Category Archives: Bookshelf

Visitor participating with Kristen Cochran's "Notes to self" from the exhibition [IN]Translation
ARTIST WEBSITE:  http://kristencochran.com/home.html

Reflecting on a Hybridized Museum Practice

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:

  1. the difficulties of including many voices;
  2. persistent hierarchy and departmental separation in museums; and
  3. 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

InTranslation installation view
InTranslation installation view

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

 Visitor participating with Kristen Cochran's "Notes to self" from the exhibition [IN]Translation ARTIST WEBSITE:  http://kristencochran.com/home.html
Visitor participating with Kristen Cochran’s “Notes to self” from the exhibition [IN]Translation
ARTIST WEBSITE: http://kristencochran.com/home.html
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

TraciQuinnTRACI 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

“It’s Not Always about You: Facilitating Critical Self-Reflection in Others,” by Keonna Hendrick

“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

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Eggs, Oreos, & Solidarity: MCRP in Our Daily Lives

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 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 Melissa Crum, PhD

Writing the chapter entitled “Multicultural Critical Reflective Practice and Contemporary Art” in the book Multiculturalism in Art Museums Today (2014) challenged Keonna Hendrick (Brooklyn Museum) and I to consider our roles as critical multiculturalists when our marginality is not the focus, and how multicultural critical reflective practice (MCRP) manifests in our daily lives. MCRP is an on-going theoretical framework and practice that requires educators to investigate and challenge their cultural beliefs and assumptions in order to become a more cognizant, critical, and culturally competent educator (Crum & Hendrick, 2014). We reflected on our experience and impact on teachable moments in and out of learning spaces.

In what follows, I explore how past traumas might be used to form allegiances with other marginalized bodies in order to offer Socratic engagement in microaggressions from others. As classroom and museum educators, our job is to offer new ways of thinking for our pupils and patrons when we discuss complex and emotionally wrenching topics. We often prepare for offensive comments from youth but not from adults. My reflection questions, what do we do when we hear uncritical comments from peers?

Eating Identity

I was attending a conference that marked the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer of 1964. Freedom Summer was a project where over 1,000 volunteers from across the U.S. were trained to support Mississippians in non-violent disobedience to combat racist Jim Crow laws. The conference consisted of scholars, artists, and activists reflecting on the historic moment and imagining ways to organize for the future. Before the conference, three colleagues and I had brunch at a local restaurant that served an Asian twist on American dishes. When the waitress came to our table, a colleague asked the waitress’ opinion of the unique kimchi breakfast meal. The waitress offered a positive review and referred to herself as “an egg.” “Egg” is a metaphor for how she, a white woman, internalizes an Asian or “yellow” identity. Presenting herself as “an egg” was her way of aligning herself with Asian culture so we could view her food review as accurate. Upon her leaving, we questioned her statement, its purpose, and our role as scholars who critically interrogate presentations of identity. Each of us identify with different ethnicities – African-American, Mexican and Filipino, Pakistani, and Native American – and agreed that the statement was problematic. At the end of the meal, I decided to address the statement with her.

When she came to our table, I thanked her for the food review and great service. Then I said, “I have a question about a statement you made earlier. I was wondering what you meant when you said you were like ‘an egg.’” A bit flustered, she casually explained that it was a running joke and the restaurant owner, also a white woman, referred to herself as “an egg.” She added that the Asian cook also referred to her by this name. In between her retorts, I asked her a series of questions with a calm and genuinely inquisitive disposition absent of patronization: How did you expect us to feel after you made the statement? If any of us appeared Asian to you, would you have made the comment? If an Asian person were here, how do you think they would feel about your statement? Do you think Asians you encounter, like the cook, determine if your statement is appropriate? After some discussion, she noted that she is part Native American, reads Angela Davis, and concluded with an apology.

There were a few concepts at work in this moment: My empathy with other marginalized bodies and her assumed cultural clearance from them. I explained to the waitress that, “an egg” was similar to a Black person being labeled an “Oreo.” The idea that one’s exterior (skin color) contrasts their interior (cultural norms and sensibilities) doesn’t allow for complex identities and can be hurtful. But “egg” and “Oreo” are metaphors that operate in different ways.

“Oreo” is a derogatory term often used against African-Americans to signify the absence of language, mannerisms, and ways of life connected to stereotypical ideas of Blackness. To call a Black person an “Oreo” assumes they are mentally disconnected from a “true” Black identity and their supposed internalized whiteness makes them “safe” to those who may fear them. In contrast, the white of the egg hides any signs of difference represented by the yellow yolk. As a result, those who consider themselves “eggs” have the flexibility to hide or present their elements of difference on occasions that best suit their interests. Those who wear their difference on the outside (i.e. African-Americans) are not offered such leeway.

The white waitress referring to herself as an “egg” was not in an effort to demean herself in the way “Oreo” can. It was a way for her to validate her culinary tastes and do what bell hooks calls, ‘spice up the dull dish of whiteness’ (hooks, 1992). Calling herself an egg was her presentation of cultural clearance. For me, cultural clearance is a self-determined license to explore cultural tropes, stereotypes, and concepts through one’s own experiences as a way to make sense of one’s own identity and marginalized identities one chooses to appropriate. All cultural clearances require a back story to validate a connection to a foreign identity. The waitress’ back story – being “part Native American”, sharing the “egg” identity with the restaurant owner, the Asian cook using the term, and her familiarity with activist Angela Davis – was her way to align herself with marginalized bodies to validate her comment. As the white-owned restaurant is appropriating Asian flavors to “spice up” mundane American dishes, the waitress mimics the behavior in her self-presentation.

Our Responsibility

In practicing MCRP, we question individuals appropriating segments of culture and presenting them as identity accouterments to be displayed and removed at will. Such practices are reductionist in ways that do not allow for the cultural consumer to seek a deeper understanding of other cultures. Euphemisms like “egg” and “Oreo” are Enlightenment and Eugenic-eque attempts at categorizing identities, thus limits humanity. I believe, as an MCRP practitioner, I have the responsibility to speak up for other marginalized groups while locating my marginality in respect to theirs. At the restaurant, I connected to the trauma of African-American colleagues and students labeled “Oreo”, empathized with the absent Asian person whose identity was relegated to the consumption of fermented vegetables, and situated my identity along both groups in solidarity. Its important to do all three. If not, we risk supporting the causes of others to the detriment of our own. This solidarity acknowledges a larger interconnected social justice effort for which we are all responsible.

crum-changethemodel

MCRP can help us build solidarity so that we can imagine ways to organize for the future. As I continue to consider the role of MCRP in my daily life, I seek to operate in the spirit of the brave Freedom Summer members of CORE, SNCC, and their volunteers combating discrimination through critical education.

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 ABOUT THE AUTHOR

crum-headshotMELISSA CRUM: Founder of Mosaic Education Network, a consulting firm that provides services to companies, non-profits, and educators for arts-based diversity training and social justice curriculum. Crum earned her Masters of Arts in African American and African Studies and her PhD in Art Administration, Education, and Policy from The Ohio State University. She offers services to businesses, non-profits, educators and school administrators to address individuals’ self-perceptions and misconceptions of their employees, patrons, and students so that they work together to create an inviting atmosphere. Additionally, her work connects culturally appropriate curriculum, community-based problem solving, and arts-based methods to build innovative education strategies to help parents, teachers, and other community stakeholders to transfer their knowledge into curriculum regardless of their level of formal education. 

