Audience Engagement: New Ideas from a Study on Art Museum Websites

Renegade Tours

Museums are cultural authorities.  Their expertise has informed visitors about the past, present, and future through interpretation and education for decades.  

Yet new Internet technologies are challenging this model of “museum as authority.”  New tech enables visitors to become active participants in the museum experience — contributing to knowledge and creating their own meaning within museum spaces.

A primary new mode of museum communication has been the website: a portal to new worlds for those who visit — and don’t visit — the museum.  The possibilities for virtual interpretation are nearly endless, but many museums struggle with balancing this new tech and their age-old role as authorities.

How are museums utilizing their websites?  How are visitors engaging with the museum online?

Maria Komarova, a student at Kansas State University, recently conducted a study investigating the tensions between democratic and authoritative approaches to online museum experiences.  She examined the use of interactive technologies at 15 art museum websites’ to find the successes — and failures — of museums’ technology use.

Today’s post highlights her study’s findings. It talks about how museums are utilizing their websites, and whether such uses are engaging visitors. It is a quick summary based on “Interactive Technologies on Art Museum Websites” by Maria Komarova, submitted in partial fulfillment for her Master of Science degree at Kansas State University.
Title Slide: Interactive Technologies on Art Museum Websites

Things are getting tense! Who should be the authority on mean-making?Museums are collaborative. Museums represent communities.Museum Websites shape communication.Getting online builds new kinds of audience interaction. Fax machines? Some museums still use them. Serious. MoMA Project and the Google Art Project are great examples of interactive museum websites.This is Amy Poelher being an art snob.Museum websites can facilitate co-creation.Museum websites aren't always very creative.Museums can create interaction before people even walk into the museum.LET THE PEOPLE TALK. Serious museum websites, just let them. Museums need to decide what is more important to them: maintaining authority or visitor exploration.

Museum websites should engage instead of enlighten.

Connecting audiences to the collection is an important part of engagement.Museum websites are used for marketing rather than co-creating experiences.What museums can do to engage their audiences
Museum websites are essential for people who can't physically make it to the museum. Museum websites can be engaging. End slide "Interactive Technology on Museum Websites"
Download the PDF version of this summary here.

“Interactive Technologies on Art Museum Websites” by Maria Komarova was submitted in partial fulfillment for her Master of Science degree at Kansas State University.

Find out about our consulting work with museums, or send us an email to find out more about how we can help your institution with audience development.

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