Rachel Ropeik, The Value of Staying Out of the Box, Freelance Museum Adventurer

Rachel Ropeik is a museum educator and museum adventurer who brings thoughtful, playful, and progressive approaches to engaging people with art. (rachelropeik.com)

Experienced and sought after museum professional in many facets, Rachel has worked for the Guggenheim Museum, Brooklyn Museum, MoMA, the Met, Dulwich Picture Gallery, The Courtauld Gallery in London, Smarthistory?the Khan Academy online. Creator of high-end educational travel content. Also, she has taught and been a contributor at Pratt Institute, New York City Museum Educators Roundtable, NYCMER, Museum Computer Network, and the American Alliance of Museums. Prolific creator of digital and in person engagements emphasizing discussion and empathy building around art and ideas, Rachel’s work goes beyond the confines of digital or simply educational. She has worked for and designed dynamic engagements such as Verbal Description audio Guides (GOAL: to increase access for museum visitors who are blind, have low vision, or are fully sighted though vivid descriptions of specific artworks) Summer of Know (GOAL: to stimulate museum visitors’ thoughts about current world events during extended hours programming in the summer), and One Hour, One Object (GOAL: to facilitate deeper, slower looking for museum visitors).  (rachelropeik.com)

My goal in interviewing Ms. Ropeik was to learn about her philosophy and approach to designing engagement programs and to find her advice and reactions to my project’s idea to bring the principles of the Law of Attraction into our busy digital lives in combination with an art gallery’s collection. My interview had an overarching agenda to introduce myself, the project, and my idea. Also from the beginning, I wanted to provide Rachel with my audience interview findings and the evolving solutions to those ‘problems to be solved’. I hoped for her to give me some ideas about where she might go with something like my idea, what to keep in mind while moving forward based on her vast experience and lastly to glean advice about a career in museums today.  Rachel reaffirmed my firndings that most engagers today are dealing with digital fatigue greater than any other time, that their patience for meaningless experiences is less than ever, and she also confirmed that audiences are reaching for joy, pleasure, and depth of connection. Rachel complimented and encouraged my ideas around bringing well-being into an initiative and attaching that to art in some way, that art and reflection are meaningful and sought after events in audiences lives. We discussed Prof. Allen Grey’s advice to me to find ways to interconnect engagers with each other and Rachel told me of a few examples to spir my ideas. She spoke about an empathy building activity she ran through a Zoom workshop she developed for the surrounding art collectives in and around the Aspen Art Museum where participants were partnered and “took a walk” together taking their Zoom partner along. Seeing the other’s life and perspective gave conversation and relatable contexts for the participants. Another mindful activity during this workshop was a simple reading event where each partner read a recent important passage and discussed its significance. Several other ideas we discussed that seemed to connect with my idea and solution was the SFMOMA “show me” project we about in class and the Tate Museums’ similar project called the Magic Tate Ball where participants could find a piece of art and life reflection with the listening device that “read” your ambient surroundings and presented a piece reflecting that scene. We laughed that it’s like Shazam for art. “It’s interesting to see how art can show up in our lives in different ways” was her comment. I too believe that it’s interesting and also very related to the ideas of the Laws of Attraction which emphasize that our current vibrations bring forward in our lives the next manifestation. What an insightful and immediate way to see what we might be manifesting with our vibrations! 

Another great takeaway idea from my interview with Rachel was something like a gift or art card pack that could contain a relevant Law of Attraction idea couple with a piece of art and additionally with a QR Code that could link a participant with further discussion, reflection, or even the ability to connect with other people in and around the art and the laws. 

Thanks to Rachel’s sincere encouragement that being completely out of the box in terms of experience in creating digital engagement previously is a benefit and he belief that what is orbiting a creator’s mind at the moment is a great thing to go with and to see where that leads you, I feel like I can move forward and know that my idea has some merit in the museum digital engagement world. I feel good about further morphing my project toward an Art Card concept that can be both digital and tangible. It also simplifies the project which has been a needed element from the broad ideas I had in the beginning. 

11 Comments Add yours

  1. Hey Kate! What a cool interview! Ropeik obviously has an impressive background working for some of the most prestigious museums in the world. One thing that I thought was interesting was her use of the Law of Attraction when it comes to social media. This is something I have heard about but I have never seen it implemented in this way. Your conversation had me looking at digital media in a different way!

  2. Stephanie Ho says:

    Hi Kate,
    Rachel’s comment about “digital fatigue” really resonated with me — and, to be honest, I can imagine it touches a nerve with many other people in the world these days too! Yes — we definitely are impatient for meaningless experiences! I also appreciated her observation that “audiences are reaching for joy, pleasure, and depth of connection.” There is nothing that replaces in-person engagement, and I think that’s what is at the heart of her work and your project! Having art cards means you have chosen to have something tangible, which users need to hold in their hands to engage with. Yes, there may be QR codes involved, but the card, a material thing, is the first step.

