Troubleshooting on a Tour
Even if you have the best preparation, you will run into various challenges on your tours. This section of the Tour Toolkit provides some possible options for action when you encounter certain challenges.
Visitors touch the art
Occasionally you may see a visitor touching objects on your tour or in the galleries. If this happens on your tour, just reiterate the one-foot rule with the whole group and be sure to model that rule yourself.
For visitors who are not on your tour, alert any security guards in the vicinity to the problem, or if you feel comfortable, you may politely ask the person not to touch. If it is a very young child touching the art, approach the accompanying adult rather than the child.
At the start of a school tour, offer a brief explanation of why it is important not to touch. This can be a proactive strategy as you then will be able to refer back to the points that were made within the tour introduction. Depending upon the age of your group, you might consider the following approaches:
Procedure for an unruly or oppositional group
Effective group management is a key aspect of a successful school tour. Every group will have its own dynamic. You learn quickly to read that dynamic and adjust group management as the tour progresses. If you have a group that remains unruly or oppositional, endangering themselves and the artworks, you should take the following action:
A pre-tour video is now available in three languages (English, Spanish, and Somali) on the Mia website. Many classes will have watched the video before visiting, helping better set expectations for the tour.
Viewing an artwork or participating in discussion may trigger a traumatic moment or life experience for a visitor.
When this happens, it is important to support how the visitor feels at that moment. While the emotion or thought the visitor has about the art may not link to the stated meaning of the art or artist’s intent, avoid correcting any emotional response. Remember that art is interpreted in many different ways. Acknowledge the visitor’s comments and thank the person for sharing their thoughts.
If this happens during a school tour, paraphrase the response as best you can, then ask a new question about the artwork to shift the conversation. Be sure to communicate the episode to the teacher or ask a chaperone to communicate what happened to the classroom teacher if you are unable to connect following the tour.
Answering difficult questions
At times, visitors will ask questions that are difficult to answer. If it is merely a question concerning a certain fact about the artist or artwork you may not know, just acknowledge by saying “I don’t know.” Ask the group if anyone else would have an answer or thought on the question. No one has all the answers when it comes to art!
Visitors also may ask questions about the provenance of an artwork, such as “Where did this come from? How did the museum happen to get this artwork?” You especially may receive these questions when discussing art with a funerary context, such as the Coffin and Cartonnage of Lady Tashat or the Nayarit House Group. Those are hard questions to accurately answer for many artworks. As stated on the Mia website, the Minneapolis Institute of Art is committed to conducting research on works in its permanent collection as an integral part of its mission. The museum welcomes any information that may further clarify the provenance of artworks in its collection, and it follows all established guidelines for the ethical collection and purchase of artworks.
However, it is right to acknowledge that collecting art during the time of American and European colonialism resulted in many artworks entering into museum collections from countries or cultures who did not have the power to retain their cultural heritage. An example would be the bronze objects from the Benin Kingdom on display in our African art galleries. Some cultures today seek the return of objects that were looted or secured during times of oppression for their country or people. This is not an issue Mia is alone in facing, as it impacts all encyclopedic museums in our country and Europe. Currently, we have no calls for return of any artworks in Mia’s collection, but if such a request is made, the museum is committed to an ethical and careful examination of any claims.
Encountering racist or prejudiced comments
When discussing art, you may encounter comments from a visitor that strike you as racist or prejudiced, perhaps in the dismissal of the artist or their work or as a statement of what the visitor values. You may want to ask for clarification, to ensure that the meaning was clear. You could do that by asking , “Tell me more about that … .” If it becomes clear that the comment was motivated by racism or other prejudices, do not enter into a direct repudiation or confrontation with the visitor.
As Nam Provost, Mia’s Diversity and Inclusion manager, advises, you will be unable to change any opinion held by that person in a short exchange on a tour. However, you must consider the “truth in the room.” You do not want that person’s expression to be the last statement heard by other people in the tour group. So you can simply respond to that person’s comment by saying, “That is not what I have found” or “That has not been my experience,” and then move on to another question or artwork.
As always, reach out to staff for support with any issues or challenges you encounter in the galleries. We all learn through such experiences!