Crystal Bridges is temporarily closed to support efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19. Follow our updates.
Crystal Bridges is temporarily closed to support efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19. Follow our updates.

Museum Way Podcast: Planning Art for a New Understanding: Research + Interpretation

In this episode, we talk with Interpretation Manager Samantha Sigmon and Director of Audience Research & Evaluation Juli Goss about planning an exhibition from the beginning. From interpretation tactics to focus groups and research, we’re sharing the behind-the-scenes planning process for Art for a New Understanding.

 

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Episode Transcript

Stace Treat:
Welcome to Museum Way, the podcast of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. We’re sharing the ins and outs of the museum from the galleries to the trails, the architecture, and more. You’ll learn the Museum Way of Crystal Bridges. On today’s episode, we’re taking a behind the scenes look at how we plan for an exhibition. We’ll chat with my counterpart at the museum Interpretation Manager Samantha Sigmon about her work with our latest exhibition Art for a New Understanding: Native Voices 1950 To Now. Then we’ll talk with Juli Goss, our Director of Audience Research and Evaluation about working with community groups to incorporate a range of voices and perspectives into our exhibition process. So let’s jump into this episode of Museum Way.

Stace Treat:
We are here with Interpretation Manager, Samantha Sigmon. Welcome to the podcast, Samantha.

Samantha Sigmon:
Thanks for having me.

Stace Treat:
Yeah, so one of the things that’s fun about this moment in Museum Way is many of our listeners have probably heard me introduce myself as an Interpretation Manager and probably thought, “What the heck is that? What does that even mean?” Well, there are actually two interpretation managers at Crystal Bridges. Myself and my counterpart here, Samantha, so we’re going to get to talk about interpretation.

Samantha Sigmon:
Yes, we’re all right here. Yes. The whole group.

Stace Treat:
The whole interpretation now.

Samantha Sigmon:
The whole two of us.

Stace Treat:
So why don’t we just start talking about that a little bit. A lot of people often ask us what it is that we do. What does interpretation mean? So why don’t you give us your pitch? What is it?

Samantha Sigmon:
Yeah, I want to start by saying I usually feel kind of bad because a lot of times we’ll be interviewing other people and it’ll get to, “My name is Samantha Sigmon, I’m the Interpretation Manager,” and then I have a very long explanation on what that means. So it’s a little bit longer than everybody else in the room, but it does occupy an interesting gray area between curatorial and what the educators do. So I think the way that we define it is while the educators are really directing an audience, it’s programs, it’s tours, and the curator is really looking at the art and the artwork and the artists. What we are doing is standing in for the visitor in a space. So more of a self-directed experience and we can do that in many different ways and a lot of times we work really, really closely with the curator to design this experience and how we want our viewers to see our shows.

Stace Treat:
Right, so it’s not like the curator doesn’t have the visitor in mind per se, but it’s just that we’re standing in a way that says, “Will the visitor understand that?” Or what are ways that we can engage the visitor in creative ways?

Samantha Sigmon:
Right. I think for me it’s so exciting when the gallery you’ve been working on for so long first opens and you see these people you don’t know, these families, these groups engaging with the things that you have designed and you’ve spent a really long time doing, whether that’s a digital activity or a print guide or a map on the wall and it’s just so wonderful to see people engage with that and that’s what… We drive that process and that’s great.

Stace Treat:
So, one of the interesting things is that you and I both work in different ways. We work on different projects. We trade them off for example. So last year I did Chihuly, I did the Stuart Davis show. Tell me some of the projects that you’ve worked on.

Samantha Sigmon:
Okay. Yeah. So the fun thing I think for both of us about being interpretation managers is that we get to learn very different things and a lot of what we’re doing is looking at the context around things and so I say that because I’ve become, I would never say the word expert, but have micro knowledge on certain subjects at a certain amount of time. So my very first exhibition that I worked on was the early 2016 Open Road. So it was photographs of the road trip. So I got to-

Stace Treat:
That was a fun show. You did a great job on that one.

