USF's Museum Blog

Museum Evaluation Workshop Challenges Assumptions

Steve Yalowitz, principal of Audience Viewpoints

“I have to be honest. I was one of those skeptics of evaluators,” stated Jenny Fry, a first year student in USF’s museum studies program, “but this workshop changed the way I think about evaluation.” Jenny was not alone, as our class gathered at the Asian Art Museum for an all-day Saturday workshop on  museum evaluation led by Dr. Steve Yalowitz, principal of Audience Viewpoints, a museum evaluation firm based in the Washington DC area. Steve led the class through several exercises and discussions that aimed to clarify why it is so important to understand and evaluate how visitors are experiencing our exhibitions and programs.  After unobtrusively observing visitor behaviors in the galleries, students concluded the day by discussing how the wide range of behaviors they saw challenged our assumptions about how visitors experience museums. Although some museum practitioners are fearful that an evaluation will criticize their work or introduce new demands that they can’t fulfill,

Steve reminded us that the ultimate aim of a good evaluation is to improve exhibitions and programs.  Dozens evaluation tools exist including visitor observation and timing & tracking, but perhaps the most important tool is close listening in order to assure we are asking the right questions.   As Jenny concluded, “I always thought evaluation was necessary for every step of a project but there’s definitely a right way to evaluate. It’s just determining the right way that’s the hard part!”

USF students Briana Comins and Laura Harvey challenging their assumptions at the California Academy of Sciences

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