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MSLCE Students See Big Data in Action at the Art Institute of Chicago

By Leslie Zhu

Nothing in the Museum is ordinary. On Feb. 24, the MSLCE students were blown away by all the unconventional business strategies of the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) at a panel held at Rubloff Fellows Lounge in the museum.

As one of the oldest, largest, and greatest art museums in the U.S., the AIC is a leader and a pioneer in the museum industry. At the beginning of the session, Senior Vice President for Finance, Strategy, and Operations Andrew Siminick presented on the “Business Strategy at the Art Institute of Chicago.” He talked about how the museum uses data analysis tools and machine-learning approaches to keep the AIC relevant in the evolving market and expanding continuing outreach out to more audiences.

The structure of a museum is quite complex. However, the core of this structure is the art collection. Using their data analysis tools, AIC staff have analyzed over 200 factors in order to learn more about their exhibitions, attendance, memberships, and all events in the museum. They have also worked with the city government in order to better understand how tourism affects attendance. Based on the comprehensive data analysis, they can ultimately make more informed decisions on their collections.

Big data is no doubt the currency. The MSLCE program sets up a course called Culture and Arts Analytics, which introduces research on cultural markets, social media, and crowdsourcing, and provides tools to apply the research. It was encouraging for students who took this course to see the AIC putting what they have learned into real practice and making a difference for the institution.

In the following discussion, the MSLCE cohort got a chance to talk in more depth with Elizabeth Siegel, the Curator of Photography, Leslie Fitzpatrick, the Assistant Curator of European Decorative Arts, and Joseph Mohan, the Director of Production in the Publishing Department. They answered questions about what they did in the areas of curation, publishing, and how they worked with the administration of the museum. They also shared the stories behind several specific exhibitions in the past.  

At the end, Elizabeth addressed the founding mission of the AIC: to collect, preserve, and interpret works of art of the highest quality from across the globe for the inspiration and education of the visitor. No matter how the technology and environment is changing, a great museum will always stick to its core purpose, and then respond to the art of our time, engage more audiences, and endeavor to be  consistently exceptional. 

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