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Zahava Doering, PhD

Senior Fellow

Zahava Doering is a senior social scientist at the Smithsonian Institution and also serves as editor of Curator: The Museum Journal, the museum field’s leading peer-refereed journal of scholarship and practice, and senior fellow at Slover Linett Audience Research. A University of Chicago-trained quantitative sociologist and ethnographer, she has nearly three decades of experience in social science research and visitor studies in museums.

The co-author of several influential papers about the nature of the museum experience—including “Strangers, Guests or Clients: Visitor Experiences in Museums” (1999)—Doering has been recognized internationally for advancing thinking about the relationship between cultural institutions and their publics. She consults, lectures, and leads workshops and seminars for museums and other institutions throughout the United States and abroad, including New Zealand, Australia, Spain, India, and South Africa.

At the Smithsonian, Doering has directed a wide array of studies among the institution’s audiences, members, and staff, from rigorous, published research on visitor experiences and exploratory studies to inform exhibition development, to quantitative and qualitative assessments of exhibition and education programs . She has also been involved in organizational, strategic, and planning studies, especially as they pertain to effective and efficient museum user experiences. During her tenure at the Smithsonian — starting in 1987 when she was invited to be the founding director of the Institutional Studies Office, reporting directly to the secretary of the Institution — Doering has been committed to the development of an internationally renowned program of basic research.

Her research interests include the role of museums in the lives of individuals and communities, especially identity formation and promotion of the social-justice functions of museums. Increasingly, her work has involved participating in exhibition design and development as part of the project teams, both at the Smithsonian and as adjunct sociologist to Thinc Design, a NY-based exhibition development firm. 

As editor of Curator: The Museum Journal, Doering holds an appointment with the California Academy of Sciences, which owns the journal, and helps maintain close ties between academic and professional discourse in the international museum field. She serves on the board of the Council of American Jewish Museums and has been chair of the Committee on Audience Research and Evaluation at the American Alliance of Museums and a member of the editorial Board of the Visitor Studies Association. She commutes between Washington, DC and New York City.

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March 14, 2014 | Nicole Baltazar

Multiculturalism is key for creating inclusive arts experiences


Last month, Coca-Cola aired its now-famous Super Bowl ad depicting people from various racial, ethnic, and cultural groups singing “America the Beautiful” together in different languages. Among the instant outpouring of polarized reactions to this ad rang much praise for its depiction of a multicultural America. Yet the ad provoked a slew of negative responses as well. Many of the ad’s detractors questioned whether this multicultural America could ever feel as cohesive as an America whose citizens speak a common language, and therefore have taken great strides toward assimilating into a common culture.

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