Samantha Sigmon:
Yeah, it was so fun. Oh, thank you. But we got to really engage in so many different activities and it was my first time doing this role as interpretation manager as well. So I got to learn about the technology of the car and the camera growing up together and so we had this timeline. We had low-tech magnet activities in there. We had a high-tech social media share out to share out your own road trip photos. We had a Spotify playlist and a video montage. So I got paid to make playlists and look at, watch Smokey and the Bandit. It was fun. So I thought it was so great, but to really… For me, as if I was a visitor, I think making those connections to artwork in our everyday world and our pop culture and all of that is just so fun for people too, and it’s fun for me to do and I think that comes through. So that was one, and then-

Stace Treat:
Not to mention, by the way, The Muppet Movie landing on the cutting room floor. That was a traumatic moment.

Samantha Sigmon:
Oh hell yes. That was traumatic for all of us. So everyone was really into that video montage a little bit too much. But no, it was great and then from there I did Art Of American Dance so I was really looking at the dances themselves and the dancers themselves and dance theory and how the artists portrayed those dances because they were inspired by the dances as well and so it’s a case in point of how the curator and the interpretation manager’s a little bit different is that the curator is really looking at that artwork and what that artwork is saying about the dance, but I’m going into dance itself and how that connection between dance and art has existed throughout time and looking at really old YouTube videos and really great things like that.

Stace Treat:
And you produced a multimedia digital experience, right?

Samantha Sigmon:
Yeah, with help from you.

Stace Treat:
Like an audio visual type. Yes, we did it together. You did most of it.

Samantha Sigmon:
Yeah, I know and it was really great to look up these archival videos and things like that. So that was really great and then totally switching gears was Border Cantos and that was a really tough show. It was during the election and we were really working on it and we had a group of Latinx advisory committee members that met every month with us and went over everything with our texts, with our design, with our interpretation plan and they just became part of this Crystal Bridges family with us moving through this exhibition and so I think that one just meant so much to me and I learned so much about the Mexican-American border.

Samantha Sigmon:
And that’s sort of a case in point too, on how the big idea themes and goals really affects our work because one of the major points in that was talking about empathy and putting yourself in people’s shoes that have had a rough time and so we put open conversation questions throughout the gallery. Like, “If you just had a backpack and you had to leave, what would you fill it with?” And then there’s an actual backpack as an art object on the wall and then we had these personal stories from people in our region give their firsthand account. So really bringing in that goal and seeing that outcome was really great and seeing that community support was really great too.

Stace Treat:
Well, and that actually brings us to part of the conversation we’re having today about Art for a New Understanding, which is, and also talking with Juli Goss later, our Director Of Audience Research And Evaluation, is that that community engagement, learning from the community, listening to the community as a means of helping to create the exhibition and create the interpretation around the exhibition is something that you also to some degree did also with Soul of A Nation earlier this year and with this show. So why don’t you tell me a little bit more about what happened with Art for a New Understanding and how the content team approached it.

Samantha Sigmon:
So we’ve sort of started this process, the idea of reaching out early, as early as we can, reaching out in advance with Border Cantos, so it is a good link there but also museum wide really working on our community outreach. So all of these things coming together, it means that we’re really working with the community to inform our exhibitions and our exhibition process and with me I’m really interested in community issues and my background was in anthropology so I get these amazing and very, very difficult social issue shows that I am learning just way more than I could even imagine about these issues and they’re just so important and so with Art for a New Understanding, Juli, which she’ll talk about more, did three, I believe three different focus groups and then we also had a larger programming conversation and it was both with Indigenous–the Indigenous community mainly–but then there was also some focus groups that identified as non-Indigenous.

Samantha Sigmon:
Really just showing them the artwork and having their initial reactions and this was before we actually wrote our big idea themes and goals and so those focus groups really did inform what artwork are people unsure about, what might they be confused about, what do they love that they see at first sight and then what are some of the words they keep talking about? And for us, I think it was really important and for me, you mentioned listening, but just listen and listen often and continue to get feedback and I think this is something that’s so great that museums are doing now is that it’s not a one way street into learning. It’s not people, visitors coming in and reading labels on the wall.

