NAEA 2013 Breakdown – Museum Edition

Photo by Thomas Hawk
Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, one of the places hosting NAEA museum preconference activities and a must see while in Fort Worth. Photo by Thomas Hawk

Once again, art and museum educators from across the country (and outside the US) begin to pack their bags and prepare to head to Fort Worth, Texas, next week for the National Art Education Association annual conference (March 6-10). And I thought it would be interesting again this year to offer another quick breakdown of the sessions being offered in conjunction with the Museum Education Division. There are some great sessions being offered this year, in addition to an exciting pre-conference program run by the Museum Division that will for the first time include lots of in-gallery teaching focused on some of the great collections in Fort Worth.

The following stats are pulled only from sessions officially labeled “Museum Education,” so keep that in mind — there are certainly lots of other sessions across divisions that engage with museums, museum learning, and how museums interact with schools and higher education (and I always encourage museum educators to branch out and participate in sessions beyond our “comfort zone”).

But within our own Museum Education Division, here is what it looks like this year at a glance. Click here to compare with last year’s numbers.

Total Museum Education Sessions: 75

Total museum educators presenting: 159 (plus or minus — with 23 people presenting more than 1 session this year)

Most Frequent Session Topics:

  • Visitor/Audience Engagement (various ways of being more responsive to our audiences and visitor needs, etc.) – 11
  • Teacher Professional Development – 9 (duh, it’s NAEA — thousands of teachers attending)
  • K-12 Museum/School Partnerships and School Programs – 8
  • Technologies (iPads, blogs, online communities, etc.) – 7
  • Family Programming – 6
  • Interpretive Resources (gallery didactics, print, web, and mobile) – 6
  • Peer Learning & Communities of Practice (for museum professionals) – 5
  • Art Making & Working with Artist – 5

Rather than focusing on what IS popular or in the spotlight this year, I’m so much more interested in what is NOT so popular or prevalent. After reviewing all of these sessions, I found it interesting that the least frequent topics (although still addressed by someone) include Latino outreach and curatorial collaborations. These both seem cause for concern. Our museum recently has some great senior staff discussions around the November article “Diversify or Die: Why the Art World Needs to Keep Up with Our Changing Society” (see the powerful graphic below). Author Ben Davis quotes the 2010 Center for the Future of Museums (CFM) report “Demographic Transformation and the Future of Museums,” worth a read for what it says about the scandalous state of diversity in the visual arts:

“This analysis paints a troubling picture of the ‘probable future’ — a future in which, if trends continue in their current grooves, museum audiences are radically less diverse than the American public, and museums serve an ever-shrinking fragment of society.”

changing-face-of-americaWhile these issues may come up more frequently at AAM, ICOM, or other professional conferences with wider participation than arts educators and art museum educators, the issue is certainly something we, as a field, must be addressing as central to our work. Perhaps these issues will find themselves woven into myriad sessions on visitor and audience engagement in general, but I do fear that when we use the words ‘audience’ or ‘visitor,’ there is a chance that we might unintentionally still be thinking of white, non-Hispanic visitors. I only present this as a potential spark for some conversation, and I’m always open to being corrected and proven wrong (please, prove me wrong here!).

In addition to this blind spot, I also am concerned about the lack of sessions pushing core collaborations with curators — an area that was also severely lacking last year at NAEA. This year, the word ‘curator’ was only mentioned twice in any of the 75 Museum Education Division sessions. At a moment when I know that many major museums are re-imagining (and, in some cases, totally disrupting) the traditional relationships between education and curatorial, this lack of engagement via this year’s NAEA sessions is worth notice. Especially because I know that this issue will find its way into most of the dinner conversations each night in Fort Worth as well as the quick coffee chats we have in the halls between sessions, as it did last year. I am guilty myself, as we have not drawn much attention to this here at Given this, I would love to find ways to share the successes and failures of our curatorial collaborations and partnerships, and find ways to push this type of work forward. If you are doing work in this area, let’s get some posts up to shine some much needed light on these collaborations.

Lastly, when I ran a quick analysis of the session titles and short descriptions this year, the most common words used (outside of “art” and “museum”) were, in order of frequency: community, visitors/audience, learning, education, and engagement. While I’m not sure how much this actually tells us, I continually find it interesting to examine the language and vocabulary we use to describe the work we do as museum educators (in fact, there is a session on this very topic on Thursday morning, “Intentional Language: How We Describe Museum Education Can Make All The Difference”). This year, the word ‘community’ rose to become the most common word in the session descriptions, followed by visitors and audience — perhaps showing a bit of a shift in how we are perceiving our work and its relationship with the communities in which we exist. A couple of the least common words to note are ‘curator,’ as mentioned, as well as ‘experimental’ (something we should be doing and sharing more and more).

FlyingSaucerFor those of you attending the NAEA Convention in Fort Worth next week, I would like to extend an invitation for you to join the editors and authors of for a casual Happy Hour event on Thursday, March 7, from 5-6pm at the Flying Saucer (111 E Third St, a short walk from the Convention Center). We’re interested in continually extending and opening up this conversation, and wanted to find a moment at NAEA to pull together anyone who has been involved in the project thus far, as well as anyone interested in learning more.

