The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
By Julie Burtch, Detroit Institute of Arts
Given the popularity of the DIA’s Inside|Out installation throughout metro Detroit, it’s no surprise that other museums have launched similar projects. In fact, the DIA isn’t even the first museum to install high-quality reproductions on buildings and in parks—the National Gallery transformed London’s West End into an outdoor gallery in 2007 with The Grand Tour. The idea has caught on stateside, and three museums launched their own version of Inside|Out in 2012: The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore with Off the Wall; Taft Museum of Art in Cincinnati with Art for All; and the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington with Art is Everywhere.Despite pulling works from very different collections and installing them in diverse locations, the challenges expressed by those implementing the project were consistently space and staff, both of which are limited. Storage for reproductions was a factor for the Taft, and they instead found permanent indoor locations for most of their objects in metropolitan Cincinnati. With only one staff person to implement the project statewide, Delaware hopes to do a similar project in the future but will wait a year or more. Both the Taft and Delaware museums were thrilled with requests for additional installations but elected to donate or auction reproductions once they were deinstalled. The Walters is not putting objects into storage, instead rotating installations every six months year-round for three years.
In talking with the implementation staff at the other museums, it became clear that we all know the project works, but we can’t measure its effectiveness. While each museum might state its goals differently, all four hope the installations spread awareness about the museum. Measuring awareness has proved difficult, though. According to Tamera Muente with the Taft, they have relied heavily on social media to collect feedback. Molly Giordano at Delaware said they have received positive, anecdotal feedback through face-to-face interactions and social media, and while there aren’t more concrete measurements, she said, “you feel it’s working.” This sentiment was echoed by Matt Fry at the Walters, who is less concerned with metrics and simply calls the idea of outdoor art installations based on museum collections, “one of the best museum marketing ideas ever.” He won’t be surprised when more art museums start their own outdoor art installations.
Success with this kind of project is hard fought, but universal. Across the country, museums are using outdoor art installations to (re)introduce people to their collections. People are pleased to stumble upon a beautiful art object, and others are happy to come across an old friend in a new location. While installing objects or conducting tours of installations, we hear exclamations of surprise and delight, experience awe and reverence for the art, and learn more about how our communities connect with art museums.
Is your community thinking about outdoor art installations? Or is your museum doing something innovative to connect with its public? Please let us know!