My primary research focuses on systems thinking and cultural diversity and social justice issues in museum management. I have been working on research in museums and museum related issues for over eight years. My scholastic identity developed based on my training as a visual artist. From this, I became interested in the presentational aspects of art and later earned degrees in museum studies, art education, and public administration. Systems thinking as a theory appealed to me as it advocates for the interrelated connections and holistic thinking that are often lacking in museum settings. The holistic and inclusive nature of this theory and the management system based on it can also improve museums’ work in areas of social justice and community engagement. I became interested in cultural diversity and social justice issues as I personally feel the effect of exclusive and unjust society on a daily basis as a person of color, a woman, and an immigrant. Therefore, I naturally gravitated to research topics in these areas.
Though I spend most of my time and efforts on my primary research foci, I explore other secondary research topics occasionally. One such area is qualitative research methodology, which is something I work on naturally as I use various qualitative methodologies in my research practice and thus publications in this area are often by-products. Since studying methodologies can improve my research and help me share my approaches with other scholars, I anticipate that this will be an ongoing part of my future research.
While I will always explore and may develop new research interests, moving forward I like to continue to focus my energy and time on systems thinking in museums as I am currently planning two large projects in this area: writing a monograph and conducting a large scale field study (see below for more details).
Primary Research Area 1: Systems Thinking and Museums
My main research area is systems thinking applied to museum management. As a recent example, I co-edited a book entitled Systems Thinking in Museums: Theory and Practice (2017, published by Rowman & Littlefield) with Dr. Ann Rowson Love, associate professor of arts administration at the Florida State University. This book explores systems thinking and its practical implications using real-life museum examples to illuminate various entry points and stages of implementation. Its premise is that museums can be better off when they operate as open, dynamic, and learning systems as a whole as opposed to closed, stagnant, and status quo systems that are compartmentalized and hierarchical. This book offers to unravel complex theories as applied in practice through examples from national and international museums.
Another example in this research area is an article entitled “Micro Examination of Museum Workplace Culture: How Institutional Changes Influence the Culture of a Real World Art Museum” (2016) which was published in Museum Management and Curatorship. This paper explores how an art museum’s leadership, management structure, and internal communications influence its workplace culture. Using ethnographic inquiry and grounded theory, the paper demonstrates how a specific museum’s organizational culture is constructed and how it can be changed through various structural and value-driven changes based on an emerging theory of an organization as an open system. This paper argues that, by adopting qualities of a learning organization that constantly evolves and grows, museums can become more effective and efficient organizations with a positive, cohesive, and vision-driven workplace culture.
To continue working in this area, I recently received a book contract from Routledge with a working title of Transforming Museum Management: Using Evidence-Based Systems Thinking for Change based on three ethnographies conducted and to be conducted on the same art museum located in the Midwestern United States in 2011, 2015, and 2019. Through a deep examination of this museum’s changes internally and externally, the book aims to provide insights on how today’s museums can move beyond perceptions of elitism through managerial and cultural changes. The significant changes in the museum’s management system transformed it from mechanical, compartmentalized, and hierarchical to organic, collaborative, and network based. The third ethnography that I plan to conduct in summer 2019 will conclude this longitudinal study. This book will use this specific museum, its changes, and the results as an interpretive example to demonstrate how systems thinking can be a theory of change for museums. The expected completion date for this monograph is December 2020.
Another future effort of this research area is my recent grant application to the National Science Foundation (NSF) entitled “Systems Theory and Museum Management: Identifying, Refining, and Applying Structures and Strategies.” I am a lead PI for this project in collaboration with Neville Vakharia, associate professor and research director of arts administration at Drexel University. This research project attempts to test the effectiveness of systems thinking as management strategy for museums using large scale data for broader impact on museum management. I recently received an email from NSF that the proposal was rejected, but the rejection came with very detailed reviews including ways to improve the proposal for resubmission in 2018. In March 2018, my co-PI and I had a video conference with the NSF program director to discuss the details of reviewer comments and decided that we will revise and resubmit it for September 2018 deadline.
Primary Research Area 2: Diversity and Social Justice
Another main research area of mine is cultural diversity and social justice issues in arts administration and museum management. For example, I published an article entitled “Contemporary Understanding of Harlem on My Mind: What Can We Learn from an Art Museum’s Early Attempt toward Culturally Inclusive Practice?” (2016) which is published in the International Journal of the Inclusive Museum. The article is focused on a contemporary interpretation of the controversial exhibition, Harlem on My Mind, mounted at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC in 1969 by applying critical race theory and examining lessons learnt that are still relevant to today’s art museum practices. This article is a follow-up piece to the article, “Harlem on My Mind: A Step toward Promoting Cultural Diversity in Art Museums” which was published in the same journal in 2015.
Another example of research in this area is an article entitled, “Diversity Matters: Theoretical Understanding of and Suggestions for the Current Fundraising Practices of Nonprofit Art Museums” published in 2015 in the Journal of Arts Management, Law, and Society. Using the theory of the commons and social obligation theory of inclusion, this paper critically examines current art museum fundraising practices in the United States that rely too much on the traditional white, wealthy patrons. This leads museums to emphasize the limited interests of traditional donors, neglecting the needs of and potential support from their broader communities. This results in the tragedy of the anticommons, where museums are underused by diverse publics. This paper advocates for more inclusive relationship-based fundraising practices that build relationships with local community members and include their perspectives on fundraising practices through diversifying fundraising leadership, understanding diverse giving patterns, and utilizing innovative fundraising methods while remaining sensitive to cultural differences. This specific paper won the Wallace Foundation Content Competition Award which came with funding to attend the Association of Arts Administration Educators’ annual conference in 2017 to present the paper at that conference.
