Category Archives: featured

The Journey of Change Continues: Making the Permanent Move to “Agents of Change”

When I began the Art Museum Teaching site back in 2011 (now almost 11 years ago), my main goal was to create community — to develop a space online where educators and museum thinkers could share ideas, questions, and insights as we reflected on our practice.

It was also about having a space where we could be personal, vulnerable, and human with each other — leaving behind some of the depersonalizing traditions of academia or the institutional workplace. I wrote from my own personal voice, and regularly invited contributing authors to share their insights from their own personal voice and lived experiences.

Over the years, this site grew into a collaborative online forum for reflecting on critical issues in the field of museums, including issues of teaching and learning as well as community engagement, equity & inclusion, social justice, and reflective practice. Through more than 260 posts from myself and nearly 60 incredible guest authors (many of whom have since become close friends and colleagues of mine), this forum has brought together over 500,000 people from around the entire world to engage in a dialogue about museum practice, teaching practice, and community practice. We also organized some pretty amazing in-person, events, including a few Museum Teaching Throwdowns, Gallery Teaching Mashups, and, my all-time favorite, the Gallery Teaching Marathon in San Diego back in 2014. These events were such a key part of building community in the early days of Art Museum Teaching, and I’m grateful for everyone who helped make these possible.

This all started with a simple idea to bring people together in an effort to change museum teaching through experimentation, self reflection, personal & professional growth, and being the change we wanted to see in our field. Over the years, this focus on change has become a central part of my journey to build a better future for museums. That was the impetus for my 2021 book Museums as Agents of Change, and for so much of my professional work in recent years.

Now that journey of change is shifting online platforms, permanently moving from Art Museum Teaching to my new Agents of Change publication on Substack.

Making the Move

After a couple years of pausing my work with Art Museum Teaching, I’ve decided to officially write the last chapter at this site and make a permanent move over to the new Agents of Change publication. It has been an amazing 11 years dedicating my time to Art Museum Teaching, but I think it’s time for me to fully focus my work on growing this community of changemakers through Agents of Change.

As part of my efforts to keep this community together (and to continue to offer resources and support for this incredible group of educators and thinkers), I am going to transfer all the “email followers” over to the new Substack publication. If you are part of this group, you should receive a welcome message inviting you to the Agents of Change publication. I hope that you decide to become a regular part of the growing Agents of Change community, through which you’ll receive new content and posts.

If you have been following Art Museum Teaching through WordPress or simply finding this site through Google or social media, I welcome you to join us over at Agents of Change. To Subscribe, just click on this link and enter your email. It’s that simple!

Here are just a few examples of posts featured this past year through Agents of Change:

I will keep the archive of posts and content here on the Art Museum Teaching WordPress site for as long as I can, since I know that many people still use this site as a resource. There is some powerful, insightful writing here, and many useful posts that continue to be relevant and urgent. I hope to share some of the jewels from this community through Agents of Change, too.

Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash

So What is Agents of Change?

Agents of Change is a new Substack publication that I launched in the fall of 2021, focusing more broadly on how we can bring human-centered change to our work in museums, nonprofits, and beyond. I’ve been engaged in strategies of change for more than a decade now through my work and activism in the museum field as well as my work in environmental education, and I’m excited to be taking this new step to share what I have learned over the years, help support others in their change practice, and continue my own learning process.

I believe that we all have a role to play in demanding, creating, and supporting the change we need to see in the institutions that shape public life. But that change cannot truly start until we first look inside ourselves. 

I see Agents of Change as a space to expand our conversations around change, share new and ever-evolving ideas that can help us all advance change, and bring those strategies to our organizations (museums, arts & culture organizations, and more). I launched this publication so that it can become a resource and guide for those stepping up to become changemakers in their own organizations and communities, and to bring people together around key issues, questions, and strategies to make this change happen. 

A couple times a month, you’ll get free posts from me offering key questions, strategies, and resources designed to support you and to bring our changemaker community together to support each other. I encourage you to see this as a platform for active exchange, connection, and dialogue, so please add your thoughts, experiences, and questions to the comments. I’ll also be sharing audio notes (kind of like a mini podcast) and thread posts which encourage you to share your questions and experiences. And I’m sure there will continue to be experimentation and guest contributions, just as there was with Art Museum Teaching.

I have also begun a series of independent professional development & growth programs to further support changemakers and form an even stronger community. I offered my first-ever Summer Institute for Changemakers this past summer with huge success, and am now accepting registration for the Fall Institute for Changemakers (which starts September 27th). There will be more options for people to get involved as the Agents of Change publication expands and evolves this fall and into next year, including a new paid subscription option for those interested in more support, content, and ways to connect. But don’t worry, the free subscription option will always be available.

