Moving Past Empathy - Calling Museum Audiences to Action
Thursday, November 9, 2017 4:15 PM - 5:15 PM
Venue: Monongahela

Cultural Institutions globally have a mission of informing and engaging audiences with their particular story. These stories, whether interpreted from art, history, or nature, have the goal of opening the audiences’ eyes and ears to something new, challenging, or different. These stories hope to elicit empathy within the audience, which is the first step to understanding the world in a more holistic way. Empathy, though an important goal, is not necessarily the end goal for many institutions that hope to close the loop in the contract of listening. What good is listening to stories, if you do not enact those lessons in your everyday life? Listening is step one, engaging empathetically is step two, and channeling that empathy into constructive action outside of the museum is step three. It can be difficult for a cultural institution to encourage audiences to take that third step and act, however our job as museum professionals is to be agencies of change for the missions we serve. Telling empathetic stories is easy, but calling audiences to act on that empathy can be a challenge. An institution cannot effectively serve its visitor through overbearing or alienating rhetoric, nor can they force a certain political agenda upon visitors. As many museums in the US are governmental institutions, there is a fine line professionals must walk in what they can, and cannot say to, and ask of, visitors. Navigating this line can be difficult, though when effectively achieved the purpose of your mission deepens.

This panel of experts from the National Museum of American History, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and The Studio Museum in Harlem will share some of their best practice for inspiring both conversation and action upon relevant social issues of the past, present, and future.


Type of Session
60-Minute Professional Session
Session Leader : Mary Kostell, New Client Acquisition Consultant, Antenna International
Co-Presenter : Megan Smith, Interpretive Specialist, Smithsonian National Museum of American History
Co-Presenter : Kai Frazier, Museum Digital Strategist, Content Creator & Storyteller, Curated x Kai
Co-Presenter : Dana Liss, Digital Content Manager, Studio Museum Harlem