REFERENCES & RESOURCES

  • hooks, b. (1992). Eating the other. In Black looks (pp. 21-40). Cambridge, MA: South End Press.
  • Crum, M & K. Hendrick (2014) Multicultural critical reflective practice and contemporary art. In Multiculturalism in art museums today (pp.271-298). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:

“Building Canopies for Multiculturalism: (Re)Turning to the Visitor,” by Joni Boyd Acuff & Laura Evans

“It’s Not Always about You: Facilitating Critical Self-Reflection in Others,” by Keonna Hendrick

“Reflecting on a Hybridized Museum Practice,” by Marianna Pegno and Traci Quinn

*     *     *     *     *

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

Hendrick-writing

It’s Not Always about You: Facilitating Critical Self-Reflection in Others

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 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 Keonna Hendrick, Brooklyn Museum

Melissa Crum (Mosaic Education Network) and I came together to develop multicultural critical reflective practice (MCRP) as a protocol because we shared the belief that the decisions museum educators make about our teaching practice — such as the artwork to discuss, language we use, expectations we set for learners — are informed by our willingness to move beyond our individual interpretations and values. When we teach, we may create opportunities for our biases to shape and limit learners’ perspectives on artworks, peers, and themselves. MCRP is a theoretical framework and ongoing practice in which educators identify, analyze, and challenge the cultural beliefs, values, and assumptions that color our interactions with artworks and learners. Leading others through MCRP while writing about the practice has challenged me to re-address my biases while reflecting on how my perspectives and values impact our teaching. I have facilitated practical applications of MCRP with many groups; however, my experience training a small group of emerging educators in a mid-sized art museum in this practice greatly impacted my engagement in the process.

Developing Critical Self-Reflection in Educators

Keonna Hendrick challenges learners to think critically about cultural representations in art.  Photo by Jonathan Dorado , Brooklyn Museum
Keonna Hendrick challenges learners to think critically about cultural representations in art. Photo by Jonathan Dorado , Brooklyn Museum

In the first of a two part-session focused on developing critical self-reflection in educators, I asked each educator to write a short autobiography at home, reflecting on a moment of their lives and writing freely for 30 minutes. I met with each of them individually one week later to discuss the process and to consider how their personal narratives might inform their work in museum education. Although they were not asked to share the details of their autobiographies, several chose to tell me about their personal experiences. They explored relationships, events, and expectations that informed the way they saw themselves in the past and present. I knew when I assigned the exercise it might trigger difficult memories, hard feelings, and even trauma that might be challenging for both participants and myself to work through.

As I listened to their stories, I was incredibly aware of the trust they vested in me to receive their personal truths and to guide them as they considered the intersection between their personal and professional lives. They were vulnerable, honest, passionate, and confused. I found it necessary to be present and aware of my own biases and experiences, and to resist responding from the feelings they may evoke. There were some moments when values were expressed that were in direct conflict with my own, and I had to remind myself that no matter how difficult reflections can be to hear, the purpose of exploring MCRP is to identify and address our attitudes (no matter how negative).  It took courage for these educators to share their autobiographies — without any certainty of how I might respond — and to challenge themselves to think critically about their experiences. And it challenged me to listen without judgment and to respond with care while encouraging them to engage in deep reflection. While the educators commented on the success of the workshop, I couldn’t help but feel exhausted, wondering how Melissa and I might assist others in preparing to facilitate such delicate discussions.

Promoting Critical Self-Reflection in Our Practice

Facilitating exercises that promote critical self-reflection is hard work but it’s worth it. Just as museum educators should be aware of information, teaching strategies, and audience, facilitators of MCRP should be comfortable with and actively engaged in this practice. Witnessing the courage of the participants and facilitating MCRP with many participants individuals has urged me to delve deeper in my own critical reflective practice and to ask: Why have I been afraid to acknowledge certain aspects of myself and others? Identifying these fears and their origins helps me understand why my progressing self-awareness may have been stifled at times and charges me to take responsibility for working through those fears towards an improved cultural consciousness.

Creative Commons image from www.worldette.com
Creative Commons image from http://www.worldette.com

Identifying fear is no small feat. Even taking the first steps of facing those fears while admitting to behaviors and attitudes that negatively impact others can be incredibly difficult. When we offer MCRP as a resource to others for improved pedagogy, we become more accountable for our own failings as educators. Learning from my failures in teaching, forgiving myself for poor decisions, and continuing to engage in the work to address the limitations of my actions and knowledge are challenges I have encountered as a practitioner and facilitator of MCRP. Through journaling, reading both scholarly writings and personal narratives, and engaging in a monthly peer group, I have grown to recognize some prejudices that I had not previously explored as a result of ignorance and limited conversation. Although I am not proud of these prejudices, my ability to acknowledge and work to overcome them has enabled me to be more patient with others and myself. It has helped me engage in an ongoing practice of forgiveness for others and myself. Educators may make poor choices from time to time; however, resisting the temptation to rest complacently in those decisions and repeat them with learners and with artworks disrupts educators’ potential to support learners in becoming self-actualized and expanding our cultural perceptions.

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 ABOUT THE AUTHOR

HendrickHeadshotKEONNA HENDRICK: Senior Museum Educator at the Brooklyn Museum, Hendrick oversees the 10-month Museum Education Internship Program, a professional development opportunity for emerging museum educators working with school, youth, family, and adult audiences. She has also worked as a Family Programs Educator at the Museum of Modern Art and served as a board member for New York City Museum Educators Roundtable and Classical Contemporary Ballet Theatre. She holds a B.A. in History and Studio Art from Wake Forest University and a M.A. in Arts Policy and Administration from The Ohio State University. Hendrick is an innovative museum educator and arts administrator who develops practical applications for big picture ideas and issues. She is committed to exploring the transformative nature of art-centered experiences, promoting cultural understanding across communities, and engaging adults, children and adolescents in personally relevant experiences.  Keonna’s postings on this site are her own and do not necessarily represent the Brooklyn Museum’s positions, strategies, or opinions.

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

“Reflecting on a Hybridized Museum Practice,” by Marianna Pegno and Traci Quinn

*     *     *     *     *

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

CelebrArte September 2012

Building Canopies for Multiculturalism: (Re)Turning to the Visitor

Written by Joni Boyd Acuff, Ohio State University, and Laura Evans, University of North Texas book-cover

As dear friends and colleagues, we met in the middle for the book Multiculturalism in Art Museums Today (Rowman & Litlefield, 2014). We — Joni, an expert in critical multiculturalism, and Laura, whose specialty is art museum education — had known each other for years and talked about just about everything, but never truly understood what the other researched in more than a cursory manner. The idea to collaborate came from this uncomfortable space of not really knowing what the other person did with their work. We decided to find out instead of to continue in our ignorance of what was really important to the other person. And, hence, this book was born. We realized as the Venn diagram of our research interests intersected, that there was a big gap in the literature on multiculturalism in art museum education. “Why?” we wondered. And, secondly, “What can we do about it?”

The book, Multiculturalism in Art Museums Today, is the result of this curiosity and our inquiries, as well as the diligent, creative, and groundbreaking work of our contributors (some of whom will also be posting here on ArtMuseumTeaching.com in the next few weeks). In this post, we will attempt to explain why we think multicultural practices in art museum education are important, and give a context for the book. We welcome your thoughts, comments, and questions, and hope that we can provide a welcoming space for stories and sharing.

Why is a Book on Multiculturalism in Art Museum Education Important?

First of all, what is critical multiculturalism, in brief?

