MuseumCamp is an interactive anti-conference driven by mission and sincere inquiry. The concept: work with a team to design and implement a research project about the social impact of an arts or culture event happening in Santa Cruz in less than four days.
By Becca Lynch
I began the month of August representing Theatre of the Oppressed NYC at MuseumCamp at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History. MuseumCamp is an interactive anti-conference driven by mission and sincere inquiry. The concept: work with a team to design and implement a research project about the social impact of an arts or culture event happening in Santa Cruz in less than four days. It is a chance to engage with thoughtful and active citizen artists, arts administrators, and other kinds of practitioners of social impact. Most vividly, it is a fantastic way to experience the vibrant, goofy, and welcoming place that is Santa Cruz.
Nina Simon, Executive Director of the MAH, blogs as Museum 2.0 and leads her team of “MAH-sters” with incredible energy, humor, and a contagious drive for adventure and learning. Her MuseumCamp co-host was Ian David Moss, research director of Fractured Atlas and founder of Createquity, whose emphasis on research has inspired the TONYC team for years. His opening workshop on Navigating Uncertainty, heavily inspired by How to Measure Anything by Douglas Hubbard, encouraged me to zoom out and think about data we collect in the context of our existing knowledge and hypotheses.
At TONYC, the goal of social impact is deeply embedded in our mission and our practice. I came into MuseumCamp with a lot of questions about ethical evaluation methods and how to demonstrate impact to all interested parties (including partner organizations, trainees, communities we support, spect-actors, and supporters). At this point in TONYC’s growth, we have learned a ton about what is effective about our work - but what is the evidence we need to tell that story?
Throughout the week I collaborated with my fellow Team Secret Sauce members: Elise Granata, Ebony McKinney, James Heaton, and Lisa Niedermeyer. James has already written a fair amount about our experience on his blog, and you can also read about our research project and all the other MuseumCamp projects online. We investigated the civic pride of local residents attending a vintage indie cinema house called the Del Mar, and incorporated four different research methods. One of our efforts involved wearing a bright pink button that said “I’m New Here. Tell Me About the Dar Mar”, and awaiting responses without giving a verbal cue. Despite attempts to draw attention to my button with subtlety (like intentionally spilling my drink on the counter of the coffee shop), this method proved the least effective for data collection. Whether this was because people thought we were working for the Del Mar or people just don’t respond to questions on buttons, we learned that we elicited more meaningful data with more direct approaches.
I left MuseumCamp with even more questions than I came in with. I learned a lot about experimental design, naming indicators and proxies, and approaching data from interviews and focus groups with healthy skepticism. I also learned that the work we already do at TONYC could be termed “Action Research” - methods where participants are asked to take action as part of a research project. Each one of our Forum Theatre performances already asks our audiences to become “spect-actors” and therefore to take action onstage, and if we can improve our observation methods we can turn audience interventions into useful data. This fall, TONYC aims to use this information to look at our programs critically and tell the story of our success more effectively. Huge thanks to the MAH and MuseumCamp for your wisdom!