Museum Reads

Book Review: Creating the Visitor-Centered Museum

Asking the Folks Who Do the Work: Creating the Visitor-Centered Museum

When I first cracked open Creating the Visitor-Centered Museum, I found myself staring at photos of the very halls through which I walk every day. I had flipped to a random page, and landed in Chapter 10: “Columbus Museum of Art: Museum as Community Living Room.” As a gallery associate, I see every day the changes the Columbus Museum of Art has made to make good on their mission of “Great experiences with great art for everyone.” In fact, I’m a part of that commitment to the visitor. We welcome every visitor as they explore the galleries, engaging them in questions about the collection and helping create memorable experiences. Reading Creating the Visitor-Centered Museum, I hoped to see the perspectives of a variety of museum professionals working to create visitor-centered experiences and to learn about the approaches taken at museums other than my own. 

The authors of Creating the Visitor-Centered Museum approached the subject of visitor-centered museums from two different points of view—one a museum professional, the other a social science researcher. These perspectives lead to two primary questions inspiring the study. Question one: “What are museums doing for art museum visitors who do not choose to use portable technologies?” Question two: “How do museums see their social mission as their mission extends to meaningfully engage broader audiences?” To more closely study this ongoing debate, Samis and Michaelson solicited nominations for museums innovating in visitor-centered practice. From those nominations, twenty museums were chosen for study total, with ten of those to be studied more in depth. The in depth study included interviews with thirty-two professionals, including eleven interviews with directors, and seven each with curators, educator-interpretive specialists, and cross-departmental teams. The authors used these interviews as much as possible to tell the stories of the museums’ journeys towards visitor-centeredness.

In their explorations, Samis and Michaelson discovered two connected changes happening in the museums: “Adopting a visitor-centered approach to exhibition development often leads to structural changes in the museum itself, including new museum roles and forms of staff collaboration.” Each chapter focuses on a different museum, detailing each institution’s approach to visitor-centeredness, as well as the challenges faced by staff. Museums seeking to focus on visitors often are accused of “dumbing down content” or “sacrificing scholarship.” In her interview, Lori Fogarty of the Oakland Museum of California replied to those accusations, “It’s not a trade-off. It’s an and, not an or, to be visitor-centered and committed to scholarship, committed to collection care, committed to, you know, the primacy of the object, to the role of the artist. Yes, we still care about serious scholarship, we care about curatorial expertise. And in fact, visitors want that as well, you know?” However, it doesn’t often seem to be visitors accusing museums of dumbing content down, with the exception of visitors with exceptional knowledge of a museum’s content who may be categorized into John Falk’s Professional/Hobbyist role. No, it often is other museum professionals making the accusations.

Samis and Michaelson found that professionals trapped in departmental silos struggled to communicate and to work together in newly formed cross-departmental teams. One such team existed at the Columbus Museum of Art from 2008 to 2010. Merilee Mostov, at the time Chief Engagement Officer, led Connecting Art to People, its meetings “designed to foster provoking conversations about the visitor experience, including curatorial, development, administrative, marketing, visitor services, and education staff.” This team pushed themselves and their own boundaries to create the visitor-centered experiences seen at the Columbus Museum of Art today. Writing of the experience in an issue of the Journal of Museum Education, former curator Catherine Evans said, “Armed with statistics concerning “museum fatigue” and how little time visitors spend in intense looking, we aimed to deepen the visitor experience. We introduced comfortable seating throughout the installation. This seemingly common-sense idea came only after attending a CAP (Connecting Art and People) meeting during which Merilee [Mostov] refused to allow us to sit. We expect to be comfortable while thinking and learning—why would we not allow for our visitors to experience the same comfort if we expect the same from them?” While I was not on staff at the Columbus Museum of Art at the time of these meetings, I can see the results every day in the galleries. Documented well in Creating the Visitor-Centered Museum, the CMA galleries are full of connectors, “any strategy that connects people to the art, besides the art itself. … They are the hooks that give velcro to a specific work and make it stick.” The authors even mention our team of gallery associates, speaking briefly in a note of “staff members trained to engage with visitors about the exhibitions.”

