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Laundry Evaluation

Page history last edited by youngsre 12 years, 1 month ago

EVALUATION PLAN: Airing Your Dirty Laundry


I. Overview of Project Concept: Airing Your Dirty Laundry


See the Airing Dirty Laundry Project Concept page for more details.


The “Airing your dirty laundry” project involved three activities that took place at the Henry Art Gallery from Friday, February 4 to Sunday, February 6, 2011.

This project involved three activities that sought to:

  • Connect outside passersby (on the 15th Avenue skybridge) to the Henry and to Vortexhibition Polyphonica
  • Prompt participants to have social experiences where they a) share details about themselves, b) encounter and categorize details generated by others, and/or c) make connections between their own experiences and the Vortexhibition Polyphonica


II. Why this project? / Goals

            Students in the University of Wasington Museology class Participatory Audience Engagement course set out to “develop participatory components to layer onto the existing main exhibition at the Henry Art Gallery.” To that end, three groups of students developed elements that would bring additional visitor participation to the Vortexhibition Polyphonica exhibition. Each group used their elements to serve the needs of both the visitor and the Henry by creating activities that highlighted one or more of the curatorial aims of the exhibit.

            The group who developed the “Dirty Laundry” suite of activities sought to reinforce or elucidate several of Vortexhibition’s main themes. Like all the elements designed in the class, the “dirty laundry” activities sought to make the more opaque aspects of Vortexhibition Polyphonica’s curatorial point of view clearer and more relatable for Henry visitors. The symbolic exploration of the messages encoded in everyday objects (i.e., the aprons in Vortexhibition Polyphonica) was one example of a theme to be drawn out, for example. Moreover, the structure of the “dirty laundry” activities parallels the disjointed conversation of Vortexhibition’s curatorial voices. The use of shared secrets was a nod to the concept of showing the “secrets of the collection,” and we sought to encourage visitors’ connections to and between artworks by highlighting a multitude of these subtexts and voices.


III. Evaluation Methods

            The “dirty laundry” team applied a mixed-methods approach to evaluating the “Dirty Laundry” activities. This summative evaluation adhered to best practices to the extent possible given time and resources – including the use of convenience sampling, triangulation of data, and both quantitative and qualitative analysis. Visitor counts, counts of materials used, and counts of the secrets’ final locations provided an indication of the level of visitor participation – especially in comparison to overall attendance at the Henry Art Gallery. Tracking maps (both in the Vortexhibition gallery and in the cascading stairwell) offered insight into visitors’ observable behavior. All three groups in the class collaborated to design and conduct semi-structured exit interviews with museum visitors during the activity weekend. A final debriefing let members of the team reflect and offer unstructured observations about the weekend, especially from the activities’ facilitators.


IV. The Activities: Descriptions and Goals for the Visitor Experience


See the team’s Project Concept page and Related Documents for more details about each activity.


A. “Air your dirty laundry”

Activity description:

Facilitators (wearing aprons of their own, stocked with markers and paper) approached people on the 15th Avenue skybridge and encouraged them to share a secret of their choosing by writing it on a paper cutout of socks or underwear. Participants added their completed cutouts to a hamper (to help preserve their anonymity); secrets were either hung on clotheslines outside or taken inside the museum. Inside, the cutouts became available for reading and visitor-created display (see “Sorting dirty laundry,” below).


Activity goals: visitors will…

  • Participate in the activity by writing a secret, observing other secret-writers, or some other form of participation
  • Provide substantive responses to the prompts/activity
  • Contribute their responses to “Sorting dirty laundry”
  • Move on to participate in “Sorting dirty laundry”


B. “Sort the laundry”

Activity description:

Completed cutouts from “Air your dirty laundry” were brought inside and moved from their hamper into a basket at the top of the cascading stairwell. Four clotheslines hanging in the landings of the stairwell were labeled with categories that indicate reactions to the comments: “I just LOL’ed,” “I’ve been there,” “I think I know you,” and “I’m inspired.” Written instructions near the basket told participants to sort the response cutouts by category by adding them to the appropriate line using clothespins. Participants could also move posted cutouts from one line to another. Team Awesome “seeded” each line with ten example secrets generated on a google doc prior to the activity weekend. Facilitation in this space was variable.