Samantha Sigmon:
There’s so much more of a give and take and every museum is in a community and sometimes, a lot of times, you can broaden that community out to the world, anyone that comes in and so feeling like the needs of the community are trusted and respected and that they can also trust you with that and I think that is just so important on what we are doing. So continuing to invite the community in to tell them where we are along our process and then get feedback and a lot of times we will directly change things based on what they’re saying and we also have readers, we did this with Border Cantos too and a little bit when it’s more historical, which is great because we have a university here as well. So if there’s something I’m not sure of I can find a scholar in the field.

Samantha Sigmon:
So I think the thing for museum professionals, just admitting what you don’t know and it’s okay if you don’t know that and coming at a question with respect for where other people have been and that’s really what we’re doing in Art for a New Understanding I hope. We’ve really tried to invest in having scholars who are contemporary Indigenous scholars read our work and all of this sort of thing to just make sure that it is… Principally this gets to our big idea that contemporary art is being made now. It’s being made by Indigenous people and it’s that nowness that we really want to bring out. So, continuing-

Stace Treat:
And the diversity quite frankly.

Samantha Sigmon:
Absolutely, yeah.

Stace Treat:
It’s not even, Indigenous people are incredibly diverse. Something like 573 recognized nations currently in the United States.

Samantha Sigmon:
And that’s just federally recognized. So that’s not even state recognized, and so…

Stace Treat:
That one doesn’t count First Nations people.

Samantha Sigmon:
Right, right, or Metis or Inuit in Canada, which there’s over 600 in Canada alone. So having no idea about this, this is something I am learning too. I think a lot of people don’t hear enough about this in history and so just making sure even in our texts that it is present tense and that it’s plural. I just said Indigenous people, it’s Indigenous peoples. Things like that you don’t realize how important the words you are using are and even the fact that a lot of these words are from colonizing entities, from people that are Euro-Americans coming over and creating words for things that already existed and had different words and so it’s learning so much and trying to listen is really where I’m at with that.

Stace Treat:
So here’s a good question from one interpretation manager to another, all this information that is important and that you want somehow to convey to the visitor, how do you make the choices of how that’s conveyed? There’s only so much space on a wall or on a label for an artwork or even in a printed guide. For one thing, there are three curators on this show. Why don’t you tell me a little bit about them and how you’ve worked with them?

Samantha Sigmon:
Yeah. So mainly just because she is here, Mindy Besaw, who’s our curator at Crystal Bridges, has done so much work and it’s just amazing to work with her and then also Manuela Well-Off-Man who used to be with us and is now at the Institute of American Indian Arts and then-

Stace Treat:
In Santa Fe.

Samantha Sigmon:
In Santa Fe. Yes. And then Candice Hopkins, who I believe is sort of a independent curator and she is also First Nation, First Nations and from Canada. So the three of them have worked together on the artwork that they want to show and how they want to show it, what they want to say about it in a certain way and then Mindy and I take that and mold that into Crystal Bridges, into the design with our wonderful designer Jessi, into a graphic identity with Anna and marketing, but also in the texts and how we say it, what we do in the text which is every… It’s chronological, so one of our goals is to say that Indigenous art has developed over time and so really starting in the ’50s and moving into today and actually the art… There is actual art being made while the show is open that will then be shown. So it’s so much today that it’s even in the future, which is fun.

Stace Treat:
Well this is all an idea of contemporary Native American art or Indigenous art. So the 1950s starting point is sort of a defining moment in the contemporary, I guess, category if you will.

Samantha Sigmon:
Right, I think we wanted to mirror that timeline with contemporary art just to say that this is a part of contemporary art and the idea of the title New Understanding is not just new understanding about maybe Indigenous artwork that might not be what you expect, but also contemporary art as well. So putting those two together, just that time of the ’50s seemed about right and there were also some major exhibitions and galleries opening at that time in Indigenous cultures throughout Canada and America. So yeah. So that’s where it starts and then it goes into stuff that, as I say, is being made now or still yet to be made, that is just so new and really exciting and I think the variety and the color and all of these things are going to really excite people and surprise people.

