The Art of Relevance by Nina Simon

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This book, which is available to read online, was recommended to our incoming new docent training class last year. Now, a year later, I have finished reading it at last.

This book is directed to those who manage public institutions and programs. Which of them does not wish to be relevant to as many people as possible in their communities? But are there ineffective ways to undertake outreach? Simon convincingly argues that there are, and that people see through them. She offers alternatives that require much thought, time and cooperative effort with those outside one’s doors.

I’m just a volunteer, but I did enjoy learning something of the challenge faced by an art museum located on the campus of an expensive private university to be seen as relevant to the population that makes up the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. Also, I did find a few suggestions that were directly relevant to my role as a facilitator on tours at the museum: 1) a reminder not to prattle on about the things we consider to be compelling about the collection (or any individual work of art) without first questioning whether our audience cares anything about it; this is entertainment, not true connection with the work; 2) how to start a tour differently from the usual “guided tour” that many people dread; and 3) insight into teenagers–they are not the sponges that children are, nor do they have the full agency of adults.

If you have an association with a public institution, you may well enjoy reading this book.





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