Museums: Make / Matter

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Museums: Make / Matter

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The primary aim of many American university art museums (also known as teaching or campus museums) is to create a space that is removed from the pressures of the commercial art world where students, artists, community members, curators, and faculty can join together to have direct experiences with art. These museums often operate as independent units within institutions of higher education and are thus granted the academic freedom to investigate controversial topics that would otherwise be avoided, ignored or censored. While research has illuminated that the core audience for American museums is primarily non-Hispanic whites, and that museum audiences are radically less diverse than the American public, today’s campus art museums serve both the largest and most demographically diverse student body in history. However, research is limited on university art museum participation or the extent to which teaching museum participation reflects and shapes trends across the field. Through 23 semi-structured interviews with university art museum educators, community engagement specialists, and curators from across the United States, the researcher investigates how academic museums attract and engage their diverse communities while also navigating and responding to the current social and political environment. The results of this study indicate that many academic art museums consider community participation a priority, yet internal structures are hierarchical and staffed by predominately white females. These traditional operating paradigms create both internal and external power dynamics that create barriers for community participation. The researcher posits that by adapting a human-centered ‘abundant community’ framework at all levels of the museum ecosystem, teaching museums have the power to systematically address disparities in museum participation and representation, harness their platforms for radical truth telling, and redirect the meanings, purposes and potentials of museums across the world.


University of Minnesota Capstone in partial fulfillment of the MPS in Arts and Cultural Leadership Program. Advisor Margo Gray. Spring 218. Degree: Master of Professional Studies in Arts and Cultural Leadership. 2 digital files (pdf).

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Covey Spanier, Katie. (2018). Museums: Make / Matter. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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