Stace Treat:
So as an interpretation manager, ultimately what is your goal for the guest experience?

Samantha Sigmon:
Oh, in general or in this show?

Stace Treat:
In this show.

Samantha Sigmon:
In this show. Getting to that point, talking about the curators and saying there’s over 80 artworks and all of these things, we take that idea, distill it into our big ideas, themes and goals and I think from that, what we keep reiterating is that Indigenous art is being made now and it is being made by a diverse range of peoples and also will totally surprise you in what to expect. The materials are vast. There is video, installation, protest art, art that you might consider or you might not originally think traditional versus contemporary. We’re breaking down those boundaries too, so I think just come to be surprised and excited is what I hope and that you’ll realize that this is really happening right now. It’s a vibrant culture.

Stace Treat:
Well, Samantha Sigmon, I really appreciate you being on the show.

Samantha Sigmon:
Thanks.

Stace Treat:
It’s fun to actually chat interpretation.

Samantha Sigmon:
I know. I wish you had more, I wish you talked more too. Thank you.

Stace Treat:
All right. We’ll be right back.

Stace Treat:
Art for a New Understanding: Native Voices 1950s To Now opens October 6 at Crystal Bridges. Discover new stories as today’s Indigenous artists fill the gallery with exquisite colors, images of community and joy and thought-provoking moments of reflection. The exhibition features over 80 artworks from the 1950s to today, including paintings, photography, video sculptures, performance art, and more. All created by Indigenous US and Canadian artists. There is no fee to visit the exhibition. Admission is sponsored by the Christy and John Mack Foundation. Tickets are available now.

Stace Treat:
We’re here with Juli Goss, our Director of Audience Research and Evaluation. Welcome, Juli.

Juli Goss:
Thanks. Excited to be here.

Stace Treat:
Well, we’re glad to have you because first of all, a lot of people might be curious, what is research and evaluation in a museum context? So why don’t you tell us about that first.

Juli Goss:
Sure, so research and evaluation in museums really means that I research or evaluate the experience of our museum visitors.

Stace Treat:
That sounds too simple.

Juli Goss:
I mean, I study people. I study the people who visit museums and try to learn more about their experience and then help the museum use that data to inform decisions. So if we learn more about who’s coming to the museum, what their experience is like, what their interests are, it’ll help us make a better museum experience for everyone. So my role is really just working across teams to advocate for that voice of the visitor with data.

Stace Treat:
Right and so from my perspective working in exhibitions, certainly we have very specific things that we ask you to do and different kinds of projects that we want you to find out, but we’re only one division out of a larger institution that has many different needs and many different approaches. So why don’t you tell me about some of the departments or even some of the projects that you’ve worked on.

Juli Goss:
Sure. I do work with departments across the organization, so there are a lot of curious people that I work with and it’s exciting because we’re all really focused on making that guest experience the best we can and learning from our guests and more about our visitors.

Stace Treat:
So one of the things that you’ve worked on since you started, and incidentally you and I started on the very same day three years ago, was a really large institution-wide study about who’s coming to our museum. You pretty much piloted that and we have our first couple rounds of data from it. Why don’t you tell us about that big study first?

Juli Goss:
Sure. Yeah. When I started, yes we started on the same day and when I did start I tried to learn more about what our big questions were across the museum and one of the things that kept coming up by and large was just needing to know more about who was coming, who is visiting? What are they doing while they’re at the museum? What’s motivating that visit? And so I designed the Guest Experience and Motivation Study or GEM study to help answer-

Stace Treat:
The infamous GEM Study.

Juli Goss:
Yeah, GEM Study to help us answer questions about who was coming and this type of study happens at other museums, just understanding more about audiences.

Stace Treat:
But this was the first time Crystal Bridges did it because we’re so young.

Juli Goss:
Yes.

Stace Treat:
Only being nearly seven years old. Is that right?

