Wallace Excellence Awards – SFMOMA

Wallace Excellence Awards provide support to exemplary arts organizations in selected cities to identify, develop and share effective ideas and practices to reach more people.  Eleven arts organizations with budgets over $1 million received these four-year grants.  Findings from their projects are reported here.

In 2008, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) received a Wallace Foundation Excellence Award.  Our grant of $778,000 over four years has supported researching, developing, and marketing new and expanded on-site, online, and community programs and resources for families with young children (ages 4-11).

Prior to the Wallace grant, SFMOMA offered programming for families once a month (including two annual, large-scale Family Days).  Aside from the occasional family guide, we didn’t really have any family resources to speak of.  Dedicated marketing resources and money to conduct ongoing formative and evaluative research were a necessity/luxury we could rarely afford. The Wallace Foundation has enabled us to not only expand on-site participatory art activities led by artists and educators, create both print and online interpretive resources, including multimedia programs for families, and begin to establish lasting relationships with community organizations, but also the opportunity to devote resources to market and promote family programs and funds to conduct research about our family audiences.

SFMOMA - Family Programs

Beginning in 2008, we doubled the frequency of our family programs and this past July, we began offering family programs every Sunday.  Family Sundays include a range of activities—from artist-led art projects in the Koret Visitor Education Center, to docent-led family tours of our exhibitions, to educator-led gallery activities, to book readings and film screenings.  Themes for our Family Programs now change seasonally rather than monthly.  This change came about after focus groups informed us that given their busy schedules and the range of offerings in San Francisco, it was hard for families to imagine visiting the museum more than three or four times a year and, as such, did not expect the Museum to change its programs more frequently than that.  By offering programming every Sunday, we are better able to promote Family Programs: “Every Sunday is for Families at SFMOMA!”

SFMOMA - Family Guides

Besides offering regular programming, we have also created various resources for families that are available at the museum (and online) all the time.  So far, we have published family guides for seven works from SFMOMA’s collection, with two more on the way.  Not only are these guides available in the Koret Center, they are also downloadable as pdfs from www.sfmoma.org/families.  Additionally, we produced an “all-purpose” family guide, called Not Your Ordinary Treasure Hunt.  This guide engages families in interactive and kinesthetic activities that are not geared to specific works.  In this way, the guide can be used repeatedly and regardless of what works are on view in the museum’s galleries.

One of the highlights of SFMOMA’s new family resources is the interactive feature, The Country Dog Gentlemen Travel to Extraordinary Worlds, which premiered in SFMOMA’s Koret Center as the centerpiece of Family Day on March 15, 2009, and was quickly and enthusiastically embraced by families.  The feature is comprised of animated stories with accompanying activities related to works in SFMOMA’s collection. Each of the activities allows visitors to submit their creations to the Dog’s Best Friends Art Gallery, a collective online display space, and to email a link from their work to a friend or family member.

Most recently, we launched SFMOMA’s mobile multimedia tour for families, Country Dog Gentlemen Gallery Game.  Initially, we assumed we would create a more traditional multimedia tour, focusing on specific, family-friendly artworks in the collection.  As it turns out, we decided on a very different approach.  The end result is more of a game than a tour, with goals, team-based activities/tasks to perform, and a reward for rounds completed.  The Country Dog Gentlemen Gallery Game does not focus on specific artworks; instead, it asks families to explore works of art they encounter (“Find the largest artwork in this gallery. . . ”), while following a set of specific, yet random, navigational directives (“When you’re ready, sidestep like a crab into another gallery”).  This open-ended approach enables families to play the game over and over again.

SFMOMA - The Country Dog Gentleman Gallery Game

The research that was made possible by the Wallace Foundation, has been crucial to the development of our family programs and resources. We probably know more about our family audience than we do about almost any other audience to SFMOMA.  Besides knowing the demographics, visitation patterns, and membership status of our family visitors, our research firm, Randi Korn and Associates, used K-cluster analysis to develop visitor types based on local parents’ ratings of preferences for experiencing art, family programs and SFMOMA.  From this analysis, three family clusters were identified at SFMOMA— Enthusiasts, Art Lovers, and Socials.

Knowing about these family types and their inclinations, has influenced our decisions about programming and communications strategies.   For example, Socials (25% of our family audience) feel the least comfortable visiting art museums with children, report that they don’t feel particularly knowledgeable about modern and contemporary art, and are most likely to be first-time SFMOMA visitors, coming to the museum to attend a specific program or event.  This knowledge influenced our decision to staff a Family Programs welcome table in the museum’s main lobby every Sunday.  This table is instrumental in enabling us to reach out to families as they enter the museum, making them feel welcome and informed.  At the table, we are able to direct families to programs and resources they can take advantage of during their visit.

SFMOMA - Family Table

As you can see, SFMOMA’s commitment to families has come a long way since 2008.  Not only has the range of family offerings and communications expanded, but the importance of the family visitor to the museum has grown as well.  The fact that just this week (October 11), a new Family membership package has become available, with enhanced benefits especially for families, is testament to SFMOMA’s commitment to better serve Bay Area families.  Furthermore, as we plan for the future of an expanded SFMOMA, we’re striving to create not only a building with new family-friendly amenities, but a place that inspires future generations to appreciate and enjoy modern and contemporary art.

To learn more about family programs at SFMOMA, visit our website at www.sfmoma.org/families and follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SFMOMAfamilies.

Julie Charles is the Associate Curator of Education at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.


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In 2008, The San Francisco Foundation (TSFF) and Grants for the Arts/San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund (GFTA) embarked on a four-year funding partnership to encourage systemic and sustainable structural change in the relationships of Bay Area arts organizations to their audiences, supported by the Wallace Foundation. Community offerings during the grant period (2008-2011) included seminars, workshops, large public convenings, implementation grants, development of a regional shared mailing list, and expansion of the SFArts.org website.




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