As museums work to make themselves more diverse and inclusive, efforts are focused on hiring, collections, and what is being presented in the galleries. Staff go through diversity trainings. Surveys are given to museum visitors to gauge what they want to see. With the desire to broaden their audiences and create welcoming spaces, museums can overlook an opportunity to better understand what makes them unappealing and intimidating: ask the people who don’t visit your museum why they don’t go. The “Look at art. Get paid.” (LAAGP) program does exactly this. Founded by artists Maia Chao and Josephine Devanbu, LAAGP is what it sounds like, people are paid to be critics and give their impressions of museums and art. Chao and Devanbu recruited people from historically marginalized communities who had either never been to a museum before or rarely visit museums to share their thoughts and perspectives. LAAGP ran their pilot at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in 2016. The program’s motive was explained in a distributed critic workbook as follows,
“Museums serve a small segment of the population. These are the same people who give the Museum most of the feedback it gets. As someone who does not typically go to art museums, you bring a fresh eye. What might the frequent museum visitors be overlooking?
We don’t aim to make you a frequent visitor of the Museum. We don’t believe that regular museum attendance is necessary to lead a creative life. We don’t seek to educate you in this handbook; we hope to give you permission and tools to look at the Museum critically. We want to learn from you.
We don’t yet know what we’ll do with our findings. We’re leaving it open.”
Marabou appreciates LAAGP for numerous reasons. It acknowledges that there are important reasons why some people don’t like museums or don’t visit them, and seeks to find out why. Participants are given agency and compensated; the information they provide is valuable research and is acknowledged for its value. LAAGP is interested in listening. Established museum power dynamics dictate that the museum’s voice is dominant and that visitors are there to learn. LAAGP is giving power back to the visitor and honors their authority on their own experiences within the museum.
LAAGP is moving to expand and make museum partnerships for 2019-2020. Marabou hopes LAAGP and its model becomes increasingly popular as museums do the real work of making themselves more inclusive.