I believe that it is the deeply human act of love that is the utmost core of our work to transform organizations into more generous, welcoming places that center community, equity, connection, and care. And I’m excited to advocate for this transformation in a broader way, and work with people across all types of institutions, at all levels of their career, and across all boundaries.

I began Art Museum Teaching with a passion for change, and it is this passion that I bring to Agents of Change and this growing community of changemakers.

We Are All Agents of Change

In 2000, visionary science fiction author Octavia Butler wrote an essay for Essence Magazine entitled “A Few Rules for Predicting the Future.” At the start of the essay, she describes an encounter she had with a student while signing books after a talk she gave. The young man seemed overwhelmed by the daunting scope of the problems that Butler writes about in her books, asking her, “So what’s the answer?”

“There isn’t one,” she responded. “I mean there’s no single answer that will solve all of our future problems. There’s no magic bullet. Instead there are thousands of answers—at least. You can be one of them if you choose to be.”

I believe that we all have a role to play as agents of change in our own work and our own lives—choosing to be one of those “thousands of answers” that Butler refers to. We all have a role in solving our current crises because I believe that we absolutely can transform museums and nonprofits.

We can have hope for a better future and begin building that future right now. It is up to us to choose to step up, be a solution to the problems we’re experiencing, and make this change happen together.

Thank you all for being part of this journey with me, and for continuing to be part of this incredible community of changemakers!

See you over at Agents of Change!

Art museums as creative laboratories for children’s play, experimentation, and the co-creation of culture

Louisa Penfold is a children’s curator currently undertaking a PhD in the School of Education at the University of Nottingham in partnership with Tate (United Kingdom).

Art museums have not traditionally been sites for children’s creative experimentation and play but rather understood as places of collection and display. However, the past two decades have seen young audiences become an increasingly important audience for art museums around the world with many institutions developing new spaces and practices towards children. The philosopher and founder of the Reggio Emilia philosophy Loris Malaguzzi once stated ‘children learn most readily and easily in a laboratory-type environment where they can experiment, enjoy and find out things for themselves.’ If this notion is true, how does the idea of the art museum as a creative laboratory reaffirm or challenge previous curatorial, artistic and pedagogical notions?

The art museum as creative laboratory

An artist has their studio, a cook has their kitchen, a scientist has their laboratory yet there are very few places in their communities where young children can go to creatively explore, experiment and freely play with ideas and materials. A creative laboratory could be anywhere in a neighborhood — a makerspace as part of a community centre, a tinkering studio in a science centre, a fab lab within a children’s museum, a woodwork area in a secondary school or a digital learning space in a library. Many of these ‘laboratory’ spaces and practices have been and are being developed by interdisciplinary teams within cultural institutions, often in partnership with community groups and university research centres. However, art museums can make a very distinctive contribution. Art museums can draw upon the processes of artists and their curatorial practices to establish a uniquely creative social and spatial environment for the co-construction of art and culture between artists, curators, children, and their parents.

Family activity at Tate Liverpool. Copyright: Roger Sinek

The crucial quality of such environments is the presence of what Simon Nicholson once termed ‘loose parts’[1], these being open-ended materials such as blocks, clay, paint or design software that can be manipulated, adapted and transformed in a large variety of ways. This allows for deep, creative experimentation, questioning, explorative play and discovery-based learning. When such materials are presented in a curated creative environment where meticulous consideration has been given to their selection and presentation, combined with additional equipment and tools to assist experimentation of materials, vast and complex possibilities for exploring artistic phenomena are produced. These environments can also stimulate and support children to develop and express new creative processes and understandings of art and culture. But it is not just a matter of making materials available in a space, these need to be accompanied by artists, educators and curators who are experienced in facilitating young children’s creative play and experimentation. When they engage in careful and systematic observation and critical reflection, they can modify the spatial and social properties of the environment in response to children’s curiosities and discoveries.

The notion of art museums as creative laboratories within their community is built upon the premise that museums are not just for the transmission of culture but additionally a site for the construction of cultural knowledge and shared values. This requires a dialogic and collaborative process between artists, curators, children, their parents and the material environment. The understanding that art museums can also be places for cultural production offers an additional form of audience experience to object-centred and interpretation-based models in the gallery. Of course, transmission-based modes of cultural and artistic production should not be dismissed but rather this needs to be balanced with opportunities for individual and collaborative production of art. Child-centred practice in art museums fundamentally values children as co-creators of art and culture now, as opposed to seeing a value solely investing in the future development of children as adult museum visitors.

