Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series on ArtMuseumTeaching.com during August that focuses on the recent book Multiculturalism in Art Museums Today (2014). Find links below to additional posts in this series by several of the book’s authors, and please join us for an Online Book Club via Google Hangout on August 20th.
Written by Marianna Pegno and Traci Quinn, University of Arizona
In our chapter entitled “Collaborating with Communities: New Conceptualizations of Hybridized Museum Practice” in Multiculturalism in Art Museums Today (2014), we explore Homi K. Bhabha’s ideas of hybridity and cultural translation as they apply to our own practices. We focused on two programs — Peaceful Migrations and Giving Voice — wherein participant voice was key to creating content, programmatic structures, and exhibition design. In this reflection we demonstrate how these guiding frameworks continue to inspire our practice as museum educators and researchers, and further explore how we utilized these ideas while developing an exhibition entitled [IN] Translation. Focusing on the concept of hybridity, we reflect on three continuing issues:
- the difficulties of including many voices;
- persistent hierarchy and departmental separation in museums; and
- our desire to include the museum visitor as a key player in hybrid museum practice.
Bhabha (1994) explains hybridity as an act that “entertains difference without an assumed or imposed hierarchy” (p. 5). Through this lens, we view the museum as a place of multiple meanings that produces a mixing and mingling of ideas, opinions, and creative visions. For museum educators, it can foster new ways of thinking about educational practice, programmatic structure, and exhibition content not as separate entities but as collaborating endeavors. Thus, through the process of developing [IN]Translation, our goal was to work with audiences and artists to rethink how the museum pedagogy can be more experiential in nature. We were working to transform the museum into an empowering environment that conversed with multiple narratives rather than simply our own curatorial or educational voice.
Thoughts After Publication
We continue to grapple with hybridity as it relates to museum education and institutional structures. In the development of educational programs we are trying to include as many voices as possible — which is not always easy. We have continued working with refugee families who participated in Giving Voice to develop in-gallery activities in which participants collaboratively created narratives about artworks in the museum. As a result, some of these reflections were affixed as a wall label next to the respective artwork, empowering refugee participants to display ideas about an artwork. While the institution has been more accepting of our work to reflect hybridity within the museum space, it is not as widely pervasive as we would like and only selectively displayed and included.
In relation, we constantly face inquiries and pushback from individuals and colleagues who are unfamiliar with the projects or who have no desire to make museum practice more collaborative across departments and with audiences. The projects we discussed in the book chapter and the projects we continue to develop & research take significant effort and time in order to avoid falling back into the institutional habits of hierarchy.
Individuals that do not have a relationship with the projects are often reluctant to participate in shared planning – or simply cannot dedicate the necessary time. We believe that their experience in the field is invaluable to the success of collaborative efforts, and yet we are met with frustration when they remain separate from educational motivations and thus the program participants.
Another issue that emerged throughout the development of our chapter and ongoing practices was our inability to anticipate visitors’ responses to exhibitions and educational endeavors addressing racial, political, and cultural interpretations of hybridity. When addressing such content, many visitors revert to stereotypical views that we are hoping to complicate through hybridized co-creation. Thus, we have been pressed to develop new experiences in the gallery that foster hybridity within the audiences’ interaction with the museum space and artworks. This idea of including visitor voice was one of the central components to the curatorial and educational design of [IN] Translation.
Thoughts on [IN] Translation
Through [IN] Translation, which was displayed in an exhibition space where were not beholden to a defined structure or hierarchy, we were able to explore these above concerns further and reflect upon our practice under conditions that fostered an ideal hybrid between education, curation, artist, and visitor voice. More specifically, we designed educational installations to supplement the works of art, most of which included opportunities for visitors to add visual or text elements and share stories and reflections. The goal was for the works and the participatory elements to hold equal weight in the design of the exhibit.
[IN] Translation featured eight works of art: one commissioned multi-media work by collaborating curator and artist Anh-Thuy Nguyen, plus seven juried works. The educational component of each artwork was planned with the artists throughout the development of the exhibition, in order to ensure that the artwork was not inappropriately changed or compromised by the educational elements. This exhibition provided us an opportunity to challenge hierarchies within a gallery space. We were able to show how the multiple positionalities of educator, curator, artist, and visitor inform one another – migrate within, around, and through one another – in order to foster a different sense of a museum experience.
[IN] Translation was an opportunity to play with the boundaries that normally exist as impermeable divisions between curator, artist, educator, and visitor; we could question how these roles could be seen as transitional, or process based. Within this exhibition we recognized how ideal this space was, especially considering that freedoms from hierarchical structures will not always be present in a more traditional museum or gallery setting. However, the instance of hybridity, in which these four voices were all present, gave way to dynamic conversations and learning opportunities and are worth noting for our future practice in more traditionally defined spaces. As we evolve as researchers, museum educators, and collaborators, our goal is to continue to develop programming that positions experiential learning at the core of curatorial and educational design.
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ABOUT THE AUTHORS
TRACI QUINN: Doctoral student at the University of Arizona in the department of Art and Visual Culture Education. Traci’s research focuses on museum and community-based education. Currently, she is researching instances that challenge the hierarchical structure of museums and exhibition design and how exhibition and program can be collaboratively developed. After working in museums and community-based organizations for over 7 years, Traci has experience in the various facets of museum education including: program development, docent training, grant writing, community outreach, and institutional partnerships. As an art educator and a researcher, Traci is committed to the development of museum-based education as a catalyst for culturally rich and dynamic experiences.
MARIANNA PEGNO: Doctoral student at the University of Arizona in the department of Art and Visual Culture Education. Marianna’s research focuses on community and museum collaborations exploring instances of decentered authority and equitable partnerships. Having worked in museums for more than 8 years, Marianna has experience in museum management, educational programming, and curatorial practice. She has developed inclusive museum programming including tours for the visually impaired, K-12 enrichment programs for at-risk youth, and a multi-visit program for refugee families. In practice and research, Marianna aims to transform the museum into a community-centered institution, which is responsive to the voices of its constituency.
OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:
“Building Canopies for Multiculturalism: (Re)Turning to the Visitor,” by Joni Boyd Acuff & Laura Evans
“Eggs, Oreos, and Solidarity: MCRP in Our Daily Lives,” by Melissa Crum
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Online Book Club Hangout (VIDEO)
On August 20th, ArtMuseumTeaching.com brought together a group of authors and editors of the book Multiculturalism in Art Museums Today for a live discussion via Google+ Hangout. Those joining the Hangout included Joni Boyd Acuff, Marianna Adams, Briley Rasmussen, Alicia Viera, and Veronica Betancourt. Please find the video archive of this conversation below, and enjoy!
Don’t Have Your Copy of the Book Yet? No problem. As part of this collaboration with Rowman & Littlefield Publishers through this series of posts about Multiculturalism in Art Museums Today, we are able to offer ArtMuseumTeaching.com readers a special discount. To receive a 25% discount, go towww.rowman.com to order this book and enter the discount code: 4S14ACUEVA