A Summative Evaluation of Visitors’ Gallery Experiences at The Detroit Institute of Arts

July 10th, 2013 | EVALUATION

This is a descriptive summative evaluation study of visitors’ experiences with the permanent collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts, after the extensive museum-wide visitor-centric renovation and reinstallation that began in 1998 and culminated with a grand opening in 2007. Using a naturalistic methodology, three researchers from Selinda Research Associates made two three-day site visits (in January and March of 2013) and spent over 32 hours observing and interviewing 45 groups (181 individuals). Visitors’ experiences with works of art included stories and storytelling, visiting an old friend, seeing art as history, connecting with a particular culture or heritage, looking closely and paying attention to details, nostalgia and memories, being transported to another time or place, learning something new, becoming inspired, and appreciating the aesthetics. All of the museum’s seven desired visitor outcomes were achieved, although there was less evidence of visitors developing new skills at looking at art. Programming played an important role for many respondents. The different interpretive strategies, including the organization of galleries by conceptual big idea and the incorporation of different types of interpretive elements and labels, contributed in important ways to the richness of visitors’ experiences. In addition, visitors described many ways that the museum is more lively and the art more accessible than before the reinstallation. Challenges that remain include helping first-time, infrequent, and less-experienced visitors feel even more welcome and oriented, helping visitors who would benefit from the interpretation to use it, and making some modifications to a few of the interpretive devices so they are more effective. The Detroit Institute of Arts has developed, implemented, and integrated an ambitious and highly effective interpretive approach that places visitors squarely at the center of the museum and its mission.


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Team Members

Deborah Perry, Author, Selinda Research Associates, Inc.
Barbara Becker, Evaluator, Selinda Research Associates, Inc.
Diane White, Evaluator, Selinda Research Associates, Inc.
Gail Merritt, Editor, Gail Merritt & Associates


Funding Source: IMLS


Audience: Evaluators | General Public | Museum | ISE Professionals
Discipline: Art | music | theater | Education and learning science
Resource Type: Evaluation Reports | Summative
Environment Type: Exhibitions | Museum and Science Center Exhibits