Slover Linett's e-newsletter about audiences and culture—from the arts to informal science learning.

When we tell people that we work with cultural organizations, they usually think of art museums, performing arts centers, maybe historical sites. But we also help science and nature institutions, from planetariums and zoos to natural history museums and public media. Over the last decade or so, those organizations have carved out their own identity as “informal science education” (ISE) providers, quite distinct from the cultural sector. The funding and policy communities interested in ISE and the arts are increasingly distinct, too. And you can guess which one is better funded, in these days of anxiety about education, jobs, and America’s economic future. 

But a funny thing is happening to public science programming. It’s looking more and more like a form of cultural participation. Science cafes and Nerd Nite gatherings, science-themed storytelling events, city-wide science festivals, podcasts that mix science and comedy, not to mention popular blogs, books, and celebrity scientists like Brian Greene and Neil de Grasse Tyson — all of it suggests that contemporary science engagement isn’t just about curiosity and learning; it’s also about laughing, having a drink, getting lost in a story, and having your mind blown, or at least bent in a new direction.

That’s why the time seems right to organize a conference on the evolving culture of science communication, which we’re doing under our Culture Kettle umbrella in partnership with some wonderful colleagues at MIT and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The conference will take place next year on the MIT campus. A formal announcement is in the works; watch this space.

Meanwhile, we’ll continue studying how and why audiences connect to culture in all its manifestations, from string quartets to string theory. (By the way, this is our first newsletter especially for our colleagues in culture and informal learning. We also have a higher education practice, now with its own newsletter.)

— The Slover Linett culture team

Image: A Nerd Nite talk by Adam Evans, amateur astrophotographer. Photo: Tara Walton/Toronto Star.

What's New?
April 27, 2012

Irvine Foundation Selects Slover Linett to Review Arts Innovation Fund

The James Irvine Foundation, a leading California philanthropy, has engaged Slover Linett to conduct a review of one of its key funding programs for cultural organizations, the Arts Innovation Fund. Our team, which includes consultants Nick Rabkin and Laura Samson, will be interviewing grantees about their experiences with the program and talking with other arts leaders in California and elsewhere about adaptive change in the nonprofit arts sector.  More »
February 23, 2012

Chicago STEM Museum Projects On Our Front Burner

Slover Linett’s arts & culture practice may need a broader name, given how active we are in informal science education. We’ve been working lately with Chicago’s leading STEM museums, the Adler Planetarium, Field Museum, and Museum of Science & Industry on exhibition and media evaluations using some novel methods to explore visitors’ connections to science. More »
February 16, 2012

Enhancing Museum Accessibility and Relevance in New Projects

We’ve embarked on several research and evaluation studies with new museum clients, including the Milwaukee Art Museum, the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, and the museum access program for low-income families in New York, Cool Culture. Central to all three projects is the question of how to increase relevance and participation. More »

May 02, 2012

Alan Alda warms up science communication with the Flame Challenge

How would you explain flame — what is it? what’s going on in there? — to an 11 year old? I grew up watching Alda play an army doctor on M*A*S*H, but his acting and PBS interviewing work have led him to some real-world questions about how science is conveyed to us laymen. In partnership with Stony Brook University, where Alda teaches scientists how to improvise and “be more authentically themselves” with the public, he has organized a contest for scientists and anyone else who wants to enter. Submissions are now being an 11 year old near you. More »
April 20, 2012

Universities amp up the arts. But who’s helping whom?

The arts on campuses seem to be entering a period of unprecedented investment and attention, with ‘arts districts’ and strategic initiatives and a new profile even at institutions famous for cultivating the other regions of the brain. Maybe it’s no coincidence that this comes at a time when the value and relevance of higher education and the value and relevance of the traditional arts (especially to young people) are being challenged  from all directions. More »
April 10, 2012

Happy Arts Advocacy Day! Go bake a cake

Whether you know it or not, your life is affected by some form of art in every waking minute of every day. Architects design the buildings in which you live and work; graphic designers create the signs that guide you and the logos that bombard you; writers create the sitcoms and dramas that make you cry with laughter or just plain cry; chefs create the meals that look so good you almost don’t want to eat them (and the desserts you don’t have room for but you eat anyway). So, who needs Arts Advocacy Day? You do. More »
April 06, 2012

Do cultural institutions tell stories? A new bestseller gets me thinking

The rise of live storytelling in recent years is remarkable, both for its bottom-up, scrappy scene (headquartered in Brooklyn, of course) and its rehabilitation of a historical form of entertainment and conviviality. A few storytelling events are held at museums, but that’s not the same as museums telling stories in their own exhibitions or programs. A new hiking memoir, of all things, just reminded me what the recipe has always been. More »
March 31, 2012

Good research isn’t about asking audiences what they want

There’s been a thoughtful discussion lately about whether arts organizations are leading or following their audiences, which they ought to be doing, and whether the two are actually opposites. But a sour note can be heard in that chorus on both sides of the debate: the idea that audience research is a tool for pandering. (Cue the Steve Jobs quote about consumers not knowing what they want.) There’s a better way to think about this. More »
March 10, 2012

Why a little TED profanity makes me hopeful about Campbell’s Met

The recent TED Talk by Metropolitan Museum of Art director Thomas Campbell hasn’t been posted yet, but the summary on the TED blog sounds terrific — the clearest statement yet that this iconic institution is under new, 21st century management. And the rest of the museum seems to be getting the memo. More »

Slover Linett is a research & assessment firm for the cultural sector, broadly defined. From art museums to dance companies to zoos, we help institutions become more successful by understanding their audiences. We do it through rigorous research and evaluation...More »

Invite a friend
Know anyone else who might be interested in receiving Re:search? Feel free to forward, or type an email address or two below and we'll gladly send a copy. (Please put a space between each address.)