Museums that care : socially responsive art museum practices and motivations

Date
2010-08
Authors
Schneider, Abbey Lynn
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Abstract

This research study provides answers to questions pertaining to current practices in the art museum field regarding socially responsive programming and the motivations for developing and implementing such programs. Socially responsive programming is programming that encourages dialogue and debate about social, economic and political issues in order to promote honesty, fairness, concern for the rights and welfare of others, empathy, and compassion (Desai & Chalmers, 2007). The study engaged a mixed methods approach by utilizing a survey and three case studies.

The purpose of the survey was to gauge the position of the field in relation to their values and support of socially responsive programs. Janes’ and Conaty’s (2005) four characteristics of socially responsive museums: seeing social issues and acting to create social change (idealism); building and sustaining strong relationships with the community (intimacy); investing time for reflection and resources to fully understand social issues (depth); and judging the museum’s worth, not based on building size, prestige of collections, or attendance numbers, but on the quality programs a museum provides to the community (interconnectedness) guided the construction of the survey and served as an analytical tool for the case studies.

The survey sample resulted from distributing the survey through major museum-themed listservs. The survey also aided in identifying three exemplars of socially responsive museum. These institutions, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey, the Columbus Museum of Art, and the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts, comprised a purposeful sample in order to further investigate museum staff members’ motivations for creating and instituting socially responsive art museum practices.

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