Front-End Evaluation, Why Concord? Exhibition, Concord Museum
The Concord Museum contracted Randi Korn & Associates, Inc. (RK&A) to conduct a front-end evaluation of its current permanent exhibition gallery—Why Concord?—in preparation for a comprehensive reinterpretation and reinstallation of the museum’s permanent collections funded by an IMLS grant. The goal of the evaluation was to understand the current visitor experience in Why Concord? and to explore visitors’ responses to several ideas the museum is considering for the updated exhibition. Specifically, the evaluation explored the extent to which visitors find history relevant (in general, in the context of the current exhibition, and through the proposed concepts for the reinterpretation).
How did we approach this study?
RK&A conducted 27 in-depth interviews with visitors on three days in January 2017. Most interviews were scheduled in advance by the Concord Museum, and a few were conducted with walk-in visitors. The sample was relatively homogenous—about two-thirds were female and many resided within Massachusetts. Before their interview, participants were asked to visit the current Why Concord? exhibition for at least 30 minutes. To understand how visitors explore and make sense of objects and period rooms, participants were asked to take a picture of one object and one period room in the exhibition to discuss in the interview. During the interview, RK&A also showed participants materials related to the proposed reinterpretation of the exhibition. Interviews were open-ended, allowing visitors to express their opinions and ideas in their own words, and the data collectors asked probing and clarifying questions to better understand visitors’ thoughts.
What did we learn?
Visitors most value the current exhibition as an authentic opportunity to immerse themselves in the history of a particular place—Concord, Massachusetts. Although Concord played a central role as the starting place of the Revolutionary War, visitors tended to engage more with objects and information related to transcendentalist authors who lived in Concord (e.g., Emerson, Thoreau), and period rooms presenting daily life in Concord over time. Visitors made connections between Concord’s history and issues in the world today (e.g., race relations, immigration, political discord, and nature preservation). When asked about their preferences for using technology in a history museum, visitors were open to incorporating technology as long as it is used tastefully, enhances the experience, and does not replace real objects.
What are the implications of the findings?
The results are promising. First, responses indicate many visitors think the events and ideas discussed in the current exhibition are relevant today—a positive finding since connecting the past to the present is a key aspect of the museum’s goals for the reinterpretation. Second, visitors believe the proposed theme of protest and revolution is fitting to the core historical events and figures interpreted in the museum, and timely given the current political climate and social issues in the news (e.g., immigration and race relations). However, visitors are wary of changing the museum in ways that might detract from engaging with real objects and understanding the daily lives and experiences of people from the past.