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Stringing Connections Evaluation

Page history last edited by Abbi Huderle 12 years, 9 months ago

Stringing Connections: A Summative Evaluation 


In the Stringing Connections activity, visitors were able to visually represent the connections they found between pieces in the gallery and build upon connections made by previous visitors. The activity was designed to build upon the curator’s views of Vortexhibition Polyphonica. In designing the many opuses of the exhibit, the Henry’s curators chose pieces based on connections they saw among the artworks. Stringing Connections was designed to encourage visitors the find their own connections between the artworks in an effort to help personalize the exhibit experience and foster collaboration among visitors.


The project was conceived as part of a Participatory Design class for the University of Washington’s Museology graduate program and was overseen by Nina Simon, writer of The Participatory Museum and the blog Museum 2.0. For the class, three groups developed a participatory activity to exist within the Vortexhibition Polyphonica gallery at the Henry Art Gallery on the University of Washington campus in Seattle, WA. Each project connected to the exhibition in a different way, but was designed to provide a social experience for visitors, as well as offer a new way to engage in the gallery.


Stringing Connections went through several iterations during the development phase, however each iteration focused on a core group of visitor goals, which were eventually used to evaluate the project:

1.)   Visitors will reflect on and then explain the relationship they see between the pieces.

2.)   In their explanations, 25% of visitors will reference previously made connections.

3.)   During the weekend of February 5-6, 50% of the visitors to the Vortexhibition Polyphonica exhibit will participate in the activity.

4.)   Over the course of the weekend, 25% of the pieces in the gallery will be connected on the continuous pathway (the Red Yarn), and 30 individual connections will be made.

These goals were selected not only because they were easy to measure (many goals could be measured by observing and counting connections on the Stringing Connections map), but also because they got at the heart of the project, driving at the idea of giving visitors a concrete way in which to connect with the exhibition. In addition to the counting of connections made on the board over the course of the weekend, the team also utilized a tally of visitors who entered the gallery and a tally of visitors who participated in one of several ways with the activity; in addition an exit interview was conducted by members of each of the 3 teams involved in the participatory weekend.



Goal 1: Visitors will reflect on and then explain the relation they see between the pieces.

The Stringing Connections team looked at the number of connections created on the map in relation to the number of tags present to see if visitors were writing down the connection they saw or making connections with no explanations.


Based on anecdotal evidence, each connection was marked with a tag, however, when the team disassembled the board following the weekend in the gallery the result netted 52 strings and 56 tags and found some strings without tags. It is believed that those tags were lost or misplaced throughout the course of the weekend or while the board was being moved. In some cases, a single tag represented a connection between multiple pieces, a greater degree of connection than imagined during the development phase.


Goal 2: In their explanations, 25% of visitors will reference previously made connections.

In addition to encouraging personal connections, the team wanted visitors to work collaboratively when connecting the pieces. In the final iteration of the project, the idea of collaboration could be seen in the continuous path (the Red Yarn), and the option to write additional tags for connections made by previous visitors. To determine whether visitors were engaging with the connections made by others, the team looked at the number of tags strung on each connection to see if any connections yielded more than one tag.


Although very few tags specifically referenced comments made by other visitors, there were five strings on the board with multiple tags. Of these strings, one connection featured 3 tags while the remaining 4 strings each had 2 tags. The 5 strings with multiple connections did not add up to 25% of visitors to the gallery, but this could be due in part to the fact that visitors were not specifically encouraged to add new interpretations of previous connections until Sunday. Additionally, had the original iteration of Stringing Connections remained, with visitors working on 4 continuous strings, “re-tagging” may have accounted for a more significant portion of tags since options for making one’s own connections would have been limited.


Goal 3: 50% of visitors to the Vortexhibition Polyphonica gallery during the weekend of February 5-6 will participate in the activity.

Throughout the weekend, the Stringing Connections team kept a tally of each person who entered the gallery space as well as each way visitors interacted with the map. The team determined 6 different ways visitors could interact with Stringing Connections:

1.)   Make a connection

2.)   Comment on an existing connection

3.)   Take a tag, don’t return it

4.)   Read tags on the board, don’t add their own tag

5.)   Talk about the board

6.)   Read a “connection” sign in the gallery, showing a connection made by another visitor.


Due to the presence of the Dirty Laundry activity at the front of the museum and on the cascading staircase that lead to the rear of the exhibit, many visitors entered the gallery that way rather than through the main entrance where Stringing Connections was located. Because of this, the Stringing Connections team did not hand out as many connection tags as originally anticipated. Additionally, few visitors spent time reading tags left by other visitors.


When keeping tally of visitor interactions, tallies were made for each way that a visitor interacted with the Stringing Connections board, meaning that a visitor could talk about the board, make a connection and comment on an existing connection and each of these actions would be recorded. Thus, while 125 visitors entered the gallery space on Saturday and there were 63 interactions with the Stringing Connections project that does not mean that approximately 50% of visitors on Saturday interacted with the board. The best metric to use to determine participation with the activity is the number of people who added new connections to the board, as that was by far the most popular activity. Of the 125 visitors who entered the gallery on Saturday, 41 visitors, or 32.8% of visitors made a new connection on the board. Visitation rates were much lower on Sunday, with only 55 visitors entering the gallery space throughout the day. Of the 55 visitors who entered the gallery space, 26 visitors, or 47.3% of visitors made connections. 


Goal 4: 25% of the pieces in the gallery will be connected on the continuous pathway (the Red Yarn), and 30 individual connections will be made.

