“The Chrysler Museum exists to enrich and transform lives. We bring art and people together through experiences that delight, inform, and inspire.” This is the mission of the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, VA, and is evident in the museum’s unique Gallery Hosts program. Colleen Higginbotham, Director of Visitor Services at The Chrysler, created the program in order to improve visitor experience at the museum. Gallery Hosts are customer service staff that roam the galleries in place of security guards. Their job is not just to keep the art safe, but also “to make people feel welcomed, relaxed, and comfortable in the presence of art,” according to director Bill Hennessey. The current team of Gallery Hosts is comprised of artists, businessmen, retirees, historians, students, and others, all of whom are specially trained in customer service as well as the Chrysler’s collection.
Gallery Hosts are authorized to do whatever necessary to meet a visitor’s needs (short of harm a person or an artwork). This means that duties include everything from the expected (answering visitor questions, providing directions, and registering visitors for programs) to the unexpected (providing first aid and jump-starting a visitor’s car).
Because Gallery Hosts are authorized to do whatever it takes to help a visitor, the program requires buy-in from museum staff beyond the customer service level. For example, Gallery Hosts may call on curators at any time to answer a visitor question that is beyond their own scope of knowledge on a work of art. One out-of-town visitor was unable to locate a specific artwork in the galleries, so a Gallery Host took the guest behind-the-scenes to the painting’s location – in director Bill Hennessey’s office!
More information on The Chrysler’s innovative Gallery Host program is available at the museum’s website as well as in the new book Magnetic: The Art and Science of Engagement. In Magnetic, authors Anne Bergeron and Beth Tuttle use six museums to demonstrate how “powerful internal alignment and compelling vision…attract loyal and engaged audiences.” Magnetic is available from The AAM Press.
Image: Chrysler Museum Gallery Host Michael Berlucchi helps two young visitors understand the mythological stories behind the neoclassical sculptures. Gallery Hosts welcome guests, give some context to the works on view, and ensure the safety of both the visitors and the art. Photo by Kathy Kenney for the chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA.