Museum Studies Blog

Posted on November 8th, 2023 in Student Work by jachigg | Tags: ,

By Syd Overtoom

“Story encompasses many ways of knowing.” This was said by the American Evaluation Association President Corrie Whitmore on the first official day of the conference sessions, and it still sticks with me several days later. The AEA’s conference is for all evaluation, not just museum evaluation or visitor studies, but the theme of this year’s being about “the power of story” resonated with me as I want to tell visitors’ stories in a compelling and accurate way. So, here is my story.

I attended this conference not only out of interest but also because the Indiana Evaluation Association (IEA) provided a generous scholarship that let me afford a hotel stay along with the registration fees. Since I don’t live in Indianapolis, not having to pay for gas every other day was a nice change! I was there from October 11-13, and attended as many sessions as possible to understand how evaluation can be intertwined with storytelling that, in the museum world, is usually left to exhibits and interpretation departments.

Syd Overtoom, a person with short brown hair, glasses, and wearing a face mask is sitting in the middle of a blow up white couch. This couch has 3 sections and has 3 checkered flag print patterned pillows and two inflatable pillows that look like car tires. There is the edge of a table directly in front of Syd with a checkered flag pattern as well. Syd is wearing a green button up shirt, white pants, and dark green shoes.

Me sitting on the Indiana Evaluation Association’s Indy 500 inspired couch! They hosted a pit stop for all attendees to stop at for resources on Indy and networking opportunities. I volunteered here for a couple hours!

As a museum studies student and an evaluation intern, I was always interested in what other attendees in my sessions did for their evaluation. In the first session I attended, which was about not only bringing in people from the community with lived expertise to the table but also supporting them in whatever ways are needed, I met many people who worked with youth in various facilities and settings. However, in a session about LGBTQ+ evaluation, done by the authors of New Directions of Evaluation: Volume 2022 LGBTQ+ Evaluation, it was a lot more openly queer people like me who were thinking about how we can help make our stories and other LGBTQ+ stories get told through evaluation! 

In every session, I thought about how the information I was learning applied to museum evaluation since majority of these sessions were aimed at evaluation in a broader context. A session on decolonizing evaluation made me reflect on conversations about decolonizing museums since there were several parallels, especially the prevalent question of “can museums/evaluation be completely decolonized?” It’s something I think we should always be thinking about no matter where or who we work with! Another session about when to ask for identification factors like gender and race on an evaluation tool, such as a survey, was also quite reflective for me since I’ve already analyzed surveys that asked for demographic information and wondered how those participants actually felt about it. However, demographic information can be relevant, and it helps tell a story of who is participating in your museum programs, going to your museum exhibits, etc if you think that part of the story is important. You don’t always need that kind of information though, so use your best judgement!

Although AEA was not specifically for museum evaluation, nor was the IEA as a group, I still felt very welcomed by the people I met up with and enjoyed every session I went to! I was definitely nervous networking with people at first, but I made about 7 or so professional connections by the end of the conference. I even met a couple other museum evaluators who were interested in what I was doing at IUPUI and The Children’s Museum. Other evaluators told me that museum evaluation was a very interesting niche of evaluation and that I should continue pursuing it, which was a great confidence booster! I would probably attend AEA again depending on the theme, but it was overall a great experience and I feel lucky to have been able to go. That brings us to the end of my story at AEA.

Syd Overtoom (he/they) is a second-year graduate student in the Museum Studies Program at IUPUI.