Critical multicultural education works to investigate the maintenance of authentic cultural history, the subjugation of non-dominant cultural knowledge and the continuous movement, fluidity and evolution of culture (May, 1999). Multiculturalism in Art Museums Today aims to consider ways in which museums can work more effectively to become “social systems that enable the spaces of equitable educative possibility” (Dixon-Roman, 2012, p.3). We conceptualize equitable education as inclusive, comprehensive and “ubiquitous to the social process of thinking, feeling, being, and doing everyday human experiences” (Dixon-Roman, 2012, p.3), as per the tenants of critical multiculturalism. Unfortunately, as historic and existing debate suggests, museums struggle to meet the educational needs of its diverse patrons. If a museum is a suggested way of seeing the world (Macdonald & Fyfe, 1996); it is fair to assert that it must support various cultural frames of reference, as well as numerous versions and translations of the world. A practical and theoretical resource on multicultural museum education is important for two main reasons:

  1. the increasingly diversified population of the United States, and
  2. the heightened attention (due to economic, political, cultural, and ethical stimulus in the museum profession) and added importance placed on museum educators as representatives of their institutions, their field, and their communities.

These two realities provide the basis for this book and for the readers, who we hope will benefit from a deeper understanding of critical multiculturalism and its applications to museum education.

The U.S. is diversifying at a rapid rate and it is important that museum educators acknowledge, accept, and learn how to utilize the educational benefits of having such diverse populations to consider. According to the 2010 U.S. census:

  • 20% of the population over the age of five speaks a language other than English at home.
  • 19% of Americans have disabilities.
  • About 1.2 million Americans live with a same-sex partner and 11% of all unmarried partners are same-sex couples (Alternatives to Marriage Project, n.d.).
  • 72% of citizens are white, non- Hispanic; 16% Hispanic or Latino; 13% black or African American; .9% American Indian or Alaska Native; 5% Asian; 1% Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander; 5.5% another race; and 2.4% two or more races.
  • The projected racial composition of the United States in the year 2050 is 50.1% white, non-Hispanic, 24.4% Hispanic, 14.6% black, 8% Asian, and 5.3% all other races.

These statistics show that America is a vastly diverse nation and will continue to become even more so. Therefore, issues surrounding multiculturalism and equity will remain relevant and important as social and political issues. The above statistics are a stark reminder that art museums should be institutions of inclusivity, rather than exclusivity, and they show us why it is important for museum educators to understand the complexities and practicalities of critical multiculturalism. As stated by Winter (1992):

“At issue is the social and educational responsibility of public institutions in the face of cultural diversity, as opposed to the moral assumption of the museum as repository, both of ‘Art’ and of cultural values.”

Multiculturalism in Art Museums Today seeks to situate the educational role of the museum as one of multicultural expansion rather than abbreviation.

Context for Multiculturalism in Art Museums Today

Some people believe that “isms” (ex: racism, sexism, classism, ableism, etc.) are no longer relevant to the discourse around museums. In reality, the goal for museums and museum educators to engage in critical multicultural education work is relevant more now than ever. While some scholars and educators argue that issues of race, class, gender and sexuality are problems of the past, current data reveals that oppression based on these social indicators persist and have actually magnified well into the twenty first century (Weber, 2010).

CelebrARTE at Denver Art Museum. http://denverartmuseum.org/calendar/celebrarte-chocolate
CelebrARTE at Denver Art Museum. http://denverartmuseum.org/calendar/celebrarte-chocolate

According to the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, since the year 2000, the international economic crisis has intensified inequities of race, ethnicity, gender, and class; specifically, accessibility to higher education decreased dramatically, as tuition and fees more than doubled, disproportionately affecting groups with low socioeconomic status most (Weber, 2010). In addition, sexual politics relating to same sex marriage and same sex adoption laws continue to be heavily contested in most states. Social inequalities are still heavily implicating the present and future of members of non-dominant groups (Weber, 2010). Therefore, it is imperative that we continue to call for critical pedagogies and praxis that “confront the racial, class, gender, and homophobic biases woven into the fabric of society” (Stuhr, Ballengee-Morris, and Daniel, 2008, p. 83).

Why are we attempting this call to action?

Because, if repetition is the precursor to establishing a habit, then we feel that it is necessary and important to continue checking in on issues of diversity in our museums so that, someday, things might change to a greater degree than the infinitesimal shift that has occurred so far in our museums. Eileen Hooper-Greenhill (2006) wrote a decade ago about the shift in museums, the “turn” towards the visitor. We would parenthetically like to add emphasis to Hooper-Greenhill’s call to action, to suggest that we need to (re)turn to the visitor. This shift in language alludes to the realization that, in turning to the visitor, we, as museum educators, need to revisit what turning to the visitor means in a rapidly diversifying society where museums are frequently being turned away from by public(s) that we do not serve. The authors who contributed to this book are a group of groundbreaking, talented, empathetic, creative, change agents. They are museum educators, researchers, writers, and human beings who care about the audiences they serve in deep and meaningful ways.

Through case-study examples, the authors of Multiculturalism in Art Museums Today address issues such as cultural misrepresentation in the museum, inequality as it relates to resources, and the exclusion of certain voices in the museum. They offer practical, contemporary educative practices that foster democratic, equitable museum practices. We believe that museums have the potential to be agents of social change and, in this way, our book is hopeful and inspiring, as it identifies and commends the effective practices that some museum educators and staff have enacted in an effort to be inclusive. We hope to show, through the chosen chapters, how the merger of museums and diversity initiatives can create positive change and can help guide, address, and suggest ways that museums can be more inclusive, supportive, and equitable spaces for all visitors.

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 to www.rowman.com to order this book and enter the discount code: 4S14ACUEVA

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ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Joni Acuff2013JONI BOYD ACUFF: Assistant Professor of Art Education in the Department of Arts Administration, Education & Policy at Ohio State University. Before joining OSU, Acuff was an Assistant Professor of Art Education at the University of North Texas. She holds an MA in Community Based Art Education from the University of Texas at Austin and her PhD in Art Education from Ohio State University. Acuff has published about her research in varying scholarly, peer-reviewed journals such as Art Education, Studies in Art Education, and Visual Culture & Gender. Her research agenda and scholarship attends to critical multicultural art education, critical race theory in art education, community-based art education and culturally responsive teaching and curriculum development. Joni’s postings on this site are her own and do not necessarily represent Ohio State University’s positions, strategies, or opinions. LauraEvans

LAURA EVANS: Assistant Professor of Art History and Art Education and the Director of the Art Museum Education Certificate at the University of North Texas.  Evans received her PhD in Art Education, with a Museum Studies specialization, at The Ohio State University, a Master’s in Museum Studies at the University of Toronto, and a Bachelor’s in Art History at Denison University. Previous to her PhD, Evans was a year-long fellow at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, in the Department of Education.  She has also interned or worked at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the Lodell Gallery in New Zealand, the Columbus Museum of Art, the Wexner Center for Contemporary Art, the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida, the Denison Museum of Denison University, and the University Art Centre at the University of Toronto. Laura’s postings on this site are her own and do not necessarily represent the University of North Texas’s positions, strategies, or opinions.

REFERENCES & RESOURCES

OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:

“It’s Not Always about You: Facilitating Critical Self-Reflection in Others,” by Keonna Hendrick

“Eggs, Oreos, and Solidarity: MCRP in Our Daily Lives,” by Melissa Crum

“Reflecting on a Hybridized Museum Practice,” by Marianna Pegno and Traci Quinn

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Remembering Maxine Greene

Written by Jessica Baker Kee, Ph.D. Candidate in Art Education, Penn State University, and Pincus Family Foundation Intern, Palmer Museum of Art

Greene-featuredIn the process of living and working as museum educators, we make space to honor Maxine Greene, the educational philosopher, author, and teacher whose writings and teachings have greatly impacted the field of aesthetic education. Dr. Greene, who passed away last week at the age of 96, conducted lectures and taught classes at Teachers College, Columbia University (where she had been professor emerita since 1965) until her passing. She is renowned worldwide for bringing a remarkable sense of empathy, creativity, and imagination into teaching and learning in the arts. Maxine Greene posited “wide-awakeness” as the bedrock of her educational philosophy: a heightened awareness of one’s own sensory, emotional, and spiritual existence, as well as a greater empathic connection to the human community. She believed direct, immediate encounters with works of art were central to the development of this enhanced awareness; in her 1977 essay Imagination and Aesthetic Literacy, she argued that:

“those who can attend to and absorb themselves in particular works of art are more likely to affect connections in their own experience than those who cannot.”

