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Philadelphia is known for many things, among them a little document that declared the importance of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Of course, these inalienable rights were not applied to all people and, while some progress has been made, there is still a great amount of work to be done.

How does your institution contribute to this work? What obstacles impede the happiness of your visitors? What constitutes an exceptional visit to your institution? How do you help your staff pursue their happiness? In what revolutionary ways are you serving your visitors?

Join us in Philadelphia this October as we focus on the pursuit of excellent visitor experience in a variety of panels, discussions, events, and workshops at the 2019 Visitor Experience Conference.


Welcome & Keynote with Mar Dixon

Mar’s list of “Do Not Touch” signs. 


10:10 – 11:10 am

  • In Pursuit of Diverse Audiences: Reaching Out Starts with Looking In

    • Molly Giordano, Director of Development and External Affairs at the Delaware Art Museum and Beth Brodovsky, President Iris Creative

    • In this program, we’ll discuss how to conduct audience research that illuminates the people you need for your organization to thrive. The result of this start-in-the-center method is an organization that knows its core. And when you know your core, you can expand your audience in ways that build on what your key supporters value.

  • The New Glenstone: Expanding the Visitor Experience

    • Stockton W. Toler Director, Visitor Experience at Glenstone

    • Stockton will lead a discussion of how a small, privately funded museum created an intimate visitor experience and scaled up to meet the needs of its expansion while maintaining an unhurried, uncrowded, and contemplative experience despite the increased visitor attendance.

  • Creating a Full Circle Culture of Service

    • Ginny Fitzgerald, Director of Visitor & Member Services, Chicago History Museum, Colleen Higginbotham, Deputy Director of Visitor Experience, Chrysler Museum of Art and Stephanie Wood, Director of Guest Services, Denver Museum of Nature and Science

    • This team of museum professionals have found that by creating an internal culture of service program to engage employees, museums will be best positioned to deliver an outstanding visitor experience. They will tell you how to begin, and how to sustain such a program at your museum/organization.

  • Going Undercover: When Guest Services Trains As Security

    • Christine Goerss-Barton, Guest Services Manager, Albright-Knox Art Gallery

    • Other than admissions, who are your institution’s guests most likely to interact with? If the answer is Security, how does this help or hinder the guest experience? One Guest Services team went undercover to become licensed guards to find out how two divergent departments could possibly serve the same goal: securing the happiness of all visitors.


11:20 am – 12:20 pm

  • The Art of Influence: Crafting Organizational Buy-In

    • Dorothy Leventry, Director of Education and Guest Experience, Mt. Cuba Center

    • Are you passionate and want to make significant contributions to your organization, but aren’t sure how to effectively build consensus around your ideas? In this session, we will discuss strategies and tangible tools for successfully pitching proposals, whether it be to your staff, colleagues, boss, or Board.

  • Employee Enrichment: A Fresh Perspective on Staff Engagement

    • Kimberly Zies, Director of Guest Services, Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus and Taylor Herbst, Manager of Guest Services & Retail Operations, Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus

    • Discover how connecting personal interests to mission can develop skills, build relationships, and improve customer service! Learn to serve your organization by advocating for employee growth through critical conversations and collaboration. Explore how creating and implementing enrichment programs in the pursuit of a happy staff will result in happy visitors.

  • Become a different kind of leader: strategies for achieving happiness, driving change and gaining respect as a Visitor Experience professional

    • Paul Gibbons, Head of Visitor Experience, Design Museum London

    • Paul Gibbons shares lessons from his career in Visitor Experience leadership and will show you how to adapt from being a leader of your own team into becoming an influential and persuasive leader within your organisation- ensuring the visitor’s voice is heard and decisions made with their expectations as priority.

  • If You Build It, They Will Come: Re-imagining the Visitor Experience During a Museum Closure

    • Lauren Diamond, Visitor Services and Membership Coordinator, Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum at Washington University in St. Louis, Andrew Turner, Visitor Services Coordinator at the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth, and Hunter Dixon, Director of Guest Relations at the Speed Art Museum

    • How can a museum with no visitors rethink the visitor experience? Join presenters from the Hood Museum of Art, the Speed Art Museum, and the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum as they discuss ways they reexamined and rebuilt their museums during construction to make spaces more accessible, navigable, and visitor friendly (or not!).


1:40 – 2:40 pm

  • Lost in the labyrinth? Not for long! How Augmented Reality will Transform Wayfinding in Museums

    • Brendan Ciecko, CEO / Founder @ Cuseum

    • Wayfinding continues to be one of the major challenges faced by museums and cultural attractions. With the arrival of augmented reality (AR), there is a light at the end of the tunnel for addressing the navigational needs of all visitors with new, innovative wayfinding tools.

  • Enhancing the Visitor Journey – Service Design for Designing Services

    • Karl Robideau, Visitor Experience Manager, Art Gallery of New South Wales

    • The session will discuss how implementing service design into the Art Gallery of New South Wales planning processes contributed to improving the visitor experience by aligning three crucial elements – people, processes, and technology – to form a strong foundation for enhancing the overall visitor journey.

  • Learning to Hire for Attitude: Matching Staff and Volunteers with your Museum

    • Audra Kelly, Director of Interpretation, Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens, Lisa Leyh, Head of Visitor Services & Volunteer Management, Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens

    • Presentation

    • Research shows that the many new hires fail because of attitudinal reasons, not due to lack of skills. Learn techniques for identifying attitudes, developing interview questions, and analyzing candidate’s answers that enable you to evaluate if potential hires are a good match attitudinally with your institution.