The simplest, yet most telling, goal was determined by counting the number of connections strung along the continuous pathway (the Red Yarn) in relation to the 85 pieces in the gallery, as well as by counting the number of individual connections made with single strings of yarn.


There were 30 connections made along the continuous pathway (the Red Yarn), however only 21 unique pieces were connected, accounting for 24.7% of the pieces in the gallery space. Several pieces were connection to the continuous pathway (the Red Yarn) more than once, with the most often connection pieces being:

  • ·       Polly Apfelbaum, Flying Hearts, (1999) – 4 connections
  • ·       Paul Kos, Not If, But When, (1990) – 4 connections
  • ·       Axel Lieber, I Beam (Ich-Strahl), (2004) – 3 connections
  • ·       Black dress with apron (located at one end of the string of aprons…) – 2 connections


There were 52 individual connections made, well exceeding the goal of 30. Here again, there were a handful of pieces that were involved in a large number of connections:

  • ·       Polly Apfelbaum, Flying Hearts, (1999) – 9 connections
  • ·       Paul Kos, Not If, But When, (1990) – 9 connections
  • ·       Fabric printing blocks – 6 connections
  • ·       Marita Dingus, And the Ancestor said “I think I might like to come visit”, (1994) – 5 connections
  • ·       Oreos – 5 connections


In some cases, visitors made more than one connection or made an individual connection as well as a connection along the continuous pathway (the Red Yarn).



Much of the data collected regarding Stringing Connections was purely anecdotal. Over the course of the implementation weekend, the activity was heavily facilitated, allowing members of the Stringing Connections team to observe and interact with visitors.


What Worked

Overall the activity ran smoothly and seemed to get people engaged with the pieces in the gallery. Stringing Connections allowed visitors to make personal connections or analytical connections with the artwork, meaning that the barriers for participation were low. A person did not have to come into the gallery with a great deal of art knowledge in order to participate. Additionally, the location of the Stringing Connections activity benefitted involvement. Had the board been located outside of the gallery space, visitors may not have been as likely to participate. By keeping the board inside the gallery space, visitors encountered the activity during their normal course of exploration and thus were able to think about connections they had seen as they were looking at the different pieces. As one visitor commented, the activity lead to more conversation and made them think more about the art they were seeing.


Visitors seemed to easily understand the concept of the project. The range of descriptions on the tags varied greatly. Some visitors found more traditional connections such as style and form while others found more abstract or more personal connections. Visitors did not seem limited to looking for one particular type of connection, and did not seem put off by the prospect of drawing connections that might not be “artistic” in nature.


What could have been different

As previously mentioned, the popularity and location of the Dirty Laundry activity meant that many visitors entered the space from the rear of the gallery rather than through the main entrance. This changed the way that visitors encountered the Stringing Connections board and in some ways changed how the activity was facilitated. Since all visitors were not entering through the main entrance, facilitators handed out fewer connection tags as visitors began their exploration.


There was a great deal of discussion about how and where to display the Stringing Connections board. The board was designed to stand vertically on an easel, but such a set-up would have disrupted the sight-lines in the gallery space. In order to display the Stringing Connections board in the gallery space, the decision was made to lay the board flat on a table. Since the board was flat on a table, when a crowd of people gathered, it was difficult for those further away from the table to see what was happening. In some cases, this may have turned visitors away.  Visitors had to come close and hover over the board in order to participate. Had the map been displayed as originally intended, vertically on an easel, it may have encouraged more reading and subsequent collaboration because it would have been easier to see from varying distances.


There was some confusion over the different colored strings available to make connections. The team chose the red yarn for the continuous pathway because it was bright and would be easy to see, but the fact that there were 3 colors of yarn available to make individual connections was a remnant of an earlier iteration of the project. In some cases it was unclear to visitors whether or not the different colored strings had different meanings. Although this was something that could be easily explained, using 2 different colors instead of 4 could have worked to take away some of the imagined meaning on the board.



The Stringing Connections project was designed as a way to test various ways of participation in the gallery. Although the project was well defined, at the most base level the project was an experiment. If a similar type of activity was to be tried in a different setting, more testing would have to take place to optimize the activity and the visitor experience. Additionally, the project was only in place for a weekend, and during that time it was not a static experience. Team members made small changes throughout the weekend and also heavily facilitated the project, allowing the project to evolve over time.


A large majority of visitors to the Vortexhibition Polyphonica gallery during the weekend of February 5-6 were friends or family of the Museology students completing the projects, meaning that many of the visitors came into the gallery cued that participation would be encouraged. This could have lead to higher participation levels that one would see in a more normal situation.



Although Stringing Connections was highly facilitated during most of this particular iteration, with some modifications it has the potential to be implemented with little to no facilitation. As a test, the team designated one unfacilitated hour and observed visitor’s interaction with the project. For the most part, with the help of the instructions and the examples of previous visitors’ connections, most people were able to easily understand how to participate, The team noted that if unfacilitated, it is essential to provide a wide range of sizes of yarn strands for the visitor. During the unfacilitated portion, visitors seemed more likely to observe rather than participate. Making it clear through signage that this is an ongoing project and visitor participation is welcome and encouraged may increase participation, even if the project isn’t facilitated.


Due to the large quantity of objects in the exhibit, it was necessary for each image to be rather small. Because of the location of the map inside of the gallery space and thanks to the help of the facilitation, visitors did not seem to have a problem indentifying works based on the small images and their location on the map; however, if this project was applied to an exhibit with fewer pieces, it would likely be helpful to increase the size of the images.


The location of this project was essential. If it were to be repeated, it would be important to pilot test multiple locations both within and outside of the gallery space in order to determine the most functional location, especially if the iteration was to be less facilitated. 


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