Throughout her career, she was a staunch advocate for “aesthetic literacy” through education in the arts, and argued against overly standardized teaching methods in favor of dialogue, learning from students, and building empathic learning communities in both schools and museums. When we use the work of Dr. Greene to inform our discussion and praxis as museum educators, we place ourselves within a rich tradition of intellectual and creative thought arising from the philosophy of John Dewey and others. Although she had an extensive background in existential philosophy, she remained grounded in everyday teaching praxis, which makes her writing uniquely accessible to a diverse range of students, teachers, artists and educators. I first encountered Dr. Greene’s work as a master’s student of art education, and it was a breath of fresh air in what often felt like a dense and theoretical field of study. Reading her work is an aesthetic experience of its own; her sparkling, lucid writing style draws the reader in as she invokes her own encounters with works of art, literature, poetry and the beauty of nature. Below is a list of her major works that may be of interest to museum teachers:

Feel free to leave your own thoughts, musings, and remembrances of Maxine Greene in the comments, or submit your memories with the Maxine Greene Center’s “Remembering Maxine” webpage (which already has a powerful and growing series of people’s memories and experience with Dr. Greene).  

ABOUT AUTHOR

JESSICA BAKER KEE is a second-year PhD candidate in the Art Education program at Pennsylvania State University. She completed her BA in Art History at Duke University and her MAEd in Art Education at East Carolina University. She has also worked as a museum education intern, a public and private school art teacher, a federal disaster relief agent, and an educational research consultant. Her research is rooted in phenomenology and explores constructions of identity and trauma within pedagogical environments, examining the impacts of race, class, and institutional policy on the lived experiences of art educators and their students. In her free time she enjoys running, yoga, art making and exploring the beautiful trails of Central Pennsylvania. Jessica’s postings on this site are her own and do not necessarily represent Pennsylvania State University’s positions, strategies, or opinions.

Visitors engaging with a sea of all images that were posted on Flickr during a 24-hour period and dumped into the exhibition space in the "What's Next" exhibition at the Future of the Photography Museum in Amsterdam. Photo by foamamsterdam

Meeting the Future Head On: Future Reports, Trends, & Next Practices

“The purpose of strategic foresight is to prime your imagination to envision different futures — some of the many ways that the world could evolve into more than an amped-up version of today.” – Elizabeth Merritt

What does the future hold for museums?  What are museums (or, more accurately, the people working in museums) doing right now that deserves to be shared, examined, and reflected upon?  How can museums think more critically about their role in the transforming landscape of education — now and in the years ahead?  We all have these questions floating through our minds, but may not often have the time and space to chew on them or hear others’ thoughts.  I, myself, have a pile of printed reports, trend watches, and ‘future of museums’ readings sitting on my desk, and every once in a while I glare at it and wish that I could absorb it all in a few minutes like Neo in the film The Matrix.  Without superhuman powers, though, I decided to dive into that pile this week.

In an exceptional Museum-iD post gathering perspectives from global museum innovators in response to the question “What will museums be like in the future?,” Adam Rozan from the Oakland Museum of California remarked:

“… museums will thrive, using challenges as opportunities to test new business and engagement models, and, in doing so, meeting the future head on.”

So it’s in that spirit that I wanted to bring together and share a group of resources from the past 6 months that present and analyze trends, future thinking, and ‘next’ practices in museums and education that help us meet the future head on.  I hope that you find this list useful, and please add additional resources, links, and ideas to the Comments section below — allowing this to become a more organic resource.  Let’s dive in, shall we…

Visitors engaging with a sea of all images that were posted on Flickr during a 24-hour period and dumped into the exhibition space in the "What's Next" exhibition at the Future of the Photography Museum in Amsterdam. Photo by foamamsterdam
Visitors engaging with a sea of all images that were posted on Flickr during a 24-hour period and dumped into the exhibition space in the “What’s Next” exhibition at the Future of the Photography Museum in Amsterdam. Photo by foamamsterdam

Next Practices in Art Museum Education

NextPracticesIntended to take us beyond “best practices,” Next Practices in Art Museum Education is a new compilation of information from the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) member museums and their innovative approaches to engaging the public with the arts through diverse learning opportunities. Next Practices incorporates 100 case studies of the recent and ongoing educational programming that its member museums have designed and implemented.

The resource underscores the many forms art museum education can take, and provides practical and inspiring ideas for future programming at institutions worldwide.  The resource represents a much-needed survey of the exceptional educational practices happening in art museums across the country, and ranges across ages and types of engagement & learning.

NMC Horizon Report: 2013 Museum Edition

HorizonReport2013Released in November 2013, the NMC Horizon Report: 2013 Museum Edition examines key trends and technologies in the museum sector, as well as significant challenges that museums are faced with in adopting these technologies.  The report hones in on six emerging technologies for their potential impact on and use in education and interpretation within the museum environment:

  • BYOD (Bring Your Own Device): given the increasing number of people who take their smartphones and other devices with them everywhere they go, the BYOD movement is an effort to move away from a top-down system of providing devices toward a practice that instead provides the networks and frameworks through which museum visitors interact with a range of content on their own devices.
  • Crowdsourcing: A method of gathering ideas, information, or content from a wider public community around a shared goal — capitalizing on the power of collective intelligence and public knowledge, as in the case of Wikipedia. Crowdsourcing strategies are being used by museums to curate exhibitions, gathering metadata around artworks or artifacts, promoting community engagement, and crowdfunding new projects.
  • Electronic publishing: Near and dear to my heart, electronic and digital media are continuing to redefine the publishing avenues of museums, tapping into modern digital workflows and social media activities to develop new forms of content and significantly extend the reach of that content beyond the limits of traditional print.  Beyond making these electronic platforms available to anyone, the report identifies the next phase of electronic publishing as linking these platforms together to produce new types of content.
  • Location-based services: Enabled by WiFi access points, GPS, RFID tags, and crowdsourced positioning technologies, location-based services are now available to deliver up-to-the-moment information that is related to a particular spot — guiding visitors through spaces, directing them to exhibits and objects that match their preferences, and triggering information and content specific to the visitor’s exact location in the museum.
  • Natural user interfaces: While we are already familiar with technologies and devices that respond to the natural movements of gestures of the human body (taps, swipes, arm motions, and natural language), there are prototype technologies being developed that extend these capabilities and combine facial expression and gesture-sensing technology with voice recognition that could allow museum visitors to interact in an increasingly natural fashion.
  • Preservation and conservation technologies: While museums have always addressed issues of preserving and conserving cultural heritage, these practices are being challenged by questions around how to preserve and conserve via digital materials as well as working with digital and time-based media — requiring new approaches and new skills that bring in electronic and multi-disciplinary perspectives to digital preservation efforts.

I was fortunate to be part of the 44-member Advisory Board and the process that helped identify these technology trends currently affecting the practice of museum education, interpretation, and visitor experience, and I look forward to the next annual report in this NMC series.

