No doubt, we are all experiencing challenging times. The silver lining of the situation is that institutions are forced to be flexible and to think creatively about their programs and resources, which can lead to exciting innovation. For example, the Hammer has long suffered from not having a visitors’ services department, which is standard at most museums. Resources would not allow us to simply build a new department. However, when the James Irvine Foundation invited us to apply for their Arts Innovation Grant, we took the opportunity to address our need for visitor services in a new and creative way.
Beginning in the fall of 2009, artists began work with our curatorial staff to create a new kind of interactive museum featuring an artist-driven visitor engagement and education program that encourages daily contact among visitors, artists, and museum staff and activates the spaces, exhibitions, and Hammer website in imaginative ways. Artists explore and address all aspects of a visit to the Hammer, from basic amenities, wayfinding and maps to visitor engagement and the creative activation of spaces around the museum. The Hammer also intends to create more transparency between its staff and audiences by exposing some of the inner workings of the museum. For example, visitors may be presented with spontaneous opportunities to have a brown bag lunch with curators and the director or to visit the Hammer conservation studio. The Hammer has created an organic way of working with artists, not only in their capacity as object makers but also as problem solvers. They are helping us to be a better, more dynamic institution.