Entrance to Mia, the Minneapolis Institute of Art

Carlson School team helps Mia prepare to reopen

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

How many people, standing 6-feet apart, can you fit into a 400,000 square foot building and safely move them through it? The Mia, formerly Minneapolis Institute of Art, turned to the Carlson School for an answer as they prepared to re-open since closing the doors in March due to COVID-19.

Full-time MBA student Meenakshi Ramalingam

Meenakshi Ramalingam, ’21 MBA, led the Carlson School team, which included Marketing Professor Mark Bergen and several fellow students, who were up for the challenge facing Minnesota’s largest museum. After talking with Eric Bruce, Mia’s head of visitor experience and insight, and his team about their goals and receiving an architectural audit of the museum, it was time to get working on a capacity calculator that could handle the complexities of the existing facility.

“Some high-traffic spaces in the museum required us to try for more than six feet of distance between visitors, such as bathrooms, coat closets, and the café,” said Meenakshi, who is interning with Microsoft this summer. “Other spaces are constrained by other exhibits, certain immovable objects, and we couldn’t forget that museum staff would be present too.” That’s not to mention staircases, hallways and other places where people are likely to meet.

Creating the model was an iterative process. Working closely with Eric and his team, Meenakshi and her team provided a workable solution in short order, allowing Mia to determine a fixed capacity for any space in the museum.

However, to answer a different set of questions about visits to ticketed special exhibits — an important revenue stream for the museum — a second model was built. This one addressed how many people could safely be admitted at one time, how frequently admissions should occur, how to regulate the flow of visitors, and more.

“We’ve had a keen eye to capacity and flow from the start, and now we’re in a position to understand that pretty well,” Bruce, who also serves as an advisory board member of the Carlson School’s Institute on Research in Marketing, told MinnPost recently.

The models worked so well that generic versions were shared across the nation with the Visitor Studies Association, the American Alliance of Museums, and other networks.

Professor Mark Bergen

Meenakshi admits “that part of it feels unreal. My focus was the Mia, and to create something useful for all museums as they think about opening to the communities they’re a part of, felt like I had contributed to something meaningful.”

“It’s been a pleasure and honor to work with Meenakshi and Eric Bruce and his team at Mia,” said Bergen, a renowned expert in marketing. “Fellow professors and students from across the Carlson School are working with Mia on possible research studies and experiential learning projects. The museum is a wonderful partner that allows us to tackle real-world challenges while helping students hone their skills.”

Additional Carlson School team members include: Nick Baudoin, ’21 MBA; Dillon McBrady, ’21 MBA; and Quentin Nilsen, ’21 BSB.



Ongoing partnership

This project is the latest collaboration between the Carlson School and Mia.

Varsha Mohanraj, ’21 MBA, worked extensively with Mia last summer while interning there and, later, worked as an employee conducting an internal analysis of Mia's stakeholders and their needs for customer data. Students from the Carlson School Graduate Volunteer Corps—Joyce Ferry, Lauren Nakamura, Kimberly Rosenfield, Lindsay Sacco, and Jennifer Ritter, all ’21 MBA—also participated in a separate project. Students in Associate Professor Alison Xu’s buyer behavior course, and College of Liberal Arts Professor William Beeman’s business anthropology course, also participated in experiential learning projects with Mia.

Mia plans to reopen July 16, with capacity limited for now, of course.