Professor Pat Villeneuve has been a vocal advocate of visitor-centered exhibitions in art museums for decades. Her work on “edu-curation,” a practice advocating for a balanced approach between audiences and objects, as well as the development of supported interpretation—a model for visitor-centered exhibitions—have had a broad impact on the field of art museum curation and cultural education alike. She presents here a work in progress, a new theoretical model for art museum curation based on a competing values framework. This theory attempts to offer concrete, operationalizable tools to practitioners.
To explore this theory, she uses a hypothetical conversation based on the scenario planning research method. This method allows her to test ideas, illustrate consequences, and identify the potential risks and need for action. Her article takes a strong stance in favor of a visitor centered approach. This stance has been widely supported (and debated) in the museum world. Such discussions were initiated with the advent of the New Museology. The visitor-centered museum has been core to dialogues around the social potential of the museum, the educational capacity of the museum, and, more recently, within discussions on participatory practices and the emancipatory potential of museums. Such theoretical developments have allowed for pockets of visitor-centered practices to expand worldwide. Building on this well-established position, she attempts to bridge the apparent gap between a theoretically inclusive art museum and a still very mixed practice. Villeneuve takes as a starting point what she calls the “stalled paradigm shift of art museums.” While the discussion on this paradigm shift has been ongoing, the tacit resistance of some institutional agents to such fundamental changes as visitor-centeredness has prevented practice to evolve more broadly. She hopes that her theoretical model will allow museums to initiate internal discussions, voice concerns, and identify their practice within a theoretical context while understanding how their curatorial choices impact audience attendance and engagement.
Villeneuve says of implementing inclusive curation in the museum:
Although steps can be taken in a bottom-up approach—such as an education department presenting a visitor-centered demonstration exhibition in an education space—strong administrative leadership is key in expediting the change and institutionalizing an overall shift in museum values. The model for museum curation can be used as a tool to facilitate this process.
Pat Villeneuve is Professor and Director of Arts Administration in the Department of Art Education, Florida State University, where she has developed new graduate programs in Museum Education and Visitor-Centered Exhibitions. Pat is editor of the book From Periphery to Center: Art Museum Education in the 21st Century and recipient of the National Art Education Association museum educator of the year award in 2009. Recently, she has developed supported interpretation, a model for visitor-centered exhibitions. Other research interests include organizational sustainability and constructivist teaching. Pat has published and presented extensively nationally and internationally, and she can be reached at email@example.com.