TrendsWatch 2014

TrendsWatchCenter for the Future of Museum’s annual forecasting report, TrendsWatch 2014, summarizes six emerging trends identified through CFM’s research and the Dispatches from the Future of Museums, CFM’s free e-newsletter. The report explores how each trend is playing out in the world, investigates what this means for society and for museums, shares examples of how museums are engaging with this trend, and suggests how museums might respond.  Here are the six trends/topics that this report identifies:

  • “For Profit for Good: The rise of the social entrepreneurs”
  • “Synesthesia: Multisensory experiences for a multisensory world”
  • “A Geyser of Information: Tapping the big data oil boom”
  • “Privacy in a Watchful World: What have you got to hide?”
  • “What’s Mine Is Yours: The economy of collaborative consumption”
  • “Robots! Are Rosie, Volton, Bender and their kin finally coming into their own?”

The report’s author, Elizabeth Merritt, writes in her introduction:

“As you read about these six trends, think about how they will shape the world, what it would be like to live in the world they may create, and how you and your organization might respond…. Personally I think the most important and challenging question question is raised in ‘For Profit for Good': How big an impact do museums want to have on the world, and how can we ensure that the good we do is good enough?”

A great read, and certainly a report to look forward to each year from CFM.  And speaking of CFM, here are a few more resources and future thinking items from their realm.

Building the Future of Education: Museums and the Learning Ecosystem

BuildingFutureComing out of a convening organized in September 2013 by the American Alliance of Museums (AAMC) and The Henry Ford, the “Building the Future of Education: Museums and the Learning Ecosystem” report includes essays by educators, students, researchers and reformers that summarize and explore how leaders from the worlds of education and museums can work together to integrate the nation’s assets into what they call a ‘Vibrant Learning Grid.’  The convening and report asks the big question: How can museums and schools collaborate to create a new future for education?

The report pulls together leading thinkers and related case studies that focus on this and other core, burning questions, addressing a range of issues that include:

  • investing in greater capacities to support and manage partnerships
  • strengthening family engagement and envisioning parents as co-learners
  • building open learning networks across community institutions
  • leveraging digital learning and collaborative technologies

The report ends with a powerful “Call to Action” that came out of the second day of the convening, with some practical suggestions for moving the conversation forward and enacting change. They share several ideas, including increasing awareness, sharing information, disrupting conventional thinking about the educational landscape, and implementing radical experiments that increase the role of museums in an expanded view of education.

Guide to the Future at the 2014 Annual Meeting

CFMFor those of you heading to Seattle this weekend for the 2014 Annual Meeting of the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), there are lots of great sessions, panels, and events to attend that bring together leading thinkers to discuss the future of museums as well as existing trends.  The CFM’s Elizabeth Merritt shared her insights recently via the CFM blog, and I encourage you to take a look (even if, like me, you are not attending the AAM conference this year).  You’ll find sessions discussing almost all of the reports I list above.  If I were attending AAM this year, one of my top picks would be “Crowdsourcing to Community Sourcing: Engaging Visitor Input” with Jeff Inscho, Lori Phillips, Daniel Davis, and Petra Pankow.

Share Your Thoughts

What are some of your ideas about the future of museums, and the ‘next’ practices that will help museums thrive?  And what are your thoughts about these types of reports and publications that spotlight ‘innovation’ and ‘future thinking’ — are they limited in their scope, or helpful as we all reflect on our own practice?  What sources do you look toward when thinking about new ideas, experiments, and projects?

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Museum Educators Do Still Read Books … Even the Classics

We recently discovered that museum educators certainly do have the time to read books! This past July, a group of us participated in the inaugural ArtMuseumTeaching Online Book Club to look at the new book Museums and Communities: Curators, Collections, and Collaboration (2013), edited by Viv Golding and Wayne Modest. With student-centred and community-centred practice at the core of what we do as museum educators, the book raised lots of ideas in relation to theory and practice and how different roles across the museum consider or enact participatory practice.

learninginthemuseumFor our second Online Book Club, we thought it might be a good idea to visit (or for many of us, re-visit) a classic text Learning in the Museum (1998) by George Hein, Professor Emeritus at Lesley University, Cambridge, MA. In this pivotal book, Hein presented an overview of the traditions and history of museum education, and developed a key framework for understanding educational theories as well as making connections with visitor studies research. Hein raised education and visitor experience as important considerations for museum professionals overall as museums are forced to “justify their existence”.

View the video archive below of the October 1st On Air Google Hangout with Michelle Grohe (Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum) and myself.

Some provocations for readers as we near the Online Book Club discussion:

    • Does Learning in the Museum influence the practice of museum educators today? How so? Are we still in a position of having to “justify [our] existence”?
    • Have new learning theories emerged from within art museum education research and practice since the book was written? Did Hein pave the way for this thinking?
    • Does ‘education’ and ‘constructivism’ have a specific meaning for museum educators? Does meaning change across the organisation?
    • Have art museums changed to become constructivist-learning spaces for visitors as Hein advocates? Can we share examples from our practice to demonstrate this?
    • You can also check out a great Q&A with George Hein posted on the Getty’s blog while he served as their Guest Scholar back in 2011.

We would love to know if or how your practice today connects to the ideas outlined in Hein’s book (now 15 years old). Then help us to decide if this book deserves ‘classic’ status!

To learn about this and future Google Hangouts and Online Book Club discussions hosted via ArtMuseumTeaching.com, join the Art Museum Teaching Google Community.

Read on!

Note: Thanks to everyone who participated in the October 1st Online Book Club Hangout. Here is a link to the video archive:

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Do Museum Educators Still Have Time to Read Books?

bookpile
photo by signalstation

While many of you may immediately be thinking “heck no … I never have time to read,” the answer is actually YES.  And to prove it, ArtMuseumTeaching.com is launching a new Online Book Club.  As educators and museum professionals, keeping our head buried at our desk or constantly busy in programs can only get us so far.  And I know that many of us (including myself) struggle to carve out the time to read the publications coming out each month or even the classic texts of yester year.  Perhaps we’re all too busy reading blogs (not entirely a bad thing). Not only is it hard to find the time to keep up with the reading, it may also be a challenge to find ways to make certain theoretical or academic texts relevant to our own practice and professional work on a day-to-day basis.

So let’s bring back the books!  This summer, connect with current thinking and museum colleagues through a series of Google Hangout Book Club conversations that will bring a variety of ideas and questions to key publications in the field of museum education (past and present). These discussions will not simply “review” the book at hand, but focus on how what’s on our bookshelf can inform our practice. How do ideas forwarded by certain authors and scholars connect with our day-to-day programs and work in museums?  What new ideas might be sparked from the pages of current or classic texts in museum learning?

golding-coverThe inaugural Online Book Club was held on July 8th at 3pm Pacific (6pm Eastern) focusing on the recent book Museums and Communities: Curators, Collections, and Collaboration (2013) edited by Viv Golding and Wayne Modest.  For this discussion, ArtMuseumTeaching.com partnered with The Incluseum blog to take a deep dive into this collection of essays that explore the complex issues arising from recent approaches to collaboration between museums and their communities.  The authors of this book outline a range of critical pedagogies and present important case studies that “challenge us to move beyond shallow notions that both elide the complexity of community identities and make simplistic claims to engagement by museums.”

As Viv Golding states in her introduction, this book explores best practice examples in detail to highlight how these provide “a better model of community collaboration” (3).  In the chapter by Wayne Modest on youth participation and co-curating with teenagers, he addresses core thought-provoking questions such as:

“Who benefits from engagement, the museum or the community? How can we engage communities to their benefit?  Who drives engagement, communities or the museum?”