Activity goals: visitors will…

  • Visit the space in greater-than-usual numbers
  • Attend to the baskets & clotheslines
  • Participate by reading & hanging/moving other visitors’ cutouts
  • Move from the mezzanine space into the Vortexhibition Polyphonica gallery below


C. “Leave a secret in the gallery”

Activity description:

Small laundry baskets were placed near works of art in Vortexhibition Polyphonica, accompanied by pencils and blank underwear cutouts. Written instructions at each basket prompted visitors to share a secret or comment that directly related to the artwork near the basket (works included the selection of aprons; Double Hung Windows; The End of Photography; two masklike sculptures by XXX; and [CLOCKS]).


Activity goals: visitors will…

  • Make connections between their own / other participants’ sharing of secrets and the expressive role of the artwork
  • Add comments to the clotheslines near the selected works
  • Attend to both comment areas and the works they’re connected to


V. Summative Evaluation Findings


A. Who were the activity participants?

            Participants in the “dirty laundry” activities and other participatory elements displayed a broad range of characteristics, but some trends did emerge from the samples we observed.  Visitors tended to be young adults (23 of 44 visitors observed in exit interviews appeared to be between 20 and 30 years of age). They seemed slightly more likely to be women than men – of the 39 adults observed in exit interviews, 25 of them were female. Many visited alone (27% of observations in the cascading stairwell, 47% of observations in the gallery) or in pairs (63% in the stairwell and 47% in the gallery).

            They represent a significant proportion of overall visitors during the activity weekend. In the end, participants shared 216 secrets written on paper “laundry” – 48 of these were generated in advance by off-site by contributors to a google document who’d been told about the project; the remaining 168 came from participants during the activity itself. The Henry reports total visitation of 643 between Thursday and Sunday of that week. Many of these visitors likely came on Thursday or Friday before the activities were installed, and nearly half were café patrons. While it is impossible to know exactly how many secret-writers or –viewers outside the museum went on to venture inside, it is plausible that many of them did so.


B. What did participants do?

            Many people participated by reading others’ secrets, and many others contributed content. In a post-event debrief, the team’s outdoor “Air your dirty laundry” facilitators estimated that they stopped at least 100 passersby to see and hear about the activity; they estimated that roughly 70 of these wrote a secret (with greater success rates on Saturday than on Sunday). A further 44 of the weekend’s 168 secrets were produced inside the Vortexhibition space by participants who “left a secret in the gallery.”

            Nearly all exit interview subjects identified themselves as activity participants. All 27 respondents had noticed activities in the museum; of these, 24 (89%) reported participating in something and 22 (81%) reported participating in the “dirty laundry” events in particular. The evaluators did not probe for details about how the respondents defined “participation” for themselves – their feeling of having taken part was the key to measuring the project’s success. Most of the observed visitor behaviors involved attending to secrets or related artworks; we hypothesize that factors like small group sizes and the more private nature of secret-sharing kept the rates of more social behaviors (like laughter or conversation) relatively low. This situation does not diminish the success of the activities, however: the project’s goals revolved more around ideas than interactions, and the visitors’ attention certainly bears this out.

            Perhaps most exciting, some visitors were able to explicitly describe this project’s key goals of insight- and connection-sharing when asked how the activities might relate to the museum. One exit interviewee, for example, remarked that the “sorting and organizing” experiences were the “same [as their] own thoughts in front of art.” Several others noted the “dirty laundry” activities in the same breath as the idea of “making connections between art and personal life.”


C. Where did people participate?

            From the combination of facilitator observations and materials used, we know that many participated in some way in the “Air your dirty laundry” activity outside the museum. On Sunday afternoon a “mobile team” of two facilitators added extra layer of outdoor participation by approaching individuals on University Way and asking them to share a secret (and visit the Henry if they wished). These team members estimated a modest overall success rate – perhaps 40% of approaches resulted in a new secret – but they also said the approaches felt easier to make and more to the point. This “mobile team” activity may have contributed to a surprising number of secrets shared on Sunday relative to the number of visitors to the museum: 62 secrets (29%) were generated then, on an admittedly slow day (hampered by the weekend, road construction, and the Super Bowl). In contrast, 86 secrets (40%) were written on Saturday, when significantly more people visited the exhibit. Inside at the “Sort the laundry” activity on the cascading stairwell, enough visitors participated actively to more than triple the number of secrets on the four clotheslines – the team put up a total of 36 samples on Friday afternoon, and counted 124 secrets at the end of the day on Sunday.