  • Summer Tuesdays: Turning an Experiment into an Operational Reality

    • Trevor Tyrrell, Director of Operations, Museum Facility, Guggenheim, Essie Lash, Senior Manager of Marketing, Guggenheim, and Blake Myers, Program Associate, Visual AIDS (former Former Public Engagement Coordinator, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum)

    • Presentation

    • Learn how a cross-departmental collaboration resulted in a visitor experience success story. Since 2017, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum has offered Summer Tuesdays, staying open until 9 pm in the summer with open galleries and engaging programming. Launched as a pilot effort to better accommodate visitors’ schedules, the initiative has informed the museum’s general operating hours in its third year.


2:50 – 3:50 pm

  • Augmenting Visitor Experiences through Adaptable Volunteers

    • Diana Gibbs, Visitor Engagement Specialist, Library of Congress and Susan Mordan-White, Volunteer Program Specialist, Library of Congress

    • Presentation

    • Meaningful visitor experiences are sparked by volunteers, who cultivate lasting connections between users and cultural institutions. In this session, the Library of Congress will share innovative, flexible scheduling methods that encourage volunteers to focus on the multifaceted interests and needs of audiences by differentiating, adapting and maximizing their ambassador roles.

  • The 4 Must-dos to Make Museums Must-Sees for Millennial 

    • Tasia Duske, CEO of Museum Hack; Caroline Wolfson, Creative Consultant for Museum Hack

    • Did your last museum tour include wine and scandalous stories? Museum Hack tours do… plus gossip about the museum and selfies with a $45 million dollar painting. Creative Consultants of the renegade tour company the New York Times describes as having “a different sensibility”, share with you 4 ways Museum Hack reimagines the museum experience for millennials and people who think they don’t like Museums.

  • Training at America’s Largest Historic Home

    • Jan Douglas, Director of Guest Relations, Biltmore. Bryan Yerman, Manager of Guest Relations, Biltmore

    • With over 1.6 million visitors, Biltmore has the opportunity to welcome guests (visitors) from a wide spectrum of the public. Learn how we train our staff of over 120 employees on the art of hospitality, the mechanics of giving an engaging tour, and how to make history informative and entertaining to guests from all walks of life.


4:00 – 5:00 pm – Signature Session with Steve McClaine 




  • How to Avoid Museumsplaining and Create a Culture of Questioning

    • Andrea Jones, Peak Experience Lab

    • This workshop advocates a perspective shift away from the idea that museums must be the foremost authority on their chosen content area. Using “essential questions” to frame the content development for programs and exhibitions shifts the museum voice from that of top-down expert to co-learner. Interpretation that shows vulnerability and openness is more likely to receive that openness from visitors in return.

    • Workshop attendees will participate in experiential activities designed to illustrate the power of essential questions to engage, provoke, and spark self-reflection. They will also have the opportunity to practice this mindset by creating their own museum experiences that use questions to frame content in new ways.

    • Andrea Jones is an independent consultant and master educator with 20 years experience as a change agent and professional rabble-rouser. She is a cheerleader for immersive experiences, complex stories, and big questions over trivial facts. She works with museums across the country to reinvent storytelling and interpretive methods. In 2016, her team won the award for “Innovation in Museum Education” from the American Alliance of Museums.  Operating under the name Peak Experience Lab, her clients include Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, National Museum of Natural History, Wisconsin Historical Society, and The First Amendment Museum among others. She blogs at

  • Universal Design and Design Thinking: An End-User Approach to Accessibility in the Arts

    • John Orr, Executive Director, Art-Reach

    • In this workshop attendees will take part in an interactive experience where they learn to apply design thinking techniques to develop solutions in accessible arts engagement. Based on actual accessible program examples, participants will be challenged to develop new perspectives on accessibility and disability, while placing the needs of the end-user first. This will be a fun, interactive – at times, probably irreverent – workshop with a goal of placing the disability rights movement mantra, ‘Nothing About Without Us’ at the forefront of arts engagement.

  • Modernizing an Icon: Behind the front lines at the Philadelphia Museum of Art 

    • Jessica Sharpe, Director of Visitor Operations and Membership, Philadelphia Museum of Art

    • Presentation

    • The Philadelphia Museum of Art is currently undergoing a major renovation designed by world renowned architect Frank Gehry. This project promises to modernize the museum and further enhance the visitor experience. Join Jessica Sharpe, Director of Visitor Operations and Membership, on a tour to learn more about this redesign and how her team operates while under construction. This tour will last approximately 2 hours at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

  • Interpreting Gender and Sexuality in the Museum

    • Margaret Middleton, Independent Exhibit Designer

    • In this workshop we will discuss why gender identity and sexual orientation are relevant to museum interpretation and how to interpret them accurately and respectfully. Participants will be introduced to examples of exhibits that have successfully addressed gender and sexuality and come away with case-making strategies and resources for confidently interpreting gender and sexuality at their museums.

  • Impact and Scalability: Building Civic Engagement into Every Museum

    • Kerry Sautner, Chief Learning Officer National Constitution Center

    • Rooted in the belief that museums can cultivate the next generation of active citizens, this session will ignite a conversation about programmatic strategies and interpretive techniques for promoting civic engagement. Hear how one museum designed opportunities for students to think critically about the world and their roles in it, creating positive change in their local communities beyond museum walls. Speakers from the National Constitution Center will share what happens when we approach each learner as a future participant in our democracy.

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