I love that our team gets this shoutout in Creating the Visitor-Centered Museum, a book that does an excellent job exploring the possibilities for visitor-centeredness in museums. Using interviews and photos from their in-person explorations of museums, Samis and Michaelson have written a book that advocates strongly for visitor-centeredness in museums, while making it clear that there is no one right way to approach the challenge. Its format makes the book an easy read, with each chapter being concluded with a list of key takeaways, summing up the lessons of the chapter. Its strengths and merits aside, Creating the Visitor-Centered Museum has a main flaw from my perspective. In interviewing staff, the authors chose director, curators, and other influential staff. While I understand this decision, I feel the book is lacking the perspective of frontline staff, the professionals who spend every day directly engaging with visitors. As Columbus Museum of Art executive director Nannette Maciejunes wrote in her article for the Journal of Museum Education, “We quickly discovered that saying you are visitor-centered is far easier than actually doing it.” So why not ask the staff who spend every day actually doing it?



Evans, Catherine. “The Impact of the Participatory, Visitor-Centered Model on Curatorial Practice.” Journal of Museum Education 39, no. 2 (July 2014): 152-161.

Falk, John H. Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience. London: Routledge, 2016.

Maciejunes, Nannette V. “The Director’s Perspective: A Changing Paradigm.” Journal of Museum Education 39, no. 2 (July 2014): 132-138.

Mostov, Merilee. “Making Space for Experimentation, Collaboration, and Play: Re-imagining the Drop-in Visitor Experience.” Journal of Museum Education 39, no. 2 (July 2014): 162-174.

Samis, Peter, and Mimi Michaelson. Creating the Visitor-Centered Museum. New York: Routledge, 2017.


How I actually came to love bullet journaling (no perfection required)

Bullet journaling has been all over the internet for the last few years. I mean, I feel like at least once a week, I see a new listicle of satisfying bullet journal layouts. Like the one here. Or here. Or here. Or here. Can’t turn a digital corner without seeing beautiful aesthetic layouts and flawless handwriting.

And these had me intimidated as hell. How could I start a bullet journal if I couldn’t do the perfect layouts featured online? I like my handwriting, but I’m no calligrapher! I’m a huge sucker for a good planner, but it just seemed like too big of a challenge to have to create my own.

Enter Andy Brandt’s Messy Bullet Journal blog posts. Reading his thoughts on bullet journaling felt like my thoughts had been pulled from my brain:

I was impressed by examples of gorgeous bullet journals on the web (especially on Pinterest) by people with obvious artistic talent who create beautiful bullet journals. I was a little bit jealous.

I now think they’ve got it all wrong.

A Bullet Journal (frequently shortened to BuJo) is about getting thoughts on paper and getting organized. This is a messy process. Journals should be messy!! They are about life. Some people appear to make their journal a work of art and get upset if they make a mistake. This is backwards. You don’t want to orbit your life around your journal, the journal is to organize and think about your life.

At the end of 2017, I finally decided to lean into the messiness. Ok, at least a little bit. I still did a lot of research when planning what spreads I wanted to use. I still bought a 12 pack of stencils to help me create the designs I wanted. I definitely invested in a few new pens.

What’s that phrase I’ve seen on tumblr? Oh right, “buying office supplies gives the illusion of productivity.” That certainly describes my relationship with office supplies.

In order to finally kick myself into starting a bullet journal, I decided to do the following four things:

  1. Buy the office supplies. I decided to let myself invest a little into this, since I really want to make it work. I bought a few new pens, a new pencil case, some washi tape, and a pack of bullet journaling stencils.

    I spent a long time looking for the right notebook. Most notebooks are too thin for my taste. I want something that will last me the whole year. I finally found one that was almost perfect at my local Barnes and Noble. Chunky, but not too big, with grid pages. The soft cover would have been perfect, but it was low quality leather. So I bought it anyway, for $10 and made myself a beautiful deerskin slip cover for it, thanks to the help of my fantastic partner who let me use all of their leather working tools.

