Understanding Our Audiences: A Survey of Gardiner Gallery Use By Students

Although there are works from the OSU Museum of Art Collection all over campus, our primary exhibition venue is the Gardiner Gallery, in the Bartlett Center for the Visual Arts. Last spring, associate curator and Gallery director Shawn Yuan surveyed 158 undergraduate students who were taking Art Department classes about their experiences with the Gardiner Gallery. Our goal was to learn more about when (and if!) students visited the gallery, and how they interacted with exhibitions and related programming once they were there. We were also interested in improving our planning and advertising for Gallery events in order to reach the broadest possible student audience.

Here’s what we learned:

Over 80% of the students surveyed visit the Gardiner Gallery. And almost half of them attend special events including openings and gallery talks. During the academic year we have about eight exhibitions in the Gardiner Gallery, each of which has an opening event that generally includes a reception in the Gallery and an artist or curator talk in our lecture hall.

The vast majority—87%—of students who visit the Gardiner Gallery visit more than one exhibition a year. A quarter of them visit six or more, and half visit at least four. It is evident that the gallery is well-used, and particularly so by repeat visitors.

Of those who attend Gallery openings, the majority of students (72%) attend at least two a year. This, again, suggests that we’re retaining student interest once we’ve attracted it.

The majority of students stay for the talk—70% of the students said they attended two or more gallery talks over the same period of time.

It seems likely that one of the reasons the Gardiner Gallery gets so many repeat visits from students (and especially those in current Art Department coursework) is because the exhibitions and openings are announced by department faculty. Almost 80% of the students surveyed said that they learned about Gallery events from their professors; the second most common response was “word of mouth.”

Surprisingly, students preferred this mode of communication; the top three responses to the question, “How would you prefer to hear about our exhibitions and events?” were email, signs/flyers, and professors. Social media options such as Facebook and Twitter were surprisingly unappealing: only 6 students said they’d prefer to hear about exhibitions through those sites. (Despite this, although we’re not on Twitter, you can become a fan of the Gardiner Gallery on Facebook!)

What have we learned? It is clear that when we get students into the gallery, they enjoy the exhibitions and events enough to return. It is also clear that we have a high level of participation from Art Department students—in other words, undergraduate students who are taking art classes are being well served by the Gallery, and we probably don’t need to change our approach to event design and promotion.

But what about students outside the Art Department? The OSU Museum of Art aspires to offer education and entertainment to students across campus. The data we collected in this survey suggests that one of our most effective advertising tools is also the simplest: word of mouth, particularly when the word is coming from faculty. In the future, we will see if expanding outreach to faculty across campus, and asking them to encourage their students to attend Gallery events (not to mention attending themselves!) might be the fastest way to increase student involvement in the Gallery—and the Museum.

Do you have ideas about how to advertise Gardiner Gallery shows to students and faculty? Leave us a comment!


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About osucurator

Louise Siddons is Associate Professor of Art History at Oklahoma State University and founding curator of the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art. She maintains this blog as a record of her students' work with the Museum's permanent collection as well as more generally with topics related to museum studies.
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