After hearing Sheri Chaney Jones, president of Measurement Resources Company and SureImpact, Inc., speak during a webinar hosted by Cincinnati-based Leadership Council for Nonprofits, a team from the Cincinnati Art Museum reached out to Measurement Resources about a new research project they had planned for summer 2021.

As the COVID-19 pandemic developed in spring 2020, many social sector organizations had to get creative to continue to operate safely. Fortunately, the Cincinnati Art Museum (CAM) has creativity in spades. That same spring, CAM opened an innovative, new outdoor space called Art Climb, a nine-story grand staircase interspersed with art platforms. Here, people can view sculptures, many of which are on loan from Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park & Museum, have picnics, work out, or simply gather while practicing social distancing.

CAM’s Green Team and horticulturalist were instrumental in transforming the hillside where Art Climb now sits. What had previously been a chaotic mess of non-native invasive plants and brambles, is now an orderly and aesthetically pleasing environment surrounding the Art Climb. CAM’s Green Team also partnered with the Women’s Committee at the museum and a local organization called the Queen City Pollinator Project to launch an Adopt-a-Bee program in the summer, where people could support the project by donating money and naming a bee.

“We were curious about how to evaluate this new space,” said Caitlin Tracey-Miller, assistant director of Visitor Research and Evaluation, CAM. “Art Climb is an extension of our museum, but the experience is much different than walking through the galleries and looking at the paintings.”

Measurement Resources and the CAM team discussed CAM’s desired outcomes, and various ways they might consider approaching larger-scale projects with measurable outcomes in mind. Together, they brainstormed ways to measure Art Climb.

“While we’re fortunate in that we have an in-house analytics team, it was useful to seek external perspectives on how to evaluate this new, non-traditional space,” said Tracey-Miller. “Our conversations with Measurement Resources informed our instrument-building for this project.”

With the help of summer intern Rob Kluse, CAM launched its research on Art Climb in summer 2021. The team also conducted observation studies to record how visitors were using Art Climb and how long they were staying. Additionally, they performed intercept interviews, where they stopped visitors to ask them how they heard about Art Climb, what their expectations were prior to coming, and what they would like to see on Art Climb in the future.

“Because it’s a new space, we’re still navigating how best to program it, and learning what our communities want from this new space,” said Tracey-Miller. “We really did have to get creative about evaluating a space that was outside, and during a time when the pandemic was front-and-center in people’s minds. We wore masks when approaching visitors, and we also had a QR code option if people didn’t want to pick up the iPad we had with us.”