As we continue to take a look back at the Philadelphia Visitor Experience Conference, we spoke with attendee Brian Krisch of the National Constitution Center to get his perspective on the conference.
What made you decide to attend the conference?
I had met Merilee Mostov at the Museum Council of Greater Philadelphia’s annual meeting in 2013, and I was interested in hearing more about her work. Additionally, I am familiar with many of the local presenters, and I wanted to know more about their experiences in education and visitor services. I was also hoping to learn more about the operations of different types of museums than my own – were they doing anything vastly different than what I was accustomed to? I also hoped that I could get a fresh perspective on some issues, and maybe do a bit of networking.
Which sessions did you attend and what were the main takeaways from each?
In addition to the keynote address and the signature session, I attended “Power in Numbers” with Mickey Maley, “Visitor Services On Your Toes” with Gigi Naglak and Emma Max, and “Lessons Learned from Managing a Multi-Dimensional Frontline” with Krista Dahl Kusuma and Marco Castro.
- For me, the highlight of Jessica Sharpe’s program was getting a clearer picture of where the museum field is headed, how departments may be reorganized, and why this transition to the “visitor experience” label has been so popular. I confess, it confirmed a few of my own impressions of how we should create a better experience for our visitors, and repeated a few emerging ideas I had seen introduced at other museums than my own.
- I greatly enjoyed Mickey Maley’s session, though it was not quite what I had anticipated. I have an interest in expanding adult programs at my own museum, and the brief description of the program gave me the impression that there would be a discussion of adult education. I suppose I may have made this assumption based upon my knowledge of new programs at his museum. Anyway, the discussion of needs – of staff, volunteers, and visitors – was a compelling one. It was fascinating to see how similar our concerns were across a wide selection of cultural institutions, and how individual motivations range from noble and selfless to purely financial. Overall, this session may have been the most immediately useful to me in my current position as a museum educator. It was a great help to think once more about the many ways to reach visitors (and our own staff), and what can be done to provide the “ideal” visitor experience.
- Similar to my experience with the previous session, I came into the program with Gigi Naglak and Emma Max expecting something slightly different, but I was thoroughly pleased with the results. As someone who has worked for mostly large institutions, I attended “No Lobby, No Staff, No Problem” hoping to learn more about how smaller museums and historic sites created a new and compelling visitor experience with limited resources. While the focus was somewhat narrower than I had anticipated (for the most part we discussed the lobby and the introductory experience for museum visitors), it did prove to be a compelling and informative session. We divided into groups, each putting together a list of what would be the most important features of any lobby experience, whether one works at a large or small institution. It really fostered a sense of solidarity among us – despite the differences in subject matter, size, or visitor demographics, we found common ground in what we wanted for our visitors and for ourselves.
- Though I understand she agreed to join PVEC on short notice, Hillary Olsen proved to be an excellent selection for the signature session. She spoke to something I felt all institutions should strive for – clarity in language, goals, and expectations. I was especially pleased to hear of her insistence upon communication between departments as well as within them. Too often I hear of individuals who don’t know what other departments in their organization are doing, or to what end they are working.
- While it seemed hard to imagine adapting certain portions of Kristin Dahl Kusuma and Marco Castro’s presentation to my own institution, I was very fascinated by several elements. The “collective tour” was a compelling idea, as was Mr. Castro’s description of the Queens Museum’s World’s Fair exhibit, in which visitors could record their own memories of or stories they had heard about the 1939 and 1964 fairs. It reminded me of the “Finding Home” exhibit at the Strawberry Banke Museum in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in which visitors could record stories of their families’ immigration history. I also found myself agreeing with them concerning staffing – making the right hires is essential. Content knowledge alone is no guarantee of an ability to provide visitors with an enjoyable and educational experience.
- The roundtable discussion with Joseph Gonzales should have been very helpful to those who attended the session. One of the best takeaways I can share is the need (in job interviews) to present oneself as an individual as well as a professional. After all, an organization is hiring the whole person. In our field I feel it is almost a necessity that we do not just respect our coworkers, but like them, too.
How do you plan to implement what you learned at the conference?
I plan to share a few of the ideas presented at the conference – incorporating visitor feedback in programs and exhibits, identifying the essential elements of the lobby “welcome” experience, fostering interaction between departments, and communicating about individual and institutional needs with volunteers and part-time staff. Many other things learned at the conference should prove useful during future stages my career.
In what ways did the Visitor Experience Conference address your needs as a museum educator?
I felt I needed to know more about how museums of varying sizes and missions address many of the concerns that all of our institutions share, and I believe I now have a better grasp of the situation at museums that are in many ways unlike my own. The conference also introduced a few new ideas I may need to implement in my own workplace, and confirmed many of my own ideas about providing a superior visitor experience. That was a relief. Additionally, it was a great opportunity to network!