Juli Goss:
Eleven to eight, yeah, seven years old. Right. The Guest Experience and Motivation Study really helped us learn more about who was coming to the museum and it’s an ongoing study that we continue to use to understand how we’re serving our communities. It’s really exciting to see this data be put into action and be a part of those conversations at the museum.

Stace Treat:
Yeah, we’ve actually used it in exhibitions already and it’s been a very valuable tool, so kudos to you for doing that. But you do a lot of other kinds of projects. I mean, sometimes very tiny ones. You and I have worked on a couple of little ones to broader or more in-depth ones. Tell me a little bit about what you do in that.

Juli Goss:
All right, so from an organization wide study to some of my projects are more focused on exhibitions and that can range from understanding what people know about a certain content area or how they might engage with certain images or themes in an exhibition. Some of my projects are around programs or events. What are our guests’ experiences during an event? Was it successful? Did it meet expectations? Even nitty gritty questions down to their experience with the food and beverages. So we can answer really big questions and all the way down to serving our day-to-day needs for data. I kind of do it all.

Stace Treat:
So what are some of the methods or instruments that you use in this kind of research?

Juli Goss:
Well a lot of the methods really align with those typical social science methods that you might remember from psychology or sociology or anthropology. Just bringing up the nerd factor on the podcast here.

Stace Treat:
You bet, yeah, yeah, there’s a lot of social scientists listening right now.

Juli Goss:
Yeah and it’s exciting to me. I love my job and so methods range from a survey to an interview to a focus group, other types of methods. We’re really trying to figure out and determine. We define the method by the question we’re trying to answer. So what question do we have? We need to answer that question. Now what method will help us answer that question?

Stace Treat:
I think you refer to that as the juicy question, right?

Juli Goss:
I do try to help people identify those big juicy questions. Sometimes we have a lot of questions. I work with a lot of curious people and it’s really great, but some of our questions are bigger than others and some of our questions at Crystal Bridges, if we research them in a really interesting way, we could even inform other museums across the nation and that’s exciting to me.

Stace Treat:
Yeah and you’ve got a couple of really big projects coming up, which we may talk about it in a future episode, but I want to actually turn the attention now specifically to Art for a New Understanding and as Samantha was telling us, this also kind of goes back to Border Cantos last year and work that you designed for that show that also now you’ve done it again in a new and different way. Tell me how you approach setting up what we would call front end evaluation or community engagement interactions to help us inform planning an exhibition.

Juli Goss:
Yeah. Well, yes exactly. I conducted front end evaluation with Art for a New Understanding and then I’ve also worked on Border Cantos and the reinstallation for our permanent galleries as well. I use these front end evaluation methods. Specifically for Art for a New Understanding, we needed to find what we’re hoping to learn. What is that juicy question? And for this it’s we’re trying to understand our visitors preconceived notions around the ideas. So how will community members or Crystal Bridges’ visitors react to the artwork that we are presenting? Intellectually or emotionally, or what themes are visitors seeing in these images? How might we connect to those themes in our later interpretation? So usually, especially for Art for a New Understanding, the goal is to inform the interpretation. It’s not to select the artwork on the wall, though it might help inform the placement of that artwork, but it is to guide the interpretation of that content and how to make it come alive and connected to a range of experiences and a range of people.

Stace Treat:
Right, I can give a fun example as an interpretation manager who’s worked with you closely on our reinstallation and one of the earliest ideas we had was I guess you could say center it around the question of the American spirit question. So it’s in our mission that we celebrate the American spirit, but what came of that?

Juli Goss:
For the American spirit and the reinstallation?

Stace Treat:
Yeah.

Juli Goss:
Yeah, we really wanted to use American spirit as a lens through which to look and explore our early American gallery and largely… So we conducted focus groups. Focus groups with staff members internally as well as in the community and came away with just the big takeaway, the fact that the American spirit is very complex. American spirit is complicated. How can we re-install this early American art gallery to show that complexity when maybe though objects in the collection don’t inherently do that just because of art history. So that’s exciting to work on and really dig into that complicated content.

