December 9, 2013  |  Learning and Engagement
Mapping Visitors in MoMA Studio: Sound in Space
Installation view of MoMA Studio: Sound in Space, with Joe McKay’s Light Wave

Installation view of MoMA Studio: Sound in Space, with Joe McKay’s Light Wave. Photo: Jackie Armstrong

Since I began working at the Museum, every MoMA Studio has undergone a complete evaluation. Evaluation strategies include interviewing visitors, surveying participants, observing/tracking/timing visitors, using prompts to encourage responses on comment boards, facilitator reflections, and a few other participatory forms of data gathering. With each of these strategies we learn something different, and this mixed-method approach allows us to answer different questions and get a clearer picture of the visitor experience. But for every MoMA Studio, I always find that observation, which includes tracking and timing visitors, uncovers the most illuminating information. Sometimes it’s less about what people say, and more about what they do in the space, how they interact with the various installations, facilitators, and other visitors, and how long they spend (in total and at different installations). I especially found observation/tracking/timing to be a useful strategy for understanding the visitor experience in the most recent MoMA Studio, Sound in Space.

A map tracking vistors' movement through MoMA Studio: Sound in Space. Photo: Jackie Armstrong

A map tracking vistors’ movement through MoMA Studio: Sound in Space. Photo: Jackie Armstrong

One thing made very clear in the tracking study for MoMA Studio: Sound in Space is how much of a draw Joe McKay’s Light Wave was. Often, the sights and sounds of people playing the Light Wave is what caused other visitors to enter Sound in Space in the first place. Given this, it’s not surprising that 90% of visitors tracked stopped to check out Light Wave, and of those 92% actually spent time playing with it. On average, visitors spent about four minutes engaged with Light Wave, which is a pretty big chunk of time considering visitors spent an average of 15 total minutes in the space. What was really great to witness was the installation’s intergenerational appeal; everyone from really small children and teenagers to young couples and seniors seemed to enjoy engaging with Light Wave. One reason I think this installation was so appealing is that it’s really intuitive to use, and it has a competitive but playful element to it. Also, it’s as much fun to watch as it is to play, so it had a way of making everyone in the space feel involved.

Visitors' drawings of Joe McKay’s <i>Light Wave.</i> Photo: Jackie Armstrong

Visitors’ drawings of Joe McKay’s Light Wave. Photo: Jackie Armstrong

The interview data aligned with the observational data, with 85% of visitors saying that Light Wave is what most captured their attention and interest in the Studio. One visitor explained the appeal by saying, “I thought it was very cool in the sense that all you did was hit the mallet on the stand and it sent the energy into the light bulbs back and forth.”

Every MoMA Studio is meant to be hands-on and engaging, but in the past it has sometimes been difficult to encourage visitors to touch installations and interact with them physically and cognitively. Going forward it’ll be interesting to consider all the aspects of Joe McKay’s Light Wave that so naturally enabled visitors to connect and engage with it.