Please view the video archive for this Hangout below — a great discussion about how the essays and case studies featured in its pages might connect to the work we’re doing on the ground in our museum or community.

To learn about future Google Hangouts and Online Book Club discussions hosted via ArtMuseumTeaching.com, you can join the Art Museum Teaching Google Community or follow me on Twitter (@murawski27).

Have ideas for other books we could feature in future Online Book Club discussions?  Let us know in the Comments section below, and we’ll try to pull together a few more before the summer is over.  We have some great ideas, so we’ll have more information available soon.

Read on!

Note: Thanks to everyone who participated in the July 8th Online Book Club Hangout. Here is a link to the video archive:

We look forward to continuing this exciting conversation as well as this series of Online Book Club discussion! Stay connected with the Art Museum Teaching Google Community to learn about upcoming discussions. And, as always, if you have any ideas for a future Hangout or online get-together, let me know and we can work to schedule here within the ArtMuseumTeaching.com community.

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Bookshelf: The Exemplary Museum – Art and Academia

ExemplaryMuseum-coverIn The Exemplary Museum: Art and Academia, Corrine Glesne takes a far-reaching survey of the state of academic art museums throughout the United States, primarily by means of detailed interviews with the diverse makeup of these museums’ constituents, including directors, staff, students, faculty, administrators, volunteers, as well as public and school audiences. Though my own experience in working with academic museums is admittedly somewhat limited, I became interested in this book through my frequent work with university audiences in museums. I was looking to this book to provide fresh insights into the relationship between the museum and the academic community, and it certainly did provide them. Some ideas presented in the book may already be familiar to many of us, but it was still nice to see them being reinforced across the field. One of the big questions it raised for me is: how can we, as educators, regardless of institutional affiliation, learn from academic museums, which have traditionally focused much more on education at their core than the traditional public encyclopedic museum model of “preserve and collect”? What challenges and opportunities do we have in common with academic museums, and what challenges and opportunities are unique to these museums?

In determining just what makes a museum “exemplary,” Glesne, who was commissioned for this project by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, narrowed her search by locating academic museums with objects donated from the Kress collection, and further refined her field of inquiry by identifying academic museums through surveys that seemed to be functioning as model institutions in terms of leading by example. This led her to a consideration of twelve institutions. While I would have liked to see a bit more information on the criteria that Glesne used to determine these museums’ “exemplary” status, this particular focus does lend itself to a manageable series of case studies. Tellingly, Glesne begins her analysis of the academic museum with an example of a docent-led high school tour of a Kress Foundation object, revealing her own personal emphasis on the educational role of the academic museum, as well as a somewhat obligatory focus on the role of the “great Kress giveaway” which is the subject of her first chapter. She also discusses how crucial outreach programs and K-12 educational programs became in the development of the academic museum’s history during the second half of the twentieth century, as they transitioned from private study collections to fully public institutions.

Connecting on Campus

Perhaps the crux of the book, in a chapter titled “Art Across the Curriculum,” Glesne discusses how academic museums have attempted to become embedded in the curricula of their parent institutions. For those of you who have worked with faculty before, many of these strategies for engagement in the museum might sound familiar, in terms of seeking out specific courses that mesh with a collection, networking with faculty at regularly-scheduled departmental meetings, and forming committees to develop curricula.

Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago
Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago

For me, this chapter reinforced the challenges of finding meaningful, sustainable connections with classes and allowing faculty, especially those from non-art-related disciplines, to feel independent and at home in working with a collection on their own, rather than with a museum staff serving as a mediator. Glesne also suggests some very novel approaches to connecting with faculty, including emphasizing the museum’s presence at new faculty orientations so that they are aware of the possibilities a museum can offer before they have even designed their classes.

In a particularly useful section of this chapter, Glesne breaks down the ways in which museums connect with academic curricula by identifying specific categories of curricular involvement. These categories include:

  1. “Skill development,” for example, a foreign language class that uses museum objects to provide structure to a conversation;
  2. “Interdisciplinary analysis,” or using a museum’s collection to find meaningful cross-references to other, non-art-related aspects of history;
  3. “Comparative analysis” which seeks to make connections around specific concepts, for example, how objects might communicate different messages about “love” across time and cultures;
  4. “Social critique,” which is often a topic of engagement for classes, especially as academic museums are sometimes more in a position to take risks in terms of controversial exhibitions;
  5.  “Research,” or how the practice of art historical analysis can cultivate research skills around these objects as primary source documents;
  6. And finally, “creative inspiration” as a platform for the creation of works in other forms or media.

Glesne also discusses the increasing role of the “academic curator” as it evolved out of the Mellon Foundation’s College and University Art Museum Program, and how this unique position has played a vital role in establishing stronger connections between academic museums and university faculty. As Glesne points out, this position has often had the effect of freeing up the academic museum’s other education staff to think in a more focused way about K-12 involvement. However, I am somewhat cautious about this split, as it could be seen to reinforce differences in the approach to these two audience segments, rather than seeking to address commonalities between them. On the other hand, I often wonder if public museums might find an academic curator to be a valuable position in terms of focusing on increased interactions with college audiences.

Alternative Forms of Campus & Community Engagement

Photo from "Anything for Art" http://blogs.oberlin.edu
Photo from “Anything for Art” http://blogs.oberlin.edu

Glesne’s next chapter, “Museum Art in Everyday Life,” considers the ways in which academic museums seek to connect to students and the public outside of the curriculum. She discusses the many ways in which campus art museums have tried to increase visibility through social events and informal learning. Some examples that stood out in my mind are the Snite Museum of Art’s desire to make the Museum a kind of alternative “tailgate” space to connect the Museum with Notre Dame’s much more visible football games, and the always-popular Art Rental Program at Oberlin College’s Allen Memorial Art Museum. I was particularly struck by how meaningful the ability to check out original works of art has been, not just for the students who rent these objects (for a mere $5), but for the greater Oberlin community, including a senior center that proudly displayed works from the program in its central building. Some of simplest, yet most effective programs involve turning over the programming to a student advisory council, allowing students to take ownership of the galleries. Glesne concludes this chapter by discussing the role that academic museums play in preparing people for careers in the arts. In surveying 79 museum workers, including staff, faculty, volunteers, and students, she concludes that while, admittedly, involvement in the arts is usually something that is inculcated at a very young age, experience with an academic museum in college can lead to further interest down the road in a career in the arts.

In the Periphery and at the Center

In the final section of The Exemplary Museum, Glesne ruminates on the larger role that academic museums play, both in academia and in the art world. She addresses the often peripheral nature of these spaces and the effects that the recent economic downturn has had on many campus art museums. However, she also addresses the ways in which these museums have been successful, through positioning themselves as centers of arts and culture on campus, and/or emphasizing the possibilities for collaborative, interdisciplinary education. For the public community, she notes that academic museums have been invaluable in providing arts access to regions that are either rural or are outside the coastal art centers of the United States.

Remarkably, Glesne first discusses the importance of the academic museum through metaphor, noting that her respondents often used words like “hidden gem, platform for narrative, catalyst, laboratory, library, and portal” in describing the changing role of the campus museum (p. 204). While these terms are certainly applicable to the twelve exemplary museums that Glesne surveys, they are also pertinent to the larger discussion about the shifting role of museums in the 21st century. Glesne also includes a useful bibliography and appendix section at the end of her book, including mission statements from participating museums, detailed responses to questions on why participants became interested in museums, and questions that she asked of museum directors. Of particular interest to the readers of this blog, she also includes an appendix on examples of educational technology in academic museums, which often tend to overlap with faculty projects involving these technology platforms.

Overall, The Exemplary Museum: Art and Academia provides a thorough and compelling survey of recent activities of academic museums around the country and the unique challenges and opportunities they encounter. While educators in public museums may find some of these ideas familiar, it is heartening to know that we are not alone in our work, and the unique role of the academic art museum provides a fascinating set of case studies for thinking about how any museum can make education at the center of its mission.

I am interested in hearing more on your thoughts on Glesne’s book in the comments below, especially from those of you who do work in academic art museums.

rat-exhibition

Reflecting on Our Radical Roots

REVIEW: Progressive Museum Practice: John Dewey and Democracy by George Hein

During an election cycle it is difficult to turn on the television, read the newspaper or listen to the radio without a candidate or pundit talking about democracy and freedom. Yet, rarely does education factor into these discussions and I have never heard any politician address museums as central to a democratic society.  George Hein’s new book Progressive Museum Practice: John Dewey and Democracy elucidates a history of museum education in America that is deeply rooted in building a democratic society and promoting social justice.

John Dewey is often referenced in art museum education for his ideas about active and experience based learning and the promotion of museums as a critical component of a child’s education. George Hein illuminates a much more complex portrait of Dewey. He explores the democratic core of Dewey’s philosophies. Progressive Museum Practice focuses on Dewey’s ideas in relation to museum practice in a Progressive tradition, exploring his predecessors, contemporaries and successors. Hein writes, “What could be more worthwhile than consistently considering how our educational activities might support democracy and social justice?” (Hein, 200). Indeed! This book and the thinking and action it advocates are very worthwhile.

It has been my experience that many museum educators know the work of John Dewey but have read very little if any of his actual work. Who can blame them? Dewey’s writing is dense and complex and often very long. He was a prolific philosopher, writing approximately 40 books and 700 articles in his ninety-two years.

The Essentials of John Dewey and Progressivism

Progressive and Dewey’s core beliefs are essential foundations of Hein’s book, and warrant elucidation here. Hein begins with defining Progressivism, contextualizing Dewey within this movement and outlining Dewey’s theories on education. Three essential attributes of Progressivism that Hein outlines are:

  1. The belief that in our democratic republican society, social problems will not solve themselves; they need to be addressed by direct and sustained social and political action.

  2. A generally optimistic assumption that, although such progress will not come about on its own, society can be improved by concerted and focused social and political intervention that is based on rational policies and actions and that applies the best available scientific practices and findings.

  3. A faith in public education as a particularly useful tool for improving society in the direction of greater social justice and more equitable dispersal of the benefits derived from progress in science and technology. (Hein, 11)

These essential tenets of Progressivism are continuous threads that woven throughout Dewey’s philosophies and writings and a critical understanding of his work.

John Dewey at the University of Chicago in 1902. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Four Key Beliefs of John Dewey

Dewey believed that education can be the basis for a philosophical system, and that education has both a pedagogic and a social component (Hein, 23). Hein explained four key beliefs of Dewey that define his philosophies:

First, his belief in empirical naturalism, “…the concept that any explanation of life, including thoughts, action and interactions with others, must be based entirely on what we have experienced and have experienced historically—singly or, most especially, collectively. Thus, the definition of “experience” is a fundamental building block of his philosophy” (Hein, 26).

Second, is Dewey’s commitment to a process philosophy, or “determining the worth of any idea by examining the consequences of a belief…based on its consequences in experience” (Hein, 26). Hein goes on to explain, “Dewey’s philosophy does not aim to solve human problems; rather it focuses on the process of addressing problems and the means of ameliorating negative aspects of life and society” (Hein, 27). Thus, reflection on our experiences and what we have learned from them is essential.

Third, Dewey’s philosophies are based on a concept of “human behavior as a social activity” (Hein, 27). Dewey understood human life on a biological model, individual parts interacting in symbiotic relationships. Thus, concepts of community, individuals interacting and self-regulating as part of a larger group, was fundamental to Dewey’s thinking.

Fourth, Hein explains the impact of Darwinian evolutionary thinking on Dewey’s philosophies. Darwin’s theories (On the Origin of Species was first published the year of Dewey’s birth, 1859) demonstrated that change was part of natural life cycles, and that it has direction rather than being viewed as a disruption. Dewey’s philosophies addressed change, not through external forces, but rather through “interactions between an organism and its environment, including social environment” (Hein, 29).

Hein explains that:

“For Dewey, the pedagogic aspects of progressive education were necessarily linked with the social goals of progressivism…In order to engage in progressive educational practice, museum staff need to keep progressive social aims as well as pedagogic practices foremost in planning both exhibitions and programs.” (Hein, 38)

This is, in fact, Hein’s thesis.

Interrogating Museum Education through the Progressive Lens

Hein interrogates three periods in the history of museum education, Dewey’s predecessors, his contemporaries and his successors, each roughly a century apart. With each Hein examines the progressive aims of individuals and institutions, looking at what the social goals of museum practice. Looking to Dewey’s predecessors, Hein characterizes Charles Wilson Peale as a “proto-progressive” in the early republican period in the United States. Peale established his museum in Philadelphia with an expressly educational mission. In the early years of the American democratic experiment, Peale, and his contemporaries amongst the intellectual elite of Philadelphia, believed that education, and thus the museum, was essential to build and sustain a democracy. Hein argues that “Peale pioneered that notion, reaffirmed by Dewey a century later, that as educational institutions, museums should be in the service of democracy, and should provide education that leads to better informed, critical citizens for a more egalitarian society” (Hein, 66).

A century later, Dewey and his contemporaries in the progressive movement, saw education and museums as integral components to ameliorate social problems growing out of increased industrialization, urbanization and immigration. Hein highlights the pioneering work of John Cotton Dana, Louise Connolly, Anna Billings Gallup and Laura Mary Bragg. While Dana’s work is relatively well known today, Hein brings forth the work of these three women and reveals our professional heritage as passionate and driven social radicals. Each woman, in her own way, sought to make museums more accessible to a broad public and responsive to their communities through integrated mission driven programs.

Hein also examines progressive practices in art museums and debates of this period, that also remain relevant today, namely the purpose of art museums as primarily educational or aesthetic. Discussions of Benjamin Ives Gilman, George Brown Goode, and Theodore Low, are particularly enlightening and relevant today in light of recent debates about cuts in professional education staff and increased emphasis on acquisitions over access. Hein brings forth some truly radical ideas and programs that circulated in the early twentieth century that would shock even some of our most liberal educators today. Art museum directors might positively faint! The examples discussed include the Met’s work with the International Ladies’ Garment Worker’s Union in the early 1940s that included evening tours, lectures, and concerts and participation in selecting works for exhibitions, and the work of the New Deal programs, the Federal Arts Project, and the Works Progress Administration that brought art and arts education to a broad public through commissioned public art and establishing small art centers around the country. Hein shows us that our work today has strong historical precedent and these predecessors are arguably far more progressive than we are today.

Hein gives particular attention to a discussion of Albert Barnes. He devotes an entire chapter as well as a section of the discussion on progressive education in art museums, to Barnes’s impact on Dewey’s thinking and the friendship between these two men. Hein notes that Barnes’s reputation as a cantankerous and disagreeable individual has resulted in the tendency to ignore him when considering Dewey and to ignoring his progressive thinking and actions. In art museum education today many associate John Dewey with Art as Experience and his thinking on aesthetic experience. However, this aspect of Dewey’s thinking did not come until late in his career. It was through his discourse and friendship with Albert Barnes that Dewey became engaged with aesthetics. Barnes can be seen as both influencing Dewey’s idea and encouraging him to give them systematic thought, as well as experiment with these ideas and putting them into practice through his foundation and classes. Like Dewey, Barnes shared a deep commitment to potential of education and particular art to benefit and improve the lives of people.

