Creating the Visitor-Centered Museum: 1st Edition (e-Book) book cover

Creating the Visitor-Centered Museum

1st Edition

By Peter Samis, Mimi Michaelson


197 pages

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What does the transformation to a visitor-centered approach do for a museum? How are museums made relevant to a broad range of visitors of varying ages, identities, and social classes? Does appealing to a larger audience force museums to "dumb down" their work? What internal changes are required? Based on a multi-year Kress Foundation-sponsored study of 20 innovative American and European collections-based museums recognized by their peers to be visitor-centered, Peter Samis and Mimi Michaelson answer these key questions for the field. The book

  • describes key institutions that have opened the doors to a wider range of visitors;
  • addresses the internal struggles to reorganize and democratize these institutions;

uses case studies, interviews of key personnel, Key Takeaways, and additional resources to help museum professionals implement a visitor-centered approach in collections-based institutions

Table of Contents


Part One: Introduction

1. Considering the Visitor

2. Change Takes Leadership

3. Contours of Change

Part Two: Case Studies

I. Charting History

4. Denver Art Museum: Building a Sustainable Visitor-Centered Practice

II. Engaging through Audience Immersion

5. City Museum: The Power of Play

6. Ruhr Museum: Connecting Through Adaptive Reuse and Design

7. Minnesota History Center: Lessons from a Learning Team

III. Re-invigorating Traditional Museums

8. Detroit: Re-inventing a Landmark Museum with and for Visitors

9. Oakland Museum of California: Including a Diverse Public

10. Columbus Museum of Art: Museum as Community Living Room

IV. Creating Social Change

11. Kelvingrove: Museum as Cultural Commons

V. Taking a Critical Stance on Museum Practice

12. Van Abbe Museum: Radicality Meets Hospitality

13. MCA Denver: Art Experience Over Art Objects

Part Three: Conclusion: Varieties of Visitor-Centeredness and Change



Photo credits


About the Authors

Peter Samis isAssociate Curator of Interpretation at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. He has a BA from Columbia University and an M.A. in art history from U.C. Berkeley. Samis served as art historian/content expert for "American Visions," the first CD-ROM on modern art (1993-94), and then spearheaded development of SFMOMA’s award-winning Interactive Educational Technology programs. He has served as Adjunct Professor in the international graduate program for Technology-Enhanced Communication for Cultural Heritage (TEC-CH) at Switzerland's University of Lugano and on the advisory boards of numerous museum organizations and collaborative software initiatives.

Mimi Michaelson is an education and museum consultant. She has a doctorate in Human Development and Psychology from Harvard University, where she studied creativity, youth activism, and cognitive development. As a former Project Zero manager, she has broad research experience, including as Senior Project Manager of Harvard’s GoodWork project. She co-edited the New Directions volume, Supportive Frameworks for Youth Engagement.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Archaeology
TRAVEL / Museums, Tours, Points of Interest