            Based on visitor tracking, other forms of participation may have been even more prevalent. Visitor tracking showed eight instances of participants moving secrets among 30 observations, with other social and attention-related behaviors occurring more frequently – 29 of the 30 visitors we observed attended to one or more clotheslines, and all 30 made at least one stop in the stairwell. Rates of participatory behavior declined as visitors moved down the stairwell; 28 of 30 tracked visitors stopped near and/or attended to the first clothesline, while only 8 of 30 did so at the fourth one. The same was true of secret-hanging visitors as it was of secret-addenting visitors: the uppermost line featured 44 secrets by the end of the weekend, the lowest one only 19. It seems, then, that the cascading stairwell is an effective space to engage visitors, but that effectiveness is greatest near the top of the stairs.

            In the Vortexhibition Polyphonica gallery, five secret-sharing locations were active on either Saturday (Hanging aprons from various collections; Not If, But When, by Paul Kos; and Double Hung Windows, by Roy McMakin) or Sunday (The End of Photography, by Judy Fiskin; two masklike sculptures by XXX, and Double Hung Windows, by Roy McMakin). Of the visitors observed with tracking at Double Hung Windows (n=17), only one attended to the “laundry” basket, and none wrote secrets. At two other sites, The End of Photography and the mask sculptures, one of five total observed visitors attended to the basket and one wrote a secret. The basket near the aprons drew the attention of five observed visitors (n=12), but only one written secret. The site that seemed most successful was Not If, But When (n=12): five tracked visitors attended to the basket, and two were observed writing secrets. Direct observations do not tell the full story of visitors choosing to “Leave a secret in the gallery,” however. A total of 44 secrets were left in the baskets in the Vortexhibition gallery, indicating that there were many active participants who were not randomly selected for observation.


D. Why did people participate?

            When asked why they wanted to participate in the weekend’s activities, exit interview respondents offered a range of responses. Some people found the activities interesting or fun, others were cued by class members who asked them to attend. Several touched on the uniqueness of opportunities for participation: it was “less like the typical stogy museum,” “not boring,” and a change for those who “don't get to laugh enough in art museums.” In this respect and others, it was “a good way to change [one’s] perspective on the museum.” Others commented on the relevance, universality, or accessibility and ease of sharing secrets, or that they explicitly sought to make “creative connections” in the museum just as the Vortexhibition curators had done. Some respondents also volunteered their excitement at having an atypically social experience in a museum, or the desire to share the day with others who were not present.

            The interview subjects also articulated a number of clear connections between the “dirty laundry” activities and Vortexhibition Polyphonica. Secret-sorting was seen by some as a parallel to the processes of association and connection performed in the exhibit itself, but also to the audience’s own “thoughts in front of art.” After participating in the weekend’s activities, many respondents indicated they understood one goal of the three teams’ projects: to highlight connections between the artworks. But many others also described a subtler goal of the “dirty laundry” activities – to help participants relate to Vortexhibition Polyphonica by making “connections between art and personal life.” One group of respondents “started out talking about secrets, and ended up talking about the art.” Another praised the weekend by saying that “the purpose of art is to have people relate it to their lives; these [activities] were a next step; getting people to express it back.”


VI. Discussion and Recommendations


A. Successes and challenges of the activities

            We feel that several aspects of the “dirty laundry” activities worked well, and recommend their use in future Henry Art Gallery ventures. The connection-making aspect (of both the activities and the exhibition) resonated with many of the visitors we interviewed, for instance. Part of the “dirty laundry” project’s emphasis on connection that went beyond Vortexhibition’s themes by encouraging visitors to connect their own experiences to the art and to one another. Respondents not only noticed the opportunity to make these connections, but also commented positively on that aspect of their museum experience.

            Finally, the class members’ extra effort at promoting the weekend’s events contributed to positive reactions from Henry visitors. Several commented on the positive energy in a gallery filled with people (particularly students) and that the additional activity in the galleries made for a “not boring” museum experience. While it is perhaps an obvious and challenging recommendation to make, a renewed commitment to broadening the Henry’s audiences could enrich all visitors’ museum experiences in unexpected ways – beyond the obvious benefits to the institution and its mission fulfillment.

