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We can do anything, but we can't do everything.

How human-centered design workshops created organizational alignment around the future of the Grand Rapids Art Museum.

In order to maintain accreditation with the American Alliance of Museums, every member museum is required to submit a detailed institutional plan every two years that supports sustainability and its mission. This plan must guide the museum’s acquisition, growth and allocation of resources, as well as include prioritized action steps, implementation timelines and delegations of responsibilities.

In addition to satisfying the requirements set by the AAM, this institutional plan presented the Grand Rapids Art Museum with a unique opportunity to define the long-term cultural trajectory of one of this city’s most prominent icons.

The Grand Rapids Art Museum’s institutional plan's due date was around the corner. In an innovative show of leadership, the GRAM’s Director and CEO Dana Friis-Hansen determined that a human-centered design approach would ensure the best outcome for the staff, board and members in the community. The GRAM contacted Visualhero to help design, lead and facilitate a series of workshops with over a hundred staff and board members throughout one month. The purpose of these meetings was to gather the collective input from every participant, then logically work through an infinite number of opportunities to identify key initiatives that support the GRAM’s culture, capacity and strategy for the next one, two and three years.

Visualhero designed a workshop structure that allowed for divergent, “what if?” thinking, but with an understanding that plans of action had to be made. Over the course of five, day-long meetings, members of the GRAM staff, board and leadership team discussed five high-level areas of focus: activate the museum experience, advance civic and cultural leadership, integrate innovation skills, expand the impact of art and build institutional strength.

Our approach to the meeting structure was guided by one statement:

“We can do anything, but we can’t do everything.”

Over the course of these meetings, we helped attendees identify areas for institutional improvement, opportunities for untouched success and actionable plans for implementation. While each session opened with a no-holds-barred “brain dump,” each day could only conclude once a list of specific strategic initiatives that supported the day’s topic were identified.

Getting to Results

First and foremost, the institutional plan was submitted on time, approved by the AAM and accreditation was given once again to the GRAM. More importantly, the findings from our workshops helped the GRAM identify a number of ways it can improve upon its role as the heart of the Grand Rapids arts culture. Significant, actionable plans were created to improve the visitor experience, the role of staff and the curatorial process. The culture, staff and leadership of the GRAM were also aligned around a vision for the future. By making connections through the design process, we helped elevate the GRAM to the same level as their world-renowned building.


“Visualhero was a great partner in helping our board and staff move through a complicated visioning process. Through smart, fun exercises, thoughtful analysis and powerful feedback, we produced a strategic plan that gets people excited.”

Dana Friis-Hansen Director and CEO, Grand Rapids Art Museum