Wallace Foundation Qualitative Study Report

December 1st, 2010 | EVALUATION

In June 2010, the Gardner contracted with the Institute for Learning Innovation to augment the results of a large scale, Wallace Foundation funded quantitative study. Specifically, ILI was asked to conduct a focused, qualitative study that would provide in depth data about local visitors' long term perceptions of their Gardner Museum experience. Semi structured, retrospective interviews were conducted with 31 museum visitors, months after their Gardner experience. Key results include the following: 1) Study participants demonstrated a range of motivations for visiting the Gardner, but most prominent were those classified as social facilitators, meaning the main agenda for their visit was to spend time with, and build meaningful memories with, others in their group. 2) Study participants were easily able to recall multiple aspects of their museum visit. Specifically, visitors remembered the art and architecture, their personal feelings, the service and amenities, atmosphere and mood, external conditions, conversations with others, and the life and history of Isabella Stewart Gardner. These memories suggest that the nature of a Gardner visit is multi dimensional (visitors recalled multiple aspects of their visit), highly salient (visitors were quite detailed in their memories), and strongly connected to the art work (most prominent were memories relating to art and architecture). 3) Visitors talked about gaining new knowledge and understanding during their visit; about feeling personally and spiritually connected; about enhancing their creativity and feeling inspired; about social outcomes; and about being transported from their daily routine. 4) When asked directly about the role that the art work played in their museum visit, more than half of the participants said it was one of the main reasons that they came to the Gardner. This finding clearly point to the saliency of the art within the Gardner experience. At the same time, however, for about a third of the study participants, the art was either not the most important aspect of their visit or it was equally important to the house and garden. Clearly the Gardner experience is different for different people - while the art work may feature prominently for many, it may be less prominent for others which has implications for how the Museum chooses to message the experience. 5) Study participants' perceptions of the Gardner were exactly what staff expected - most often, people thought of it as a personal and intimate; as a place that inspired tranquility and introspection; and as a place of beauty. However, it is important to note that as with the other questions pursued in this study, participants offered multiple perceptions of the Museum. This confirms the notion that the Gardner experience is multi faceted for visitors, comprised of various dimensions from aesthetics to emotions to social connections to the art work. Taken together, results from this study suggest the presence of a Gardner gestalt; they suggest that museum visitors may see the Gardner experience as a combination of critical dimensions, from the art and architecture to the courtyard and garden to the legacy of Isabella herself. We hope that the data from this study have helped to shed some light on the nature of that gestalt, and will prove useful as Gardner staff continue to message the experience to current and future Museum visitors. The appendix of this report includes the interview protocol and coding rubrics used in the study.



Team Members

Jeanine Ancelet, Evaluator, Institute for Learning Innovation
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Contributor
Jessica J. Luke, Evaluator, Institute for Learning Innovation
Erin Johnson, Evaluator, Institute for Learning Innovation


Audience: Adults | Evaluators | General Public | Museum | ISE Professionals
Discipline: Art | music | theater | Education and learning science | History | policy | law
Resource Type: Audience Study | Coding Schema | Evaluation Reports | Interview Protocol | Research and Evaluation Instruments | Rubric
Environment Type: Exhibitions | Museum and Science Center Exhibits