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.”
While 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 ArtMuseumTeaching.com. 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).
For 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 ArtMuseumTeaching.com 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: ArtMuseumTeaching.com 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 ArtMuseumTeaching.com community!