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Arts and Analytics in the Big Apple: Heinz Team Partners with New York’s MoMA

Cross-disciplinary Heinz students address engagement and delivery models for MoMA and other major arts organizations

By Scott Barsotti

Cross-disciplinary problem solving is in Heinz College’s DNA—as it is for all of Carnegie Mellon University. That idea was never on greater, or more successful, display than in multiple recent Capstone Projects completed for prominent New York cultural organizations, including one for the venerated Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).

Working with MoMA, an interdisciplinary team of students from the Master of Arts Management (MAM), Master of Information Systems Management (MISM), and Master of Science in Public Policy and Management (MSPPM) programs were tasked with delivered a new model of engagement that would better reach the museum’s local New York audience.

“Arts organizations big and small now realize that data and technology-based solutions can help them better serve audiences, artists, and their communities. At Heinz, that gives us the opportunity to bring together these diverse teams,” said Kathryn Heidemann, director of the Master of Arts Management (MAM) program and assistant dean of Heinz College and the College of Fine Arts—the MAM program is a joint degree offered in partnership between the two colleges.

“Projects like these don’t happen anywhere else, especially when you consider that it’s a hands-on, real-world process working for a client like MoMA. That’s a priceless experience for these students,” said Heidemann.

Deepening the connection between MoMA and New Yorkers

MoMA came to Heinz College with a problem. Attendance has been growing in recent years, but the museum believed it could do even better at engaging local New Yorkers, whom it considers an essential constituent group. MoMA’s leadership asked the Heinz College team to devise evidence-based strategies to improve local engagement.

“A key piece of this project was defining what engagement means to an art museum so that we could effectively measure it. Working on a diverse team of tech, policy, and arts experts proved to be essential while creating a thoughtful approach and in-depth analysis specific to the MoMA,” said Chanelle Labash, a member of the Heinz student team who recently graduated from the MSPPM program.

The team analyzed data from multiple sources, including ticketing, retail, educational and special events, and social media data from the client, as well as other public data.

Within these datasets, the students examined how engagement differs for each of New York’s five boroughs. Over the past three years, Manhattan has been the “most engaged” borough—which was expected, due to MoMA’s Midtown location. However, the data helped the team to understand the engagement dynamics and behaviors of New Yorkers from the other four boroughs, as well as gain key insights into who the museum’s visitors tend to be in terms of attributes like household income and zip code.

The student team made recommendations regarding MoMA’s extended hours—evenings through the week when the museum stays open later, aimed at working New Yorkers who cannot visit during typical operating hours. MoMA currently has “Free Friday Nights,” but the students saw other opportunities that may be more appealing to the local audience and boost visitation among members and guests.

The students also conducted a social media analysis for MoMA. Social media can play a hugely important role for artistic and cultural institutions, helping them to understand what the audience experience is like and to communicate directly with the public.

Given the “local” scope of the problem, the team use analytics to identify social media posts that originated in New York City, and then separated out native residents from the rest. The team was then able to provide a detailed picture of New Yorkers’ sentiments about MoMA, and what creates desirable social engagement.

Further analysis showed patterns in social media mentions, defining whether those mentions were being driven by the museum, or by outside forces and events.

The MoMA team had this to say about the project: "We value data input into decision-making at MoMA and also value external perspectives. It was great to work with the CMU team on blending data across a range of such sources to add perspective into how we could broaden our reach and engagement across all five boroughs of New York City.”

Connecting people, policy, technology, and the arts

Another recent project, completed for a major New York-based performing arts organization, tapped a second hybrid MAM-MISM team to analyze a critical hurdle it was facing in technology adoption. In that case, the student team made recommendations related to service delivery, logistics, and end-user experience.

“What’s remarkable is that you can put these students from different programs at the same table, and while they have different types of skill, their Heinz training means they all know how to speak each other’s language and lean on each other’s strengths,” said Heidemann.

“That’s what Heinz College is all about. The arts and policy students and the tech students aren’t afraid of what the other is doing, and there’s genuine enthusiasm where these domains intersect.”


This Capstone Project, titled “Increasing Engagement of New Yorkers at the MoMA,” was completed by Ahmad Salah Ud Din (MISM ‘17), Cecilia Forero (MISM ‘17), Disha Gupta (MISM ‘17), Wang Han (MISM ‘17), Chanelle Labash (MSPPM ‘17), and Evan Zajdel (MAM ‘17).

Learn more about the MAM Program

Learn more about the MISM Program

Learn more about the MSPPM Program