Building Strong Bridges between the Museum and Its Community: An Ethnographic Understanding of the Culture and Systems of One Community’s Art Museum

Open Access
Jung, Yuha
Graduate Program:
Art Education
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
October 01, 2012
Committee Members:
  • Mary Ann Stankiewicz, Committee Chair
  • Christine M Thompson, Committee Member
  • Charles Richard Garoian, Committee Member
  • Madhu Suri Prakash, Committee Member
  • Mary Ann Stankiewicz, Dissertation Advisor
  • Art museums
  • museum education
  • museum management
  • community-oriented museum practices
  • systems theory
  • learning organization
This dissertation is a holistic, qualitative, ethnographic case study of a medium-size art museum in the Midwestern United States based on interviews with all levels of staff and board members, community leaders, visitors, and educators. I combine interviews with participant observation in order to bring to light how the museum is connected to its community. I also explore how the museum’s services, including exhibitions and programs, and other practices influence the museum’s visitorship and perceptions among community members. By using a theoretical framework of an organization as an open system and cultural place, I understand the art museum as a complex organization where various interactions and relationships are interwoven to create its unique institutional culture. The analysis allows me to identify the museum’s challenges and offer suggestions about how it can become more actively involved with its community and more relevant to it. I conclude that while the museum is a cultural and open system that is flexible and has coevolved with its community, it can overcome its challenges by becoming a learning organization whose members are working, learning, and growing together to become a more active and relevant organization in the community for years to come. My overarching goal is to urge museum professionals and art educators to learn the value of being a learning organization, adopt practices that promote such an organization, and continuously learn to work together.