What: Happy Hour
When: Thursday, March 7, 5:00-6:00pm
Where: Flying Saucer in Fort Worth, 111 E Third St

I look forward to seeing many of you in Fort Worth, and also getting more of your voices and perspectives involved in the community!

11 thoughts on “NAEA 2013 Breakdown – Museum Edition”

  1. Thanks for your great post Mike! I read it with interest. I am an art historian with a background in Museum Education (I worked as a staff member in the Ed dept at the Guggenheim for four years before returning to academia). Some of my research centers on the intersections between museum education, contmeporary art, and curators. I think what is missing (of course the historian says this) is more historical analysis of the field of museum ed, both by those inside the field and by outsiders with different perspectives. The field in general is excellent at forward thinking, but one needs to be aware of one’s history in order to repeat the good parts and question the difficult parts.

    Along with a few colleagues, I proposed sessions at NAEA and NYCMER for two years running that were turned down (which I fully understand, they receive many great ones to consider). I’ve posted the proposal below. After suggesting this as a conference topic for a while, NYCMER did seem to respond by putting together this panel ( but I still feel there is a resistance to really addressing a) museum education history and b) as you note, “curator” – it seems to be a taboo word until after-hours chat over wine.

    I’m not attending NAEA, but I’d be so interested in further posts by you about this topic in particular – or suggesting one myself! Let us know how it was raised at the conference. I am a huge advocate for museum education, and would like to see the heirarchical relationships between ed + curators deconstructed and discussed more often.


    Program Description: Artists and curators share philosophical practices with educators not often explicitly recognized or discussed. This session will reflect on the relationship between contemporary art and museum education practice.
    Full Session Description:
    The fact that artists and curators share philosophical practices with educators is not explicitly recognized or discussed. Today, after contemporary art movements such as Relational Aesthetics, the boundaries that once lay between these professional relationships have been challenged and increasingly blurred. New voices have been introduced into the planning of exhibitions and the opportunity to facilitate educative experiences is not limited to “educators.” At the same time, terms such as “pedagogy” and “the discursive turn” have yet to be meaningfully explored, often functioning to reinforce existing institutional hierarchies.
    As more art museums give audiences direct access to artists and their process, it is critical and timely to reflect upon the relationship between contemporary art and museum education practice. This session will address this relationship through case studies from 1970 to the present.

    1. Michelle – thanks for your thoughts and response. Your session topic is a really important one, and I’m glad you were able to pull together such a great group of people for NYCMER. Obviously, this is an issue I am passionate about, and it’s been great to connect with you recently.
      In terms of museum educators taking a close look at the history of our field, there are some really good people doing this (and publishing about it). Elliott Kai-Kee at the Getty may be one of the best, along with others like Briley Rasmussen, Scott Winterrowd, and Ben Garcia — who all worked together to edit and publish a recent issue of the Journal of Museum Education focused on these issues (and Briley and Scott wrote a blog post about it here: Briley’s work has examined Victor D’Amico at MoMA, and she has been bringing attention to some fascinating stuff. Overall, we do need more work here, but there are some carrying the torch.
      p.s. If you’d like to publish something here about your ideas/thoughts in this area (esp. contemporary artistic practice and museum education), I would be thrilled! Just let me know.

      1. Thanks for your reply Mike! I should clarify – NYCMER put together that event (I was glad to see it, although did wonder when it was so close to the proposal my group had been submitting for a while….)

        I did see the recent JME (an important issue) and very much enjoyed it, as did I the recent chapter on museum ed history in Rika and Elliott’s 2001 book on teaching in the museum.

        I’d be delighted to reflect further on this in a blog post. My life is consumed by qualifying exams this spring, but would you be open to a blog post in June? I’m very excited to be part of the conversation, especially amongst voices that I respect very much.

  2. This is a fascinating breakdown–and makes me wish I was able to stay for the whole conference! One point, though: although ostensibly the presentation I’m doing (“Blogs and Museum Education: From Collaboration to Reflection”, Thursday at 11 am) is about technology, in fact one of the major parts of my own blog project is that it’s an intense collaboration with curatorial. Of course, we can’t describe all the areas we may touch on in only the title, but it does make me wonder if the two ideas you pinpoint here might come up anyway. (For example, new technology projects often raise questions about audience accessibility to smartphones, etc.) And here’s hoping that having these sometimes-difficult topics come up organically or over drinks will pave the way for or inspire presentations in future years focused specifically on them.

    1. Chelsea – sounds great! I do hope that these topics find their way into many sessions and conversations during the week. Looking forward to seeing you in Fort Worth this week! Cheers!

  3. The “Musing on Engagement” session is another opportunity for museum educators to reflect together on what we mean by that over-used term. We’ll briefly share interpretations by professionals outside the museum ed field in order to stimulate a group dialogue and exploration. Join us Thursday, March 7 at 11:00.

    1. Ashley – great to hear that you are bringing in voices outside of the museum ed field to discuss ‘engagement’ and what that means. I hope I can make it to your session. This has certainly become a buzz word these days, but in some cases the idea of ‘engagement’ has become so watered down. You’ll have to share with us some of the big ideas that percolate out of your session.

  4. Anyone tweeting from the conference? Use the hash tag #naeamuse and we’ll be able to find all the Tweets. See you there! – Kris Wetterlund

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