Students Measure Public Engagement in The Block Museum of Art

In Spring 2018 the Block Museum partnered with the Northwestern Masters of Science in Leadership for the Creative Enterprises, on a new course “Engagement with Public Culture: A Measurement and Communication Lab at the Block Museum of Art.”  The 10-week lab-course sought to scientifically survey and analyze data on the Block Museum’s audiences to learn more about the makeup and motivations of the Museum’s patrons. Students in the MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to become successful leaders in Entertainment, Media and the Arts. The hands-on program connects students to a wide array of professionals and organizations to expose them to current trends and career opportunities. The MSLCE program brings together rising leaders with experiences and professional interests spanning performing and visual arts administration, film and television production, development, and distribution, music production and management, entrepreneurship and technology, and more.

From the course description:

While attendance figures, such as box office receipts and sales, are vitally important for many creative enterprises, indicators of public engagement and impact, community relevance and public perceptions are vital to monitor the health and inform the practices of creative enterprises involved in public culture. However how to develop, implement, and use metrics is a significant and persistent challenge for many creative enterprises.

In partnership with the Block Museum of Art at Northwestern, this course will give students an opportunity to engage with metrics needed within an organization to understand audiences and participants beyond receipts and sales, The course is structured as a learning lab, meaning that it is an experiment; the course has a solid framework for data collection with the Block and for learning, but as with any experiment, or undertaking in data collection for any creative enterprise, adjustments may be needed as the process unfolds.

Photos by: Sean Su


Nick Roman reflects on the class in an article for MSLCE Creative Buzz:

In preparing for the professional world of creative enterprises, MSLCE students constantly take into account the challenges that creative organizations face-such as low attendance figures and box office sales. To develop keen awareness of these trends and strategize ways to increase engagement, Professor Jennifer Novak-Leonard’s Engagement with Public Culture course gave students hands-on experience in measuring impact through Northwestern’s own Block Museum of Art. The course was designed to create indicators of public engagement and impact, measure community relevance, and update public perception of the Block Museum.

The course gave students the opportunity to engage with metrics needed to understand audiences and participants, beyond receipts and sales. Structured as a lab based at the Block, Dr. Novak-Leonard challenged students to explore questions such as “What are meaningful metrics for public culture? What types of data are useful? How do you collect the needed data? What do you do with it once you have it? How can data help inform an enterprise’s own decision-making and help communicate about its work and impact?” Methodologies developed through answering these questions are essential to leadership for creative enterprises since they go beyond mere numerical data such as sales and numbers.

In reflection on the lab experience, MSLCE student Metra Gilliard stated “As creative leaders it’s imperative to understand data and how it can be leveraged to inform decision- making. The Block lab class was a hands-on crash course that helped students look at data holistically, from survey design and audience segmentation to meticulous review of respondent feedback. Being able to apply this knowledge to further efforts for The Block Museum was exceptionally gratifying.”

With Dr. Novak-Leonard’s vast background in arts participation, the Block lab class is a perfect fit for MSLCE’s future creative leaders. Hands-on experience with existing organizations helps students bring professional experience into workplace upon graduation, and in turn helps the Block Museum know more about its visitors.


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