WAM Executive Summary

Museums serve a crucial role in the community in which they reside. Museums serve as educational institutions, as well as creating an identity for the culture they preserve and maintain (Hein, George E. Routledge, 1998). The Worcester Art Museum, or WAM, is currently an excellent model for the role of a museum within the community. Home to over 35,000 pieces of art from over 50 centuries, the WAM houses classics such as Monet, while preserving precious Knight’s artifacts from medieval times just a few galleries over (WAM Annual Report, 2013).

The WAM is in an exciting era where the very culture of visiting an art museum is being challenged, and museums are doing what they can to remain relevant and well-trafficked. Traditionally, visiting an art museum was a very linear, structured experience. Visitors would systematically work their way through the galleries, reading the artwork’s description on a sign, and moving on until they reached the end. In contrast to traditional audience engagement, the WAM desires to change that visitor experience for the entire museum to be a much more communal place, one where the visitor can relax, socialize or do some work and be inspired by the priceless artifacts that surround them. The WAM is looking for a way to not just preserve old cultures, but foster new ones as well.

A specific way the WAM could become a cultural hub and community gathering place is to develop a “third space” for the Worcester community. Third spaces are areas where people can relax, socialize and re-energize from their lives in their first place, their homes, and their second space, their job (Oldenburg, 1999). Third spaces are prominent in European culture. Examples include the Piazzas of Italy and the street side cafés of France. While all third spaces do not have identical characteristics, they all serve the purpose of adding meaning and variety to the lives of their patrons, as well as being centers for the community (Ibid).

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Figure 1: Third Space French Sidewalk Café

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I.                  Methodology

Our project goal was to help the WAM develop a successful blueprint for uses of its various rooms and areas as third spaces. In completing the following objectives, we were able to achieve that goal and leave the WAM with supported visions for how certain rooms could be developed into traditional third spaces.

Objective 1: Identified Characteristics of Traditional Third Spaces.

Objective 2: Determined the potential of WAM to create traditional third spaces.

Objective 3: Created an assessment of which areas at the WAM could become Traditional Third spaces.

Objective 4: Delivered recommendations to the WAM about where to create traditional third spaces, and what characteristics these spaces should have.

Before any field research was done, our group conducted a thorough literature review, which was essential in getting some expertise in the realm of third spaces, what different forms they take, and why they are important to people. Specifically, we read the book The Great Good Place, by Ray Oldenburg, which was an enormous help in grasping the concept of third space, and specific ways that they are successful.

In order to further understand what characteristics create a successful third space, we visited third spaces in Boston, Massachusetts and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. While in New Hampshire we interviewed the owners of a successful third space called the Portsmouth Book and Bar.

We also conducted interviews and focus groups with a variety of staff members at the WAM. In those interviews and focus groups, we learned a lot about the passion that each staff member has for the museum, and their individual thoughts and ideas for how the museum could develop a third space, and what barriers to development  were currently in place. At this point, we had a solid foundation for understanding the characteristics of a traditional third space, and how the WAM staff felt about the idea of developing a third space.

In light of our data from the museum staff, we then went on to survey patrons of the museum in person, as well as numerous followers of the WAM online via the WAM Facebook page. We received 122 survey responses, which provided us with opinions of college students and adults from the community.

II.               Findings

 

Our research revealed that traditional third spaces should have the characteristics of free admission, Wi-Fi access, as well as accessibility to food and drink.

This finding was informed by survey data shown in Figure 2, which is a weighted average of the results of all of our surveys, focus group data and interviews with the owners of the Portsmouth Book and bar.

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Figure 2: Third Space Characteristics

The specific areas within the WAM that had the most potential to become a third space were found to be the Courtyard, the Lancaster Lobby and The Museum Café.

These places were rated on a 1 to 5 scale on our surveys, with 5 being the most potential to become a third space, and 1 indicating the space had no potential. Besides the survey, WAM employees and the owners of the Portsmouth Book and Bar also expressed the most potential for the Courtyard, Lancaster Lobby and Museum Café to become traditional third spaces. Figure 3 shows the weighted average score each space in the museum got on our survey of 122 respondents.

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Figure 3: WAM Room Ratings

It came as no coincidence that the three top rated rooms by our survey also matched the characteristics that we identified as essential in any traditional third space, Wi-Fi, free admission, and food and drink. Also noted from our interviews and focus groups with the WAM staff, the lower rated rooms had many barriers to becoming third spaces. The Renaissance Court, Salisbury Hall and gallery spaces are all within the paid areas of the museum, and our talks with the staff revealed that the admission cost could be a huge barrier, as well as concerns about the safety of the artwork if food and drink were allowed inside the museum.

From our findings we were able to make some final recommendations for the WAM as to how they could use the above characteristics of a third space, and the viable locations at WAM to develop a traditional third space.

 

 

I.                  Recommendations

A.                 WAM Third Space Designs

 

We recommend that any traditional third space the WAM develops should have free admission, Wi-Fi and food and drink accessibility.

 

We believe that these are the most important characteristics of traditional third spaces.

 

We recommend the following designs for the spaces within the WAM that we determined to have the most potential to become traditional third spaces: the Courtyard, the Lancaster Lobby and The Museum Café.

Some sample pictures of these renderings are below.

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Figure 4: Courtyard Before

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Figure 5: Courtyard After

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Figure 6: Lancaster Lobby Before

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Figure 7: Lancaster Lobby After

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Figure 8: Cafe Before

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Figure 9: Cafe After

We recommend that the Museum bring more events to the WAM that engage the community.

Specifically, the WAM staff noted that an event called Third Thursdays used to be a big hit, typically having live music, alcohol tastings, and special art showings. Not limited to just Third Thursdays, we recommended that generally special events are an excellent way to engage the community, and that live music is a cheap and popular way to absorb the interest of the visitors.

A.                 Future Research Recommendations

 

We recommend that the WAM do three things to further the goals of this project.

The first is to conduct a demographic specific quantitative survey to verify the results of our exploratory data.

In order to move forward, we believe that the WAM needs more evidence to justify any investment in creating traditional third spaces.

Next we recommend that the WAM perform a cost analysis of the designs that our group proposes.

The museum should ensure that any plans that it moves forward with are cost effective. Lastly, we recommend that the WAM explore non-traditional third spaces and how to make visitors more comfortable within the galleries.

Our project focused specifically on traditional third spaces, and we believe that it is important for the museum to consider other types of third spaces.

II.               Conclusions

 

We found that the WAM has great potential to create traditional third spaces for the community of Worcester, Massachusetts. In order to accomplish this goal, the WAM should focus on developing its Courtyard, Lancaster Lobby and Café. These spaces should all offer free admission, Wi-Fi and food and drink, and these rooms should also host events. Our designs for the spaces provide some guidance as to how the WAM could develop these spaces, but before making any investments, the museum should make sure that these designs or any modified designs are cost effective.