My ongoing work in this area includes “Gender Gap in Citations: Unconscious Gender Bias in Arts Administration Scholarship.” This article that I am working on with my colleague, Jill Schinberg (assistant professor of arts administration at UK), analyzes authors’ citation patterns based on their gender in two international arts administration journal articles published in the last 10 years to reveal a gender gap in citations in arts administration research. While we are still working on the write up of the research, preliminary results suggest that there are more female authors (54% of lead authors are female, 46% are male) publishing in the field of arts administration but they do not cite the equal percentage of female authors in their papers—30% of the references had female scholars as lead authors and 70% of the references had male lead authors. This study can identify the degree of gender gap in arts administration scholarship and can be part of equitable change toward gender representation in citations.
Secondary Research Areas
I am also interested in continuously developing my research methodology and increasing my understanding of the broader arts administration issues and theories. For example, I have written about how to conduct ethnographic case studies in museum settings and how to apply systems thinking as a conceptual model to study arts and educational organizations. More recently I have contributed a book chapter entitled “Mindful Walking: Transforming Distant Web of Social Connections into Active Qualitative Empirical Materials from a Contemporary Flâneuse’s Perspective” in a book entitled The Not-So-Idle Flâneur: A Metaphor for Knowing, Being Ethical, and Negotiating New Data Production (2018, edited by L. Lasczik & R. Irwin and published by Palgrave Macmillan). This chapter discusses how walking and bodily movements can become an important part of researchers’ understanding of the people, culture, and environment of the research site. By walking around and inserting oneself in various places and spaces, mindful walking becomes an intentional practice of qualitative research method to gather empirical materials and make sense of them through bodily emplacement and multisensory interactions.
The Quality and Significance of Publication Venues
I have become more conscious about where I publish my work, especially as I am moving toward more specific research areas that define who I am as a scholar. I have been primarily publishing my main research articles in the Journal of Arts Management, Law, and Society (JAMLS); Museum Management and Curatorship (MMC); and International Journal of the Inclusive Museum (IJIM) although I have contributed to other arts, education, and culture journals. JAMLS is one of the primary journals in the field of arts administration with acquired readership and reputation, and I have been going to its affiliated conference, Social Theory, Politics, and the Arts for several years now. It is a natural fit for my articles that are more broadly related to arts management issues (sometimes specific to art museum management). MMC is one of the most prominent museum journals in the field of museums. Its specific nature to my primary research area and its international readership make it an ideal place for me to present my work. More recently, I have been serving as an associate editor for the journal, contributing to shaping the field by working with a variety of authors. I plan to submit more articles for MMC in the future. IJIM, which is lesser known compared to JAMLS and MMC, has been a great venue to publish my work in cultural diversity and social justice issues. IJIM is the only journal that is focused on both museums and social justice issues within the museum field, so it became a natural venue for my work. In addition, it is an international journal and I have met several international scholars who became interested in my work through this journal and its affiliated conference, the International Conference on the Inclusive Museum.
Besides articles, I also work on books and book chapters. I found that books and book chapters are more accessible to a wider audience than journal articles (as one needs a special subscription or academic affiliation to get easy access to them) and are therefore especially effective in distributing my work to practitioners. This is why I write book chapters and recently edited a book on systems thinking. My edited book was published by Rowman & Littlefield (R&L), which is an official publisher for the American Alliance of Museums, the largest professional museum association in North America. For 2018 AAM conference, which was held in Phoenix, AZ, R&L had the only book store on the exhibition floor and had my book displayed and sold to conference attendees. This provides great exposure for my book to practitioners in my field in a way that other publishers would not. Additionally, my planned monograph is contracted with Routledge, which is focused on more academic, research-based books. Its cultural management and museum studies series are well-known in both fields of arts management and museum studies, having an established international readership.
I plan to continue working on my current research agenda in the near future. However, I would like to further develop and expand on my primary research area of systems thinking and museums by conducting a large scale research project that could have a broader and bigger impact in the field of museum management. I hear from museum practitioners that they do not know how to apply theory or research findings to their practice while researchers are saying that there is a huge gap between research and practice. One of the ways to close this gap is to produce more large scale empirical research that can show wider and more generalizable impact. The findings of these studies should be easily accessible to field practitioners. While case studies and best practice analyses which tend to be more qualitative are important, they are difficult to generalize. In other words, we need both qualitative and quantitative research to show both the larger application and nuanced context. So far, I have been primarily working on qualitative work. Moving forward I plan to devote more of my time to work on mixed methods and large-scale research. The grant submission to the National Science Foundation (described above) is a step toward that direction, and my co-PI and I plan to continue working on this research regardless of the funding decision.
I will maintain a more focused research agenda for the near future (in the next three to five years), completing the work that I have already started (e.g., NSF project and single-authored monograph). For my long-term work in the next ten years or so, I would like to focus on research that is lacking in museum management. For example, there is almost no research on financial management for museums in either academic- and practitioner-focused publications. Since financial management is my primary teaching area and I have been doing professional development in that area for both practice and research, I have been approached by a publisher with the idea of doing a book on this topic. While this will not happen right away, this is an unmet need in the field and something that I can work on in the future. In addition, I would like to expand the application of systems thinking to arts organizations in general, not just museums. The NSF grant project—when complete—has a great potential to make the theory of systems thinking more useful by operationalizing it for museums from an abstract idea. It can then be modified and applied to other arts and cultural organizations through a customized empirical research project.