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The Learning Conference 2003

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Presentation Details


Communicative Spirals in Art Museums: The Artist as Action Researcher

Paul Hansen.

This paper reports on the findings of an action research study within a New Zealand Art Museum. International museums, including art museums, have increasingly come under review since Bourdieu (1970) seminal social research focused on art gallery visiting patterns and cultural codes. There is tacit agreement among the contributors to the literature that museums now exist within a post-modern era that demands a more democratic approach to conceptualizing their cultural and educational role within society. Art museums, in particular, have been challenged to address the critical and public perceptions of their organizations as insular and elitist. The future of public art museums could be under threat if they do not pay particular attention to their visitors and their local communities, and become more relevant, accessible, and welcoming, to a significantly wider audience, including those who do not normally visit. The literature suggests that a fundamental review of the core mission of museums is required, to provide a springboard for change. The post-modern/constructivist concept of life experience and learning as meaning-making has been embraced by progressive museums and contributed to the evolution of their programmes and organizations. However, New Zealand regional museums generally, have been slow in responding to the wealth of literature or to conducting significant research, involving their visitors, or their communities.These emergent issues provided the context for this study and the researchers decision to explore the potential of action research, as an agent for change, focusing on the creation and reception of an exhibition, within a regional public art museum. In line with action research methodology, a combination of qualitative and quantitative survey and observational data was collected during distinct phases of the project. A variety of stake-holders (wider than is usually associated with a home-grown exhibition), including artists, craftspeople, community groups, business and funding agencies, along with museum staff, were involved in the project, culminating in the participatory, interactive exhibition Mandala: The Immaculate Perception. The present study also links to a wider debate involving the reconceptualisation of business and educational organisations as learning organisations (Senge, 1990, 1994, 2000) that has arisen out of the post-modern/ constructivist paradigm. Applying an action research methodology along with conceptualising an art museum in this way, is suggested as a promising model for art museums to adopt, in addressing the issues of relevance, and contributing to the progressive evolution of their creative organizational culture.


Paul Hansen

Paul Hansen is an artist (ceramics and bronze) and art educator who has worked in a variety of community and educational settings including Primary, Secondary and Tertiary institutions.
He is currently Senior Lecturer in Visual Art at the Massey University College of Education in Palmerston North, New Zealand.

  • Action Research
  • Life-long-learning
  • Learning Organisations
  • Art Museums

(30 min Conference Paper, English)