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From Exhibit to Action: The Impact of Museum Experiences on Visitors’ Social Justice Actions

Thesis by Eileen Tomczuk (2018)

Over the last few decades, many museums have embraced roles as agents of social change. In particular, museums on civil rights and human rights are intentional about their efforts to motivate visitors to social action. However, researchers have not demonstrated a link between in-gallery experiences and post-visit social justice behaviors. The purpose of this study was to discover whether and in what ways adult visitors are inspired to take social action after visiting museums on civil and human rights. Using a qualitative survey design, data were collected through online questionnaires completed by 244 adult visitors at three museums, four to six weeks after their visit. This study found that the majority of visitors took non-routine social actions after visiting a museum. Sharing information was the most popular category of action, but visitors also participated in a wide variety of other social actions. Visitors believed the museums influenced their decisions to act and they recalled their emotional and intellectual responses to museum content as sources of inspiration. These findings inform museums’ efforts to engage visitors in social action and help guide further research into the inspirational aspects of museum experiences. Findings also have implications for how audiences and museum professionals will perceive the role of museums in society in future years.

Keywords: Class of 2018, Museum Studies, museology, Communication and the Arts, Museums, Social Action, Social Change, Visitor Studies


Tomczuk, E., Luke, Jessica, Gomez, Ricardo, & Yee, Shirley. (2018). From Exhibit to Action: The Impact of Museum Experiences on Visitors’ Social Justice Actions. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.