  

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