  3. Sarah Freda says:

    Thanks for sharing, Kate! I love Rachel’s description as a Freelance Museum Adventurer – it seems so fitting.

    What I found really interesting was her Zoom workshop where partners “take a walk” together. Coming from a science perspective, I’m thinking about how to apply this to other fields. I’m picturing pairing people together who live in different ecosystems and walking around, showing the flora and fauna, talking about the weather, etc. For a history setting, maybe sharing a family photo album and inherited objects passed down for generations. I feel like people are so eager to connect with others, but may need guidance on what to talk about. Using museums as a mediator for discussion is a great place to start!

  4. Alycia Lampley says:

    I love the art card idea! A Shazam for art?! That’s a really cool interactive – and I honestly think it would train the eye a bit. This was a great interview. Ropeik’s ideas about Digital fatigue and the need to continue incorporating well-being and art together were great, I think it touches on the importance of wellness and our emphasis on it, especially digitally, where we’ve been limited in the exchange of in-person experiences and feeding off of each other’s in-person energy, body language, etc. I feel like we operate on multiple levels online and many times it requires extra interpretive effort, so finding a way to convey the depth of something digitally and maintain tangibility so people can get that experience too would be great.

  5. Kenny Clink says:

    Hi Kate,

    I liked the idea of “Shazam for Art.” I use Shazam all the time and an app for art could be useful for someone like me who’s art knowledge extends to “Starry Night” “David” and “Washington Crossing the Delaware” and the like. I think something like that could also be useful for smaller artists to have something like SoundCloud’s system to track their views, likes, and overall interest in a particular piece of art with maybe even providing an option for the artist to sell prints through the museum.

    It would also be really cool to have moderated forums that allows users/visitors to continue their discussion of particular pieces online with specific threads moderated by museum staff.

  6. Jenna Kimberlin says:

    First of all, it cannot be ignored that this woman has some amazing style and I just adore it. Her work in creating empathy through art is very inspiring and I personally believe (as do many) that the world is very lacking in empathy right now. Finding and nurturing it in people would solve a lot of conflict in our country, in our whole world. Considering how much “digital fatigue” people have, her project to create engaging Zoom workshops where people interact one-on-one was a nice way to create thoughtful connections. I would have liked to have taken part in that. I’m happy she was able to help you tap into more creativity and add an Art Card component to your project! Thanks for introducing us to Ms. Ropeik.

  7. Carissa Johnson says:

    I am really glad that I am not the only one who accidentally or intentionally used the interview to “test out the waters” of the idea with a professional at the facility it was aimed for. Great interview in general by the way. I love the Shazam for art idea. Some people, like me, are very “dumb” in the art world and that would help out greatly.

  8. Mary Trosin says:

    Hi Kate, very cool interview and it sounds like you got a lot of good insight. Ropeik’s background is so impressive! I thought introducing such human concepts like empathy and the law of attraction to technology was really cool and something that we need now that we’re getting a lot of our connection through screens. Empathy and art obviously go hand in hand but it’s a bit more of a challenge to make empathy and tech mesh (but definitely something worth working on!) It’s also a bit different than everything we have seen in the past which is helpful with the problem of digital fatigue. Sounds like you’ve got some great ideas and were able to make them even stronger in this conversation!

  9. Hi Kate, it sounds like your interview was very cool and informative! The Shazam for art idea is GENIUS!! I would love to see something like that in the future in museums. Like Carissa said, I, too, am dumb in the art world and would love the convenience of Shazam-ing an art piece to learn more about it.

  10. Kristina Zapfe says:

    I enjoyed reading about Rachel’s focus on empathy building and the Magic Tate Ball, which is such an open-arms way to welcome visitors into the art world in an engaging and contemporary way. Same with the Law of Attraction idea. Great interview!

  11. Deena Deutsch says:

    Impressive background!

    I love her mention of audio-descriptions for vision impaired, and the use of a single object for deep, slow looking. Her observation about pervaissive digital fatigue are spot on just now, and her insights about the need for more deeply meaningful experiences are profound, as we being to emerge from the trauma of a horrific year.

    Her observations (and your intuition) about the ways art “shows up” in our lives validates my sense that we become accuately aware of those things we are in most need. It sounds as though you are really on to something here, Kate, and working in concert with Ropeik would position you to make a significant contribution to those in great need of your talents.

Leave a Reply