            On the other hand, we would recommend doing several things differently in the future based on our experiences with the activity weekend. Organizing activities for times with higher gallery traffic – especially for weekdays – would likely amplify both the amount and the impact of participation. Similarly, the scheduling constraints of a ten-week course meant that the time for important components like pilot testing, promotion, and reflection on the activities were on a more truncated timeline than may have been ideal. We recommend that future participatory activities at the Henry receive the same deliberate planning and execution as the rest of the museum’s work.


B. Limitations of this project

            Two specific issues related to the “dirty laundry” activities are also important to keep in mind for planning future projects. First, we recommend simplicity: a single team coordinating three related activities (in addition to two other teams’ work) was not only challenging for the team members, and it also may have proved too complex a scenario for visitors. In the team’s post-event debrief, the facilitators hypothesized that running several related activities at once may have left some visitors confused about how to participate in which areas. In fact, the only negative comment among exit interviewees was that the weekend’s activities were “a lot at once.” Perhaps installing fewer activities at any one time would help maximize engagement while minimizing any potential fatigue or confusion. Second, if we were to start the “dirty laundry” activities over again, we would add more structure and scaffolding to help visitors participate. One example would be the addition of short prompts or topics to help participants write more focused, perhaps even thematic, secrets for addition to the project. We talked about this idea then left it behind, and regretted that some of the content of the secrets strayed further from connecting to art or fellow visitors than we’d hoped. (On the other hand, many visitors certainly produced compelling, insightful, and unexpected comments without prompting; the key may be in striking a different balance between structure and open-endedness.)

            When moving forward in creating future participatory elements, we recommend bearing in mind a few limitations to the generalizability of this project and evaluation. The relatively low visitation for the activity weekend makes it difficult to capture the full range of “typical” visitor behaviors for participatory activities quantitatively. There simply were not very many opportunities to observe or track visitors, so this report may be missing one or more iterations of visitor experience. The makeup of the audience that did attend the activity weekend also posed two distinct challenges to the project’s broader applicability. Many visitors appeared to have been museologists, or the friends and family of museologists. These groups arrived at the Henry with minimal barriers to participation: a high level of comfort in museums, advance notice about the activities, and (in many cases) free admission to the museum. Different design elements and considerations may be necessary to develop participatory activities that “work” for broader audiences. Similarly, the hugely atypical proportion of trained museum evaluators among the weekend’s visitors limited our ability to fully represent visitor activity around the “dirty laundry” activities. Many of the active participants could not be tracked or observed due to their relatively sophisticated knowledge of the evaluations taking place, which means that overall levels of participation may have been under-represented in this study.


C. Final recommendations

            After completing the “dirty laundry” activities, we have two overall recommendations for the Henry Art Gallery. First, continue to install participatory elements at they become feasible in the future. Visitor feedback about all the activities from this class was overwhelmingly positive, and some of it was quite nuanced and insightful. This class shows that participatory activities can not only foster positive visitor experiences, but also enhance the Henry’s ability to communicate curatorial themes and to further its mission to provide direct engagement with art and ideas. Second, participatory activities offer an opportunity and a challenge to reach out to new audiences. For those of us planning and facilitating, the “dirty laundry” project felt most exciting and promising when engaging people outside the museum (who may not be typical Henry visitors) and encouraging them to come inside and participate. We encourage the Henry to continue to push the boundaries of what it means to draw a “diverse” public into the galleries – and how they do that work, and where – by experimenting with new approaches.


Appendix: Interview Responses


“What made you decide to participate / not participate in these activities?”