Hein’s discourse on Dewey’s successors looks at museum education in the 1960s and more contemporary practices. Hein argues that the 1960s was America’s most progressive moment, despite progressivism’s association with earlier in the century. Changing museum practices are situated within this period that saw the growth of the civil rights movement, women’s rights, free speech movement, protests of the Vietnam era and a wave of government policies and programs ushered in under President Johnson, including Medicare and Medicaid, Head Start, the Voting Rights Act, the Freedom of Information Action, and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as well as the establishment of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Visitors at the “The Rat: Man’s Invited Affliction” exhibit at the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum. Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Hein highlights the works of three pioneering institutions that illustrate the reemergence of progressive practice at this time, the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum, Science Centers, and the Boston Children’s Museum, each addressing different aspects of progressive practice. The Anacostia Neighborhood Museum, as a satellite of the Smithsonian, addressed underserved audiences in economically depressed areas through establishing a community driven and focused museum. Museum exhibitions were community generated and focused on neighborhood issues and concerns, most notably The Rat: Man’s Invited Affliction, mounted in 1970. Science Centers, such as the Exploratorium in San Francisco, founded by Frank Oppenheimer in 1969, developed engaging hands-on learning experiences that engaged curiosity in everyday things and the world around us. Oppenheimer, who attended the progressive Ethical Culture School in New York as a child, combined his interested in popularizing science and a socio-political agenda, “[his] faith that better science education—based on interactive exploration of the natural world through close observation, experimentation, weighing evidence, and critical thinking in the Deweyan sense—could lead to a better world was repeatedly mentioned…” (Hein, 171).

Dewey argued that schools should be models of a democratic society and community, ones in which children had a voice and rights. Hein points to the work of the Boston Children’s Museum in the 1960s as a museum that created this type of model of democratic communities for children and their parents, both within the museum and working with community partners to reach broader audiences.

Progressive Museum Practice in Museums Today: Are We Embracing Our Potential?

Hein’s final chapter focuses on progressive practice in the twenty-first century, and takes a much less institutional driven approach. He states, “Progressive theory in action combines pedagogic practice with the political aspects of progressivism. The examples discussed here are not presented as models to be reproduced elsewhere, but as indications of what can be accomplished” (Hein, 181). As such, Hein runs through a brief discussion of a number of projects and practices that have progressive potential. Some of these include new technologies, innovative exhibition methodologies, and staffing structure. The one institution he addresses specifically is the Lower Eastside Tenement Museum and its mission to promote social justice. He also addresses the potential of exhibitions to take on socio-political goals with a discussion of Mining the Museum, presented by Fred Wilson and The Contemporary at the Maryland Historical Society in 1992. However, Hein notes that this exhibition, while still greatly discussed as groundbreaking, was mounted twenty years ago.

While Hein’s book adeptly unpacks and elucidates the complex and interwoven philosophies of John Dewey, and illuminates the rich and radical past in museum education in the United States, the book came to a soft and disheartening conclusion. The early chapters of this book were filled will discussions of art museums and the role art played in progressive practice. However, in Hein’s final chapters that address our practice since 1960 there was scant reference to art museums. I do not argue that Hein is an insufficient researcher, to the contrary; rather I argue that art museums have lost their progressive goals and thus their progressive practice.

While Hein regards the 1960s as our most progressive era politically, within the art museum, I argue it is one of our most conservative. In this era the art museum saw the increasing professionalization of art history and curatorial practice as well as other professions within the art museum, including museum education. From the 1960s and arguably into today there has been a rise in the notion of art museums as bastions of unmediated aesthetic experience. Education in these hollowed halls sought to transfer knowledge about art history. Am I being dramatic? A little. But, when attending conferences or discussions with colleagues from all types of museums, I often feel that art museums are lagging far behind in their understanding and willingness to embrace their truly progressive potential to impact individuals and society.

In my graduate school classes we would often ask “WWJDD? (What Would John Dewey Do?)”. So, art museum educators, WWJDD, if he were here today? I think that he would be pleased to see many examples of progressive pedagogy, but charge us to embrace the political aspects of progressivism, and thus a truly progressive practice. I believe that we have an obligation for a greater social commitment. As a field, as institutions, as educators, are we committed to progressive practice?

Participate-short

Participate: Designing with User-Generated Content

“Often I set up a platform and ask a question, in one way or another, and then invite people to come in. It’s a conversation, a call and response.”

-Keetra Dean Dixon, interview by authors (2010)

Museums are often all about control — controlling what visitors see, controlling the information presented about objects, controlling the ways in which visitors can create meaning, and even controlling the types of technology or devices we can use to access their collection or extended resources. A “well-curated” exhibition or gallery passively delivers a specific message to a targeted, restricted audience.  But, as the authors of Participate: Designing with User-Generated Content offer, “participatory design turns this idea on its head.”

While focusing on the profession and field of design (which is actually a broad field that obviously has so much overlap and integration with museums), the ideas forwarded in this book resonated with me in terms of how museums are struggling to engage in more participatory acts.  The mantra I take away from the authors text as well as their interviews with a wide range of innovative designers is this: “participatory design replaces monologues with conversations” (25).  This not only resonated with me, with seemed to ring true with all the the future-of-museums talk going on these days to find ways to harness the massive engagement with Flickr, Facebook, Pinterest, Vimeo, YouTube, and Twitter that has conditioned the public to contribute, connect, and create.

How does participatory design work?

In her introduction to Participate, designer and writer Helen Armstrong defines the best participatory design as soliciting content from users and then translating that into something greater than the initial contribution.

“The initial contributions are simple, easily carried out by the user: a photograph, a sketch, a doodle, a word, a movement, a vocalization, a touch. But when put into the context of a larger participatory project, user content flourishes in unexpected ways.” (12)

I love to be reminded that the seed of a good participatory project is really something very simple (and doable), encouraging broader involvement.  Sometimes it is so easy to get wrapped up in some multi-layered, complex idea that sounds cool to us, but that no one in their right mind would actually take the time to participate in/with.  I will always remember one of my design professors in college who harped on about KISS … Keep It Simple Stupid!  This “less is more” dictum never fails, though, when looking to museum visitors for contributions.

For museums, like designers, relinquishing control means celebrating process-oriented work that is not ‘complete’ until visitors or audiences participate, and celebrating the unpredictability this process brings.  I would even say that we need to be open to entirely new types of participation that might simply end with social interactions or conversations — something we often think will get us somewhere, but we need to recognize that sometimes we are already there.

“Content is not king — contact is.”

-Douglas Rushkoff, author of Program or Be Programmed (2010)

The book does make the necessary connections with museums.  In the chapter on modularity and providing structures for these largely open-ended undertakings, they quote Nina Simon saying, “The best participatory experiences are not wide open. They are scaffolded to help people feel comfortable engaging in the activity” (Simon, Participatory Museum, 13). Even though we find ourselves ‘breaking the rules’ and removing restrictions to get participatory work done in museums, any participatory process needs rules, constraints, and parameters to prevent it from descending into muddled confusion. Even just making the structure of your project and process transparent to your participants and contributors can help keep to the plan.

Participate also rightfully spotlights some of the recent identity, branding, and promotional campaign designs at the Walker Art Center, including a great interview with Andrew Blauvelt, Design Director and Curator at the Walker.

Overall, I think there is great value for museum educators in engaging with the field of design and design thinking, especially as we work toward similar goals of empowering 21st-century audiences to contribute, interact, and become makers and doers.  I’ll be following up in the next several weeks with some of my own nascent attempts at making this site a bit more participatory in various ways.  Stay tuned…