Adam Rozan is the director of audience engagement at the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts. He recently gave an inspiring presentation (see video below) at MuseumNext, a conference of international museum experts with delegates from more than 30 countries.
Rozan’s presentation focused on the changes he has brought to the Worcester Art Museum by initiating projects related to audience development, visitor feedback and community consulting. His views are cutting-edge, and in many ways, represent the future of museums. Read below for a brief Q&A with Rozan following his talk at MuseumNext.
Q: What is the biggest change you have seen in the way museums approach their relationship to the visitor?
Museums went from being about objects to being about people. There is now a recognition that museums are about community, similar to how other civic institutions have been operating for decades. It’s a change that has been a long time coming.
Q: What role do you see visitor feedback surveys playing in museums? How important are they?
Data is critical. The better you understand your detractors, the better off you’ll be. If we mine data correctly it can help us understand our vision. My dream is that museums become places where people come together to think, to dream and to contribute. A place where students can work on homework assignments. Data tells us that people visit museums for shared experiences with family and friends. If we can get people to share their time with us and their loved ones, we have won. It’s the visitors that we need to meet. They don’t need to meet us.
Q: What is your opinion on incorporating “digital touch” into museum programming?
I have a slightly different stance on this. The way I see it, visitors already have technology and are immersed in the digital world. We don’t need to bring digital to them. We need to ask them to share their digital experiences with us. For example, if someone takes a picture in your museum, perhaps you ask them to share that picture through social media?
Q: What is the biggest lesson you learned from programs that weren’t successful, like the meditation program? Do you have any insights to share?
What is a failure but something that you experimented with. From that experiment, you can learn something tremendously valuable and turn them into opportunities. If everything went as planned, it wouldn’t be very interesting. We learned more from the programs that didn’t work that those that did. Our failures helped us understand where to move forward and helped us eliminate other potential programs.
Q: Many of the community initiatives you’ve spearheaded are amazing, such as the farmer’s market and polling station. What affordable suggestions do you have for museums wanting to incorporate community into their space?
Why not host a “community day” where you invite local organizations to discuss the kinds of offerings they’d like to see at your museum and discuss opportunities to network. We did this at our museum, offering coffee and cookies and also inviting families.
Adam Rozan speaking at MuseumNext. (Credit: MuseumNext)