In my last post I wrote about our process for deciding which collection highlights to include in ASK’s new self-guided tour, titled Highlights and Hidden Gems. I also hinted at the fact that the choice of works to include was only one facet of our process. As we developed our framework for the tour, we sometimes we felt like we still had more questions than answers.
One question that came up again and again was: how much are we guiding our visitors, and how much are we letting them steer the tour themselves? We were thinking about logistics—e.g., how to get the visitors from one tour “stop” to the next—but also about engagement in our new “choose your own adventure” format.
For way finding and directions, the brochure that our Design team is developing for us plays an important part. Sara will be blogging next week about this brochure, so I’ll just give a few quick hints here: Thumbnail images of the works will help visitors spot them easily. A floor plan will give the “big picture.” And the designation of works as “highlights” versus “hidden gems” will allow visitors to craft their own experience. Meanwhile, the ASK team was working on an outline of factual content for each “highlight” and “gem.” This way, we would have access to consistent, prepared information and language to share with our visitors, no matter who was staffing the tour on any given day. As things turned out, however, our shift from a tightly curated highlights list to a broader “menu” required some tweaks to our engagement strategy.
We tested our tour concept with several groups of colleagues from July through November and we gathered lots of helpful feedback. Some of it was related to the choice of works, but most of it revolved around engagement. Many of our testers felt a bit lost, even with their map prototypes. They would have liked more directives about how exactly to connect with each work of art and when to move on. They also expressed a desire to know more about our reasoning for choosing each work (i.e., what makes it a highlight?) as well as transitions and connections between stops. And they noticed when our replies seemed “scripted”; apparently we needed to think about the problem of our replies feeling packaged, rather than personalized.
In follow-up discussions, we agreed that we had already figured out how to make the most of our project’s unique qualities, like its self-directed, “go-at-your-own-pace” nature. Now we realized that we could also benefit from drawing on our collective experience as educators and “traditional” gallery guides.
After discussion, here are a few of the conclusions that we decided to put into practice:
Once again, we were looking for the “sweet spot” that balanced structure and flexibility. Like many things we do with ASK, a blend of learned experience and new thinking seems to serve us best.
And, speaking of timing, the Highlights and Hidden Gems tour was just added to our website’s Group Tours page this week. We’re looking forward to booking our first groups!
Jessica Murphy, Manager of Visitor Engagement, joined the Brooklyn Museum in 2015 as a member of the ASK team. In her current position she leads the team in their interactions with the Museum’s visitors through the ASK app and coordinates their ongoing training and development. Jessica received her B.A. from Fordham University and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Art History (with a concentration in American Art) from the University of Delaware. She previously worked as Research Associate at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (contributing to exhibitions and publication such as “Alfred Stieglitz and His Artists: Matisse to O’Keeffe” and “The American West in Bronze”), as Contractual Educator at the Met, and as Curatorial Assistant at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She has also worked as a freelance writer on cultural topics. She welcomes any opportunity, in any medium, to connect people and art.