  2. Make at least a little bit of time every day to use my journal. I can’t get more organized if I don’t use the book! I try and spend a little bit of time every night planning for the week or day ahead. This is fun for me – it gives me a chance to try out the new supplies I bought and to keep ahead of my busy schedule.
  3. Give myself the freedom to change! The thing I love most about a bullet journal is that my planner isn’t stuck in one layout. If something isn’t working, I can easily change it on the next spread that I draw. I’ve already changed from my original idea, and frankly, I’m about to fully change again. There’s nothing wrong with testing and playing with different layouts and doodles and organization strategies.

    This has been super difficult for me – I’m very much a person who likes a system. But, it’s also been freeing for me to realize that I have the power to change the things that aren’t working! And make them better! (Hello, life lesson reminder!)

  4. Embrace the mess. I really only like to use pens when I write. There’s just something satisfying about the way a good pen feels when you write with it.

    BUT my spreads don’t usually look like the ones I see on Buzzfeed. And that’s ok! They’re useful to me and that’s the most important thing to me. I cross things off, I move things around, I scribble and cover things in stickers. I’m leaning into it, and it’s working for me.

What part of bullet journaling appeals to you? Send me pictures of your spreads! (Because don’t get me wrong, I still appreciate the heck out of those beautiful minimalist pages!) I’m including some of my favorites from my journal below!

Navigating the Field, Social Justice, Trans Stuff

How to Be the Squeaky Wheel: Targeted Tips for Change

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a rabble rouser. I like to push for change because we can all be better, always. Every day, I learn and grow as a person and a professional.

But that doesn’t mean that pushing for change is easy. People can be resistant to change. They don’t like having their power challenged or admitting that they could be wrong. Of course there will always be struggles for those who push for the new and radical.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about targeted strategies that we, as changemakers, can use. Some of these came from my adventures at MuseumCamp. Others came from other conferences or my past jobs. So here are four tips I’ve tried that can make the fight for change a little easier: pick your battle, find your allies, make it personal, and stick to your guns.

Pick Your Battle

It’s easy to want to do everything at once. In general, my goal is to push for inclusion for trans and queer people everywhere. But I know my limits! There’s no way I can fight every battle for trans folks. So I prioritize. I want to make my place of employment as trans friendly as possible.

It’s important to recognize when to step up as a leader and when to support from the background. Not every person can be a leader for every cause. Be strategic about where you put your energy.

As I’ve been searching for jobs, I’ve been very open about being trans. I include my pronouns in my email signatures and on my cover letter. I’m privileged in my ability to do this. I want to use that privilege to make things better for other people.

Find Your Allies

Find those around you who share your priorities. I’m lucky to work with stellar coworkers. My supervisor recognizes the importance of inclusion. When I got hired, I made it clear that my pronouns weren’t negotiable and are part of my identity. From the get-go, my supervisor respected me.

While I was comfortable wearing a button with my pronouns, I wanted a more inclusive option. That’s when we landed on adding pronouns to our name badges. We have “Docent” on some badges and “Women’s Board” on others. Why not pronouns? The move to pronouns on name badges also meant that I wouldn’t be singled out for my transness. Instead, the museum took steps to normalize everyone sharing their pronouns.

My supervisors and coworkers advocating with me made change happen.

Make It Personal

Pronouns matter because this is my life. I’m not a theory or a vague concept.

It’s easier to convince people that change matters when you make it personal. Most cisgender means people whose gender has always aligned with the gender they were assigned at birth. Most cisgender people don’t even think about pronouns or gender outside of the “I’m a girl, you’re a boy” conversations in kindergarten. But for trans folks, this is a daily fact of our existence. Being misgendered over and over again is draining. Exhausting. But it’s how we live.

By sharing my personal experience, I’ve been able to help others understand how to respect trans people and why it matters to respect us. I always say that I stand up because I can and so that other people don’t have to argue later. I can make the museum a safe space for one trans kid who comes in the museum and sees my pronouns on my badge. That’s why what I do matters.

Stick To Your Guns

Don’t give up when the fight for change gets hard. Sometimes it would be easier to let people use “she” for me. It’s exhausting to correct people all the time. For me though, it’s worse to be misgendered.

People generally have good intentions and try to use my pronouns. I give people the benefit of the doubt and let them try and fail. I know that this kind of change takes time. I just have to see that people are trying, and I’ll continue to hold them accountable.

