February 1, 2018

A Summer with Dorothea Lange

OMCA Intern Austen Wianecki-Wang's insights on visitor evaluation

By Austen Wianecki-Wang, Evaluation and Visitor Insights Intern

As a Museum Studies graduate student and East Bay resident, landing an internship at the Oakland Museum of California was really a dream come true. From July to August 2017, I was the Evaluation and Visitor Insights intern, working specifically on the 2017 exhibition Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing.

As an emerging professional with no evaluation experience, I was intimidated by the challenge of working on such a significant exhibition. My fears were quickly alleviated when I became acquainted with my supervisor, Johanna Jones, the Associate Director of Evaluation and Visitor Insights, who is a gifted leader and a seasoned evaluator. Her willingness to both share her experiences as well as gently coach my process enabled me to take the lead on modifying and creating all the necessary tools to conduct a robust evaluation. I ended up contributing to the plans, procedures, training guide, tools, and spreadsheets used to analyze qualitative and quantitative data about the visitor experience in the Lange exhibition. 

Evaluation is a particularly rewarding role in museums; it allows for public engagement as well as collaboration with colleagues. I got to meet and know the Museum’s Gallery Guides and security staff alongside the visitors as well as engage regularly with superstar museum professionals doing the essential creative and administrative work behind-the-scenes. It was such a unique and immersive learning opportunity to be able to hear directly from the Museum’s community—my community—about how they were experiencing the work of Lange. 

My only trepidation in working alongside visitors in the exhibition was the possibility of impeding someone’s experience. Although the Museum needs to gather robust data, it is important to not affect a visitor’s journey through the exhibition. In the hallway between Of Dogs and Other People: The Art of Roy De Forest (also on view at the time) and Dorothea Lange, I asked visitors if they would like to do a brief interview with me and fill out a short questionnaire. Although met with several rejections, I completed 30 interviews in total. If you took the time to speak to me this summer, I want to thank you again for your kindness and generosity in sharing your feedback with me and with OMCA. It really will help the staff better understand the visitor experience. 

After compiling and analyzing the data, my internship culminated with a presentation about some of the more salient statistics from the show. I was able to share with colleagues (some of whom I now count as friends) some excellent and informative data points about what worked and what could be improved. Although I was sad to depart the Museum, I remain grateful for what I learned in my short time there. Thank you to the OMCA staff (especially Johanna) for your support of my learning and to all the visitors who made this internship so special for me. 

Learn more about OMCA-UP internship programs and view current opportunities.