Title: Kate Haw, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Interviewee for the International Audience Engagement page on the NGV website.<br/>
Exhibition Title: International Audience Engagement page on the NGV website.<br/>

International Audience Engagement Network: What do you think is the most pressing issue facing museums right now?

Kate Haw: A commitment to understanding how we are relevant to the lives of people from a wide diversity of backgrounds and life experiences. I think most of us have understood this for some time, but many of us are still struggling to figure out what that really means. What does it mean to engage in genuine dialogue with our communities, not in an isolated or surface ways, but in ways that fundamentally change how we work? What does it mean to share authority? How can we reorient our focus from a more straightforward telling of art history to truly exploiting the profound capacity of art—in the way only art can–to help us better understand our shared humanity?

IAE Network: What keeps you passionate about what do you do?

KH: The opportunity for constant learning. I love learning about an artist or style of work that is new to me, and I get equally excited about learning a new way of doing something, or about a subject that really pushes me to think very differently or is completely unknown or confusing to me. Our field gives us access to such an incredible range of brilliant people. How lucky is that? The world is changing so fast—in both terrifying and exhilarating ways–and to come to the table assuming we have figured it out is to miss opportunities. The older I get, and the longer I work in the arts, the more I realise how little I know—and how exciting that is!

IAE Network: Share one thing your organisation is doing differently to engage audiences?

KH: We are recognising our staff as a key audience. A former colleague called our staff Audience One. And this means creating opportunities for all of our staff to contribute to the full life of the museum. Over the past year we have engaged our frontline staff (security, visitor services, and shop and food service staff) in more conversations about our exhibitions and programs, and about what they are seeing and experiencing on the floor. This is valuable expertise that we have not often consulted in the past, and we are learning so much.

IAE Network: For people or institutions new to focusing on audiences/audience engagement, what is one thing you would recommend to begin?

KH: Related to the last question, executive leadership at the National Gallery has spent more time on the floor with frontline staff. We worked shifts managing visitor flow for our very popular Vermeer’s Secrets exhibition in late 2022/early 2023, and we have spent time in the galleries supporting frontline staff for our current Philip Guston exhibition. For one thing, it is a joy to listen to what frontline staff think of the shows—details they have noticed, aspects of the shows that resonate with them (or don’t!)—and to get to know them. For another, by spending time “in their shoes,” we understand better the challenges they face in their critical roles, which enables us to think more productively about how we can best support them. And more broadly, nobody observes our audiences’ experience in the galleries more keenly than the frontline staff. We have been able to make changes that improve our visitors’ experience by creating a better platform for listening to the frontline staff.

IAE Network: Do you use the IAE Network guidelines, and if so, can you share how you have you used them?

KH: In the past two years the National Gallery of Art has made a significant investment in building our capacity to solicit and evaluate meaningful audience feedback and implement change based on what we are learning. The Audit aspect of evaluating our feedback channels has been rather narrow because we didn’t have many feedback channels prior to 2021. We do not sell tickets and very few of our programs required registration before the pandemic, so even knowing who our audiences were posed a challenge. We learned a ton through COVID and now have a number of new mechanisms that enable us to talk with our audiences, including an ongoing comprehensive visitor study. We are still building the capacity to effectively share what we are learning with all of the people on our very large staff who could learn from this feedback. And while some responsive changes are relatively easy to make, others—especially programmatic changes—are harder and require us to exercise muscles that we are still building institutionally.

IAE Network: What are you currently reading/watching/listening to that inspires you?

KH: Recently I read All the Beauty in the World: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Me by Patrick Bringley, who was a guard at the Met for ten years. Only a few weeks after reading it the first time, I’m in the middle of reading it again. I was struck by how much I learned not just about museums and the work of our indispensable guards, but even more by how much the book taught me about life. Audience-focused work is about people. This book reminded me that we are not all driven by the same goals and we all find meaning in different ways. I also love Kathan Brown’s memoir about building the renowned Crown Point Press. Her courage and creativity are inspiring, and the title of the book, Know That You Are Lucky, is something I think about every day.