I deserve respect and to bring my whole self as a trans person to work. That’s what I always come back to and what inspires me to keep fighting.

What tips do you have for making space for change?

Conferences, Social Media Adventures

5 Reasons You Need to Get to MuseumCamp (Including a Group Floss!)

Wow, I can’t believe it’s been almost a month since my adventure to Santa Cruz for MuseumCamp! I can’t say enough good things about my experience, but I’ve come up with 5 reasons you’ve GOT to apply for MuseumCamp next year.

The Place

First of all, Santa Cruz is absolutely beautiful. The weather is perfect. The town is adorable. The Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History provides the perfect backdrop for an immersive unconference experience. The MAH’s spaces are comfortable and well-designed to support creative engagement and learning experiences. We always had somewhere to sit, to write, to think, to share. And having the delicious food and drink options from Abbott Square Market didn’t hurt either!

Getting to spend the night there? Even better. But bring your ear plugs and an eye mask.

The People

MuseumCamp wouldn’t be camp without the campers. And what a spectacular group of people I got to know this year. Over 100 changemakers from all over the world. Australia, New Zealand, England, I made new friends from places I can only dream of visiting right now. I know that I can reach out to any of the people I met at MuseumCamp with an idea, a question, even to ask a favor, and I know I’ll get their support. It’s an incredibly empowering experience to have such a supportive and powerful network of changemakers on my side.

The Bonding Experience

Nothing bonds like a group floss. Seriously. As part of Wednesday evening’s “Power Hour of Fun,” led by the kickass Elise Granata, campers broke down any awkwardness that might have been present, built new friendships, and raced through 60 one-minute-long activities. Activities including a minute of high fives, a minute of arm wrestling, a minute of marker tattoos on each other, a minute of selfies, and yes, even a minute of a group floss!

Arm wrestling with Nell Taylor from Read/Write Library Chicago during the Power Hour of Fun!

The Changemaking Challenge

The 30-Day Changemaking Challenge took most of our time on Thursday of camp. We broke into groups, each themed around a different aspect of the changemaking process. I was assigned to Team E: Reflect and Share. It’s so important to always keep reflecting on what we’re doing as we’re trying to make change. How else do we know that what we’re doing is working? Sharing and getting feedback gives us opportunities to keep doing even better work. We even got feedback from our fellow campers about our ideas – a structured part of the challenge was time to share our ideas and see what others thought before having time to edit and make additional changes.

We worked hard to create concrete activities that we could take home and share with others. Some were quick things to incorporate into our every day lives, others took more time and effort. Our group came up with the five following activities for “reflect and share:”

  1. Convene a “share back” group using transformative justice methods (toolkits online).
  2. Visit a stakeholder at their site and actively listen to their perspectives.
  3. Identify 3 accomplishments or learning moments from your change making experience. Share in 3 new places.
  4. Write a 10-second response to “how are you?” Share authentically about your project or life.
  5. Create a movie poster that encapsulates the plot of your changemaking experience.

Be on the lookout for a 30-Day Changemaking Challenge poster, coming soon!

The Leadership Opportunities

Leadership opportunities were -everywhere- at MuseumCamp. From opportunities to step up in our group project to giving lightning talks to offering up ideas during unconference sessions, if you wanted to be a leader at MuseumCamp, you totally could. And in a safe, brave environment that provided the chance to try and fail and try again with the support of colleagues.

MuseumCamp, like anything else in life, is all about what you make it. But if you’re able to throw yourself in fully, the experience is like nothing else.

Until next year, MuseumCamp!

Conferences, Social Media Adventures

You Look Digitally Familiar! VSA2017 Volunteer Adventures

When I found out that VSA would be bringing their 2017 conference to Columbus, I knew I had to find a way to get involved. Because I can’t afford to pay for my own fees and I already live in Columbus, volunteering was a no-brainer. Plus volunteers get to go to sessions when they aren’t volunteering!

If you don’t know the Visitor Studies Association, you can check out their website here. VSA is a membership organization dedicated to understanding and enhancing informal learning experiences through research, evaluation, and dialogue. My people!