Stace Treat:
Yeah, this sort of understanding really the fraught nature of meaning of that phrase and the way in which that phrase can mean really good, positive, uplifting, patriotic things and for other groups it can be very dark and very upsetting in fact. So-

Juli Goss:
And some people can have both of those feelings.

Stace Treat:
Simultaneously.

Juli Goss:
The American dream is a very positive thing and you can also have tension with it as an individual and we got to hear that firsthand from our community members and just it reinforced we need to be thinking about this with the reinstallation as well.

Stace Treat:
I’m assuming you had similar moments in your focus group conversations with Art for a New Understanding.

Juli Goss:
Yes, and Art for a New Understanding, it was really exciting. We had five different groups speaking with both members, nonmembers, Indigenous peoples and non-Indigenous. Also our teen council was another focus group. So across all of those we learned a lot and one of the things that we came away with is that we needed to reinforce how this show challenges stereotypes. We wanted to understand more about people’s preconceived notions of Indigenous art and contemporary Indigenous art. What comes to mind when you hear that? When you see these images and not surprisingly, especially with how maybe this information is taught in schools, there were some challenges I’m going to say.

Stace Treat:
Yeah. What I would even call the unconscious or implicit bias that many of us carry, unwillingly perhaps or unknowingly but based on what we’ve been taught or what we’ve learned over our years about Indigenous people.

Juli Goss:
Right. The first thing that was coming to mind for many people who were not Indigenous, they were still thinking about Indigenous people of the past and placing a very historic past oriented notion of this art. Even when invited to participate in a contemporary Native art focus group. So of course we didn’t have that same discussion with Indigenous peoples. It was more like, “Hey we need to remind people that we’re here,” and that’s the exciting thing. That’s exactly what this show is aiming toward. We want to remind and reinforce and maybe even tell someone for the first time Indigenous people are alive and well today thriving and making amazing art. So that’s…

Stace Treat:
I remember one anecdote from that was that some of the non-Indigenous folks were looking at the art, seeing certain things, themes or whatever and moving on while some Indigenous focus group members were looking at certain artworks and laughing because they were seeing humor and so it’s that double meaning, right? It’s like trying to open up that idea that Indigenous people have these rich and complex lives just like the rest of us and that their art reflects that as well.

Juli Goss:
Right. We all bring ourselves to experiencing art and that means that we all experience art differently because we’re all different people. So in conducting front end evaluation, the purpose is to bring those perspectives to the exhibition development process. How can we make sure that we are acknowledging and incorporating as wide a perspective as we can. We’re not going to get everything right as an institution, as a people, that we’ll still probably make mistakes, but it is exciting to me to know the extent to which we’ve taken that information to heart, reinforcing the very present and exciting and thriving Indigenous art scene, reminding people about the contemporary art and setting up the time period and even that all of our artists are Indigenous artists. So that’s where that new understanding, we’re hoping that Art for a New Understanding: Native Voices 1950s To Now, I mean all of those things are the key points that we’re hoping come out of this or at least people come into it with. We hope people come out of it with even more things, but…

Stace Treat:
I think they will.

Juli Goss:
Yeah.

Stace Treat:
It’s a dynamic show. I will say one last thing to your point about making mistakes, that’s also another thing you as an audience researcher and evaluator does is after the fact or during the fact there are ways in which you can explore did we make a mistake? Did we do something inappropriate? Or did we miss something along the way? And your methods and your evaluation after the fact even can continue to inform how we approach exhibitions in the future.

Juli Goss:
Exactly. So I am conducting a summative evaluation of this show that will help us understand how we did. After people experience the show, are they learning what we hope they will learn? Or what was their perspective on how it’s displayed, this, that and the other. Yes, that will answer the immediate question of how did we do this time? But the goal is to use that information also to help us learn and inform what we do next time and I add that into all of my studies because this is not just, did you do your evaluation? Check the box, yes or no. Okay, you did it, you get your gold star. No, I’m about learning and I’m about institutional learning and helping us inform our future decisions based on what we’ve done in the past. Using actual data from visitors to inform that.