My interest in child-centred museum practice

I was first introduced to the interconnected ideas of child-centred practice, creative learning through play, and immersive environment design whilst working as a children’s curator at the Ipswich Art Gallery in Queensland, Australia. During this time I worked, as part of a team of highly passionate, intelligent, and creative artists, curators, industrial designers, researchers and creative practitioners, on the development of the children’s program. Collectively we were interested in exploring how the understanding of children as unique, complex, powerful, and creative beings [2] could intersect with new artistic and curatorial practices to construct immersive creative environments that deeply valued children’s artistry and creativity alongside artists.

Through my work in Australia, I continuously found myself asking: how can we construct a form of art museum practice that aligns with the notion of the ‘creative laboratory’ for children? What does it mean to children to experience these environments? In 2013, the children’s team at the Ipswich Art Gallery started to explore the complex concepts, theories and outcomes of these questions through a formal research project.

Atelier van Licht
Atelier van Licht at Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. Image credit: Atelier van Licht.

I first met Dr. Emily Pringle, the Head of Learning Practice & Research at Tate at a conference in January 2014. We were both very interested in the concept, challenges and possibilities of child-centred practice and its possible intersections with artistic and curatorial practice in art museums. After a series of conversations I made the decision to relocate to England in September 2015 to undertake my PhD under Dr. Pat Thomson at the Centre for Research in Arts, Creativity and Literacies in the School of Education at the University of Nottingham. The research project is connected to the Tate Learning Research Centre where Dr. Pringle is my co-supervisor.  The focus of my PhD is on the construction of child-centred practice in early years (2-4 years) environments in art museums. My research asks:

  • What are the key conceptual, spatial, and social qualities of these environments?
  • What does it mean to children to experience them?
  • How can children’s experiences be used to inform the future construction of environments within the unique practice context?

My goal is to develop a process-led, critical and reflective heuristic thinking tool that can be used to support conversations between artists, curators, children and parents engaged in developing children’s creative environments. The research will draw on early year’s intra-active pedagogical theory [3] and social constructivism [4] to generate deeper understandings of children’s experiences with human (peers, parents, artists and educators) and non-human aspects (materials, architectural space and curatorial discourse) of curated immersive environments.

Pedagogical documentation, where young children’s learning and theory building is collected using predominantly visual research collection methods such as photography, film and field notes, will be used to guide practitioner learning and reflection during and after the program is presented [5]. This documentation will seek to make young children’s learning more visible within institutional conversations. The reflection will be used to feed into future curatorial, artistic and pedagogic practice and have the ability to be adapted to the unique gallery contexts in which the practice is occurring.  Critical reflection aims to give insights into ‘curation’ of early year’s immersive gallery environment design in regards to the intersection of curatorial, artistic and pedagogic practices. The project thus extends the notion of the art museum as a creative laboratory to the researching, questioning, experimentation and critical reflection of artists and curator’s shared practice.

My inquiry consists of four action research cycles. Each one develops, challenges and reflects on the construction of the reflective heuristic thinking tool. The second phase of the project begins in September this year and the first draft of the critically reflective framework will be presented to the education teams involved in the study late in 2017. After this, I hope to take what we have learnt to the wider art museum community.

By developing an approach that values experiential learning, discovery-based play and critical practitioner reflection, my research will support the construction of more dialogic and collaborative conversations between art museums, artists and the wider community. Through the PhD I will generate new findings on the practices that lead to meaningful experiences for young children in art museums, currently under-researched and under-theorised.

Reflection Questions…

Have you developed children’s creative environments around the ideas of child-centred practice, experimentation, and creative play? How does this reaffirm or challenge previous curatorial, artistic and pedagogical notions within an art museum context?
Please share your comments, experiences, challenges, and reflections.


  1. Nicholson, S 1971. How NOT to cheat children – The theory of loose parts. Landscape Architecture, 62, p.30-34.
  2. James, A., Jenks, C., & Prout, A. (1998). Theorizing childhood. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  3. Lenz Taguchi, H. (2010). Going beyond the theory/practice divide in early childhood education: Introducing an intra-active pedagogy, Oxon: Routledge.
  4. Vygotsky, L 1930. Mind in society: The development of higher mental processes. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  5. Reggio Children & Harvard Project Zero. (2005). Making learning visible: Children as individual and group learners. Reggio Emilia, Italy: Reggio Children publications.