This year’s conference theme: New Pathways in Visitor Studies! In the field of visitor studies, we must always be on our toes to keep a current understanding of visitors and their needs.

Attendees could expect to explore questions such as:

  • In what new ways can and should the field of visitor studies act as an advocate for those audiences who have traditionally been excluded from informal learning spaces?
  • How are changes in society, culture, and human interaction impacting the field of informal learning – and how can the field of visitor studies creatively adapt to these changes?
  • How can we think big and pivot our attention to use research and evaluation methodologies to address issues in our communities, nations, and world?

Big, juicy questions like this make for great conversation.

So what sessions did I get to go to? Read on for a recap!


Beyond Excellent: The Overall Experience Rating

Presenters Nick Visscher, Andrew Pekarik, Kerry DiGiacomo, and Hannah Ridenour spent the session sharing their experiences with the Overall Experience Rating & thoroughly convincing me of its benefits as a rating scale. From art museums to zoos, the OER gives institutions the opportunity to identify the most enthusiastic visitors with “superior,” to compare expectations with experience, and to track areas that need improvement.

Session Bonus: listening to Andrew Pekarik rage about Net Promoter Score.


Later that afternoon, I volunteered at the registration table, giving me the chance to say hi to lots of other participants and watch as staff attempted to free a poor hotel employee from a stuck elevator. Yikes. Working with the VSA leadership was a great experience. Expectations for volunteers were very clear, and I had a great time!

Examining Cultural Assumptions: Implications for Equity in Museums

Oh boy, this session is what I’m here for. Shedd Aquarium’s Lindsay Maldonado and North Central College’s Nicole Rivera, Ed.D. led a roundtable discussion on cultural assumptions inherent to museums. To be honest, I didn’t even take any notes in this session because we were having such good conversation. Discussion centered around the three questions in the image below.

Session bonus: Anna Lopez deciding that culturally responsive evaluation is like baklava, a little sticky and a little crunchy, but oh so worth it.


Thursday evening’s festivities included an “Evening of Creativity and Conversation at the Columbus Museum of Art,” which I sort of got to attend – I ended up in the same galleries as conference attendees while I was at work in as a gallery associate!


When I got to the hotel on Saturday morning, I connected with three of my colleagues from the Columbus Museum of Art. It ended up that they didn’t need us as volunteers for the sessions, so we got to attend them!

Investigating Pathways to STEM Identity in Free-Choice Learning Environments

Having just finished John Falk’s Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience, I knew I couldn’t miss this session. He, Smirla Ramos-Montañez, and Lynn Dierking shared their research on STEM identity in traditionally underserved communities. Absolutely fascinating to listen to these three talk about their varied techniques for doing this research and the implications of that research for future free-choice learning.

Session Bonus: Smirla’s transcripts of interactions the 9-14 year old girls in her studies.

Making Connections: Facilitating Learning Through Making

Lisa Brahms from the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh brought a hands-on session to VSA. Coming from a summer camp background, I love anything and everything hands-on. And even better, we got to bring home the activity! Making Connections is an Apples to Apples-style game, giving facilitators a chance to practice matching facilitation strategies with learning objectives and learner styles. I had a blast playing, and I’m really glad I got to bring the game home!



I had a wonderful time at VSA2017. I’d encourage anyone interested in Visitor Studies to get involved with the organization, to take advantage of the many opportunities available as a volunteer, and to continue to connect with everyone on Twitter!

Special shout out to Elizabeth Bolander of the Cleveland Museum of Art for telling me that I looked “digitally familiar,” when we finally connected in person! A great phrase that made a perfect title for this blog post.


Welcome to MuseumQueer!

I’ve been meaning to start blogging for ages, but I’ve finally gotten my butt in gear!

Welcome to MuseumQueer! I’m going to be writing about whatever strikes my fancy, but mostly thoughts on navigating the museum world as an out nonbinary trans person, queer exhibitions, inclusion in museums in general, and conference adventures.

New stuff on the horizon:

  • a wrap up post about volunteering at VSA 2017 in Columbus
  • posts about my current job hunt & interview process
  • adventures in social media with my colleagues
  • MuseumCamp!