The Question of Questions (SF)

San Francisco, CA. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is the “center for the art of doing something about it.” The description of the YBCA Fellows program is fascinating; it brings together creative citizens from across the Bay Area (artists and everyday people) to engage in a yearlong process of inquiry, dialogue, and project generation.


The question for each year comes out of the annual YBCA summit. I came across this one posted in the museum lobby for visitors to respond to. On the museum floor, it raises it’s own question; what question is most affective to ask visitors directly?


Usually the goal for a museum question is for it to be open to everybody and speculative (not right or wrong). It should illicit an immediate and authentic response that draws on personal experience. It should also be thoughtful and provocative, prompting an interest in the response of others. We need to care about the answer, and it needs to be sincere, more than a token gesture, so that visitors know that their answers are taken seriously.


Museum staff know how hard it is to ask a question that truly engages visitors. Specific questions are too much like a test, definitions are too impersonal, and superlatives are problematic. This question most likely falls into the category of too general or too abstract. Maybe it’s a problem of the form; a post-it wall in the lobby environment, without context. Perhaps if it was a seating area with a few YBCA Fellows there in person to answer to, it might lead to actual discussions and something deeper to bring back to the Fellows group.