I'm not sure I'm qualified to answer your question, because I'm not observer but subject matter in this instance. I'm currently undertaking a residency with the Royal WA Historical Society, courtesy of DCA Short Term Artist in Residence funding. This funding is aimed specifically at benefitting heritage collections.
I hope that my presence is proving beneficial to the Society in promoting its collection to new audiences and allowing those already familiar with the collection to see it from a new perspective. My 30 day residency started in February but is being spread over six months, which is a mutually benefical arrangement.
It has allowed time for the curators and I to get to know each other and develop a good relationship, which is critical to the success of the residency. I have had the luxury of time for research and have not had to rush the development of ideas for my work. I've also been able to undertake a more comprehensive public program than would otherwise have been possible, giving a number of public talks and making visits to affilitated societies.
My one planned trip to the Eastern Goldfields as part of the residency seems to have quite spontaneously grown to three, and many unexpected connections are being made which will hopefully benefit the Society as well as myself.
The residency has passed the half way stage now, so it's far enough along for the Society to have an idea whether my presence has been beneficial. They've certainly been kind in making me feel that I am a welcome addition. This might have been different if I had been in a rush to gain access to resources, but by taking things slowly it has been possible to build the sort of trusting relationship which is essential if an artist is to be given behind the scenes access to a collection.
The curators and librarian have expressed genuine interest in my somewhat different way of approaching history and their collection. They've been tolerant of my ignorance on so many fronts and have been helpful in making suggestions for where to find answers. One curator has taken the gratifying extra step of collaboration, suggesting connections where I'd not thought to seek them.
I think it's probaby fair to say that the presence of an artist in residence has offered an additional focus for the Society's public activities, and that having a focus is proving beneficial in gaining publicity and increasing attendances. The Society's Museums Week open day had one launch and two talks (including a talk by myself). These focus events and related publicity brought in a total of approx 70 people, up from approx 15 last year when the curators were on hand to talk to visitors but no particular focus event was offered.
Maybe someone else will comment on how things are going from the Society's point of view. In the meantime, I'm writing a residency blog at http://wahistoryresidency.blogspot.com
My hope is that that the blog will generate some discussion and interaction through its comments facility. I'd love to hear from some of you.
I note your post is from a few months ago, but I thought if were still after some feedback on this topics I'd let you know about a seminar we held recently in Brisbane focusing on artists in residence and artist interventions in museums, held at the UQ Art Museum, 5 August. We have some video and mp3 files from the event available on our website, see the M&GSQ website at this link. The seminar featured artists Janet Laurence and Fiona Hall, academic Jennifer Barrett and artist/bureaucrat Yenda Carson. You may find some worthy info to inform your own project...