Opening Up To New Interpretive Possibilities: A Case Study With The Akron Art Museum

Jesse Sussman - Marketing Associate

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In the heart of Akron, OH, in the basement of the public library, the beginnings of what would eventually become the Akron Art Museum first opened its doors to the public in 1922.

Over the past century, the museum has grown tremendously, and now features 84,000 square feet of gallery space that showcases its unique collection and plays host to national and international traveling exhibitions.

Akron Art Museum | Photo courtesy of hakkun

Right now, the Akron Art Museum is most interested in facilitating meaningful visitor experiences on an individual level, hoping to inspire visitors to bring what they see and do at the museum back to their personal lives.

With the exception of school groups, most of the Akron Art Museum’s guests choose to experience the gallery in a self-guided context.

Gina ThomasMcGee, Associate Educator at the Akron Art Museum, contacted Museum Hack because she and her staff were interested in creating a more engaging and meaningful experience for self-guided visitors.

Gina was looking for “interpretive strategies that you might do on a tour but that are a little more permanent in the gallery space” in order to increase accessibility for visitors at all times. For example, instead of needing to sign up in advance for a guided tour on Saturday at 2pm, visitors would be able to spontaneously come to the museum and still get the full experience.

Museum staff were also hoping to get more ideas about what’s possible with interpretation, education, and engagement in the museum space, along with practical strategies to help create a more meaningful visitor experience for all.

The Kates presenting to Akron Art Museum staff

A Day With Museum Hack: Training Through An Interactive Presentation And Workshop

Our VIP guides Kate D and Kate N recently traveled to Akron for a day of intense training at the Akron Art Museum with their staff.

The day began with a presentation that detailed how and why Museum Hack came about, practical and engaging interpretative strategies, and how to market and monetize alternative museum experiences.

Afterward, the team broke off into smaller groups for a hands-on, interactive workshop which helped Akron Art Museum’s staff strategize and implement new engagement strategies that could be used immediately in both guided and self-guided contexts.

After the training, Gina noted one of the day’s key takeaways was the wide-ranging knowledge of possibilities for both programming and tone in museum spaces.

“It was a big mind shift and a big discussion for all of us during the workshop, this idea of tone — can we lift up the veil and be a little more approachable? Can you change your tone depending on who you’re talking to?

A lot of our staff who attended the workshop and presentation were like “whoa I can’t believe you’re talking like this” and the Kates were like “listen, this is our audience, we’re talking specifically in this certain kind of situation to mostly millennials and this is how they’re used to speaking. Similarly if you’re in fundraising and you know that “I’m going to Mr. Smith’s event”, I know that he needs me to speak in a certain way. It’s the idea that you’re adapting what you’re saying to the visitor, and I think that applies across the board.”

What The Akron Art Museum Said About Their Experience With Museum Hack

After our day with the Akron Art Museum was over, Gina commented that it really made people proud and excited about where they work.

“It also reminded our staff as to what we’re actually doing here. You can walk in the door and come up to your desk and work all day and not have any connection to what’s happening in the gallery space and not have any connection to the experience that your visitors are having. So it reminded us that this is why we are here, this is why we exist. And I think museums can be such formal places and we can take ourselves very seriously. Museum Hack’s training was a nice reminder that there is not one way to do this. Like, there is a way to approach artwork and any of us can do it. We’re still riding the high.”

Bringing It Up From The Basement: A Unique Initiative to Build Relationships With The Local Community

If your institution doesn’t receive a steady influx of out-of-towners, you’ll probably want to focus heavily on building relationships with your local community. During our conversation, Gina mentioned that Akron Art Museum does not typically receive a lot of traveling visitors from other areas.

We’re not a tourist destination, and we’re never going to be. So we have to be relevant in the lives of our community members. Akron is cool, but it’s not New York – and we’re cool with that.”

To honor its roots and build relationships with its local community, the museum is launching a new and creative initiative, going back to its origins in the basement of the public library. 

The Akron Art Library is open to members of the Akron Art Museum and anyone over 18 with an Akron/Summit County public library card, where they will soon be able to check out original artwork from local artists with their library card, and hang the artwork up in their home for up to three weeks, after which they return it and can receive a new piece – how cool is that?

Want to talk about new ways to engage your local community? We do too! Email us at [email protected].

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