Stace Treat:
So Juli, can you explain a little bit more about how the focus groups worked for Art for a New Understanding?

Juli Goss:
Sure. So we were really hoping to learn more about how people reacted to images and what themes that they were seeing. So I invited in individuals. These people are recruited and they’ve agreed to participate in this about an hour-and-a-half experience. When they come in…

Stace Treat:
How many?

Juli Goss:
After we have snacks, oh around 8-12 people per group. And so we have snacks and get to know one another and then for Art for a New Understanding, we really wanted to know how people were reacting to… At the time we were calling it Native North America even. So we had this phrase and did a word association activity, just a writing activity, so had the phrase “Native North American Art” on a page and then asked them to write down any words, ideas or phrases that came to mind when they saw that phrase and that really got people thinking on their own, individually.

Juli Goss:
After that, I invited them to go just into the room next door to experience what we call a simulated gallery. So basically I take some of the images from the exhibition and put them up around the room, just on the wall and these are scaled down low quality prints of about a third of the images. So not even everything, but I try to represent the main themes, just the image, the title and the artist’s name. So very limited information. After they experience those images and just explore them on their own, they can spend as little or as much time as they want as long as they look at everything, I ask them to come back and then revisit their word association, see if there were any new ideas or thoughts that came to mind as a result of just viewing the art all by itself.

Juli Goss:
After that we have a conversation. Usually I just facilitate a dialogue around our key questions, like what images were interesting and we talk about it, the ones that were interesting or confusing or if anything reminded them of their own life in any way and seeing where those moments of relevance happen. If someone can connect to something in an image that might say, “Oh, we should mention that in the label later on,” because that’s a human experience that was really easy to connect to. So really just that discussion. We also had a discussion around a prepared exhibition statement. How would people respond to this statement? Different focus groups can go very differently, but those were the main components of the ones for Art for a New Understanding.

Stace Treat:
So did you find that when people made their initial word associations if you will, and then they went into the virtual kind of gallery if you will, and looked at all the… How different were there when they came back? What did you see in general? Were a lot of people rethinking their first words? Or…

Juli Goss:
Yes, absolutely. Especially for our non-Indigenous focus group participants. Some of their initial thoughts around contemporary Native art were still very in the past, even sometimes there were changes around color. So before they might write earth tones and then after seeing these images, some of which are very colorful and vibrant, they came back and even mentioned the colors that caused that change. So even seeing the images without, that are again print outs on a wall.

Stace Treat:
It’s not even high quality.

Juli Goss:
I mean, it does the job, but seeing the images without any label information, it changed those preconceived notions. So there were differences in the word associations definitely and it’s always fun to see.

Stace Treat:
Yeah. I mean, it’s such a wonderful demonstration of the power of art and how just seeing something even in a small lower quality form can still have a powerful effect on what people think and feel.

Juli Goss:
Totally and then I get to go back and analyze all those words in my nerdy software and actually look at how it differs by group. It’s super fun.

Stace Treat:
I have to say, you are a master of the charts and the graphs and the visual breakdown for those of us who aren’t quite as methodical statistically as you are.

Juli Goss:
Well, it’s important to-

Stace Treat:
It’s so helpful.

Juli Goss:
I want to help everyone understand the data and the stories that the data tells and sometimes the best way to do that is with a good visual.

Stace Treat:
That’s right. I’m really excited that you’re our director now of research and evaluation and it’s been a pleasure talking with you. Thanks Juli Goss.

Juli Goss:
Thanks. Great to be here.

Stace Treat:
We’re excited to have several artists featured in Art for a New Understanding visiting the museum throughout the exhibition. You’ll have the opportunity to hear directly from the artists in a variety of programs including workshops, lectures, performance art, film screenings, gallery conversations, and more. See all exhibition programs online at crystalbridges.org. Thanks for tuning in to Museum Way. We hope you enjoyed the episode and tune in each month to hear more. Head over to our social media channels and leave a question or comment about what you’d like to hear on future episodes. I’m Stace Treat and I’ll catch you next month right here on Museum Way.