  • Connection - see what it felt like; secret felt a little like letting it go and it was anonymous, so I could just leave it in the box. The words were motivational for me.
  • I knew the people
  • I don't know, I think because there are a lot of students standing around, it feel less like the typical stodgy museum setting and makes you want to participate
  • It just looked like fun. I told him we were going to see a silver man and it just spiraled from there.
  • Thought about making a connection in retrospect, but mostly it just led to conversation. But we were following her (the baby) around, so it was more difficult to participate.
  • Seeing other people, novelty, interactive, didn't require skill, no waiting for (something...)
  • they seemed like fun, like you're connected to the art.
  • More fun than just walking around. See traces of other visitors, see more "actively," pay more attention.
  • Obvious, touch; People outside encouraged to participate fun to do something tactile in a museum, not used to that.
  • liked the dialog with xavier. Fun, funny, laughed. Got bracelet with strings, liked that.
  • Didn't notice stringing connections. No clear instruction. Low pressure to participate with others.
  • always wants to participate, glad it was ok to do so today
  • Xavier - super accessible, easy to understand; "string" seemed complicated, crowd around deterred
  • A good way to change my perspective on the museum
  • Feeling I should do something
  • Friends were running them. Liked bright colors of soup - fun for creative connection (input - most engaging)
  • Interesting to read secrets. Others were more involved
  • Support Friends
  • Fund to say "moon" (activity with Xavier); Connections = harder
  • Friends - cued/invited that it was happening
  • Seemed relevant to everyone. All people have something to relate to or share
  • humor of words one, seeing completed results of people collaborating, similar with strings. Making connections between art
  • The joystick (for panoptos); because it was sharing; and underwear: really eye catching
  • Liked how could create something with Xavier. Fun to read and write secrets


“How do you think these activities might relate to the exhibition?”


  • Such a variety in that room and we need to draw on so many things to live a full life. You need to think about things more.
  • Laundry, you have the clothesline exhibit and the make a connection, I think art museums want people to make connections between the art and other art, or their lives.
  • Making connections between art and you're doing it with the salon style display and with art from the Henry collection. And I think, because I come here a lot, I recognize some of the pieces and it is neat to see them in a new way.
  • Well, we had laundry in the exhibit and the exhibit was trying to make connections with the polyphonica and I think that is what the map was doing.
  • Nice to have the tie in, it helps to have some direction to making a connection with the art. I think sometimes your subconscious picks it up, but this made you think about it more.
  • made pieces more interactive. Made connections between works
  • the secrets being...i don't know, something about secrets, though
  • like strings: neat to see that you could connect all the works to each other, with idea of form, function, funk - or others.
  • Yes - private becomes public, free association
  • No (other woman suggests the link between aprons and activity, interviewer agrees)
  • Yes, art works talking to each other, connection with the exhibit's theme
  • Yes. Participatory Theme
  • Only with xavier. Because there, seemed natural
  • stringing connections - obvious connection, maybe too obvious
  • some were inspired by specific pieces, some were inspired by the curation as a whole
  • That is a mystery to me
  • Yes
  • Yes and no. "Laundry" and aprons. Xavier = mimics extent of vortexhibition
  • Sorting and organizing = some with own thoughts in front of art
  • Interesting to see different connections thanks to the activities
  • Because it related to the art work
  • i don't know - pretty random selection of stuff in each; string thing - helped to see some connections
  • Laundry could be anywhere - what art makes think of. Xavier - not really sure of any connection, but I don't care. Liked it
  • word "connections" was all over, so something with that activities all related - giving your input - connection, relation with others - connectivity to one another
  • string thing definitely - showing how works one connected. Laundry - not really, but thought it was cool
  • Laundry downstairs - making captions. Looking at things you might have bypasssed. Making connections between art and personal life
  • perceptions are very different, that's what I saw


Unprompted comments


  • Totally - like the openings, open houses a LOT
  • it was fun
  • don't get to laugh enough in art museums. This is good opportunity to do so
  • It’s fun
  • like doing things, talking to people
  • fun to bust out what's going on in our head (usually has "hermetic" experience)
  • Great to be prompted to think
  • It’s fun
  • Dirty Laundry was not kid friendly (mom's comment); Mom had to "screen" dirty laundry, would be nice if it had been kid friendly
  • The purpose of art is to have people relate it to their lives; these all were a next step; getting people to express it back
  • was *really* fun - want to bring 8 year old kid to get kids really thinking about art - NOT A BORING MUSEUM
  • Yes, but a lot at once today. Good overall
  • things outside: really nice to be drawn in. Inside: nice to have a path to follow, indirectly related to the art. We started out talking about secrets, and ended up talking about the art, which we might not have done otherwise
  • really fun and creative - made the museum more fun

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