Cultivating Meaningful Cultural Experiences

Wednesday Apr 3rd, 2019

cultural experience quality assurance v2

Nina Simon has served in the role of Executive Director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History since 2011. In 2019, she founded OF/BY/FOR ALL, an organization that envisions a world in which all people are empowered to share their talents to strengthen their communities. To create this future, OF/BY/FOR ALL helps civic and cultural organizations grow of, by, and for their communities. Simon is also the author of two best-selling books, “The Participatory Museum” and “The Art of Relevance.”

In 2014, Simon penned an article titled “But What About Quality?” In it, she explored a question that is often posed when cultural organizations enter into conversations related to community engagement, equity, and inclusion. That being the question of how can cultural organizations build meaningful relationships with the broader community without “lowering their standards.”

In her article, Simon encourages cultural administrators to expand the parameters for which they measure quality beyond technical excellence. To support this approach, she provides a list of the ten different criteria that can be used to ensure that organizations’ product offerings lead to quality experiences:

1. Aesthetic: Is it beautiful?
2. Technical: Is it masterful?
3. Innovative: Is it cutting edge?
4. Interpretative: Can people understand it?
5. Educational: Can people learn from it?
6. Relevant: Can people relate to it?
7. Participatory: Can people get involved or contribute to it?
8. Academic: Does it produce new research or knowledge?
9. Bridging: Does it spark unexpected connections?
10. Igniting: Does it inspire people to action?

Simon then encourages administrators to have broader conversations about forms of quality and the different outcomes that can be tied to each form. Could we, as non-profit cultural organizations, repurpose Simon’s list and provide it to our audiences as a measure of feedback?

cultural experience checklist

What if this approach was adopted by cultural organizations on a wide scale? I believe that through doing so, we would learn more about both our audiences and ourselves as organizations. With these metrics, we could better examine our product offerings and pivot as necessary to offer value-added services and experiences that have personal meaning to those who engage with our organizations.

As demographics, economics, and social expectations change, we must identify meaningful ways to engage new populations within our communities. But, if we wish to be understood and appreciated by newcomers then we must first seek opportunities to understand and appreciate them. Our pathway forward is to move beyond continuing to do what we’ve always done. I am confident that if we focus on building mutually beneficial relationships between institutions and individuals then we will be better equipped as non-profits to respond to the needs, interests, and aspirations of our communities, which in return will lead to a higher number of individuals feeling a sense of pride for, and ownership in, our cultural assets.


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