Written by Jessica Baker Kee, Ph.D. Candidate in Art Education, Penn State University, and Pincus Family Foundation Intern, Palmer Museum of Art
In 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:
Maxine Greene Center for Aesthetic Education and Social Imagination (http://maxinegreene.org): a community of artists, scholars and educators devoted to discussing and celebrating Dr. Greene’s work.
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).
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.
Written by Dana Carlisle Kletchka, Co-Editor of ArtMuseumTeaching and Curator of Education, Palmer Museum of Art.
“Too Much of a Good Thing can be Wonderful.” –Hunter S. Thompson
I’m back from participating in the third meeting of the Art Museum Education Consortium (AMECO) in Seattle, WA, where a group of representatives from various organizations discussed, deliberated, and strategized the current state and future directions of our field in the tranquil setting of the Frye Art Museum. The participants were thoughtful and forthright as they shared insights, resources, and professional opinions about where we have been and, more importantly, where we could and should be going. Although the group was not unanimous in their thoughts on nearly any one topic, a clear exception is the opportunity that technology and social media offer for professional development, communication, and praxis for art museum educators. (see graphic representation of the AMECO proceedings near the bottom of this post)
Throughout the meeting, I kept returning in my own mind to two things:
The number of resources that currently exist for art museum educators. When I began my graduate work in the field in 1995, I struggled to find excellent sources for inspiration and professional development. The situation is far, far different now—there is so much exciting work being done.
The ways in which ArtMuseumTeaching.com, as a digital community of practice, can support and encourage the progress and evolution of our field in ways that are both powerful and palatable. We are all incredibly busy, but somehow we make time for a source of information that is powerful, well-curated, social, and welcoming.
To that end, I would like to share the myriad professional resources offered by the groups represented at the meeting. Take a few moments over your lunch break (yes, I know . . . what lunch break?) and click the following links to see the good work being done in and on behalf of the field of museum education:
ArtMuseumTeaching.com is a digital community and collaborative online forum for reflecting on issues of teaching, learning, and experimental practice in the field of art museum education. It is the goal of this site to connect educators, ideas, and resources around a dialogue about what we do in our practice of teaching and learning.
Canadian Art Gallery Educators (CAGE) is a non-profit association of educators and museums across Canada. Formed in 1989, CAGE has a long history of providing support for gallery and museum educators.
Committee for Education and Cultural Action (CECA) is one of the oldest international committees of ICOM, and as such it achieves the major objectives of ICOM: the exchange of scientific information at an international level, the development of professional standards, the adoption of rules and recommendations, and the realization of collaborative projects.
Engage.org engage is a membership organization representing gallery, art, and education professionals in the United Kingdom and over 20 countries worldwide. engage promotes access to, enjoyment, and understanding of the visual arts through gallery education.
George Washington University Museum Education: Master of Arts in Teaching. The George Washington University developed its master of arts in teaching in museum education in consultation with the museum community. The interdisciplinary curriculum balances academic study with carefully supervised fieldwork, preparing practitioners with the range of knowledge and competencies requisite to leading the profession
Group for Education in Museums(GEM) is a European organization that champions excellence in heritage learning to improve the education health, and well-being of the general public.
Samuel H. Kress Foundation supports the work of individuals and institutions engaged with the appreciation, interpretation, preservation, study, and teaching of the history of European art and architecture from antiquity to the dawn of the modern era. Among their broad support for art museums, the Kress Interpretive Fellowship provides a new kind of mentored professional development opportunity intended to encourage students to explore interpretive careers in art museums, whether as future museum educators or curators; to strengthen the profession of museum educator within the art museum community; to strengthen ties between museum educators and curators in the shared task of interpretive programming in art museums; and to expand the range of promising career options available to students of art history and related fields.
LEM: The Learning Museum Network Projectis a permanent network of museums and cultural heritage organizations to ensure that that can play an active role with regard to lifelong learning and to raise awareness among decision makers at a European level.
Museum Education Monitortracks and records research and resources in museum education worldwide. The aim of MEM is to help create a “road map” to new and current learning in museum education. Its goal is to enhance the development of theory and practice in the field by both academics and museum workers.
Museum Education Roundtable fosters professionalism among museum educators by encouraging leadership, scholarship, and research in museum-based learning. MER also publishes the Journal of Museum Education, the only journal printed in the United States devoted to the theory and practice of museum education.
Museum-Ed strives to meet the needs of museum educators by providing tools and resources by and for the museum education community. Museum-Ed is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing museum educators opportunities to ask questions, to exchange ideas, to explore current issues, to share resources, to reflect on experiences, and to inspire new directions in museum education. Museum-Ed is not a membership organization. All of the resources on the Museum-Ed Web site are free and available to educators in any type of museum, and anyone interested in the field of museum education.
National Art Education Association’s Museum Education Division advances the mission and vision of NAEA, advocating for the value of art museum education in lifelong learning, as well as promoting the needs of educators and the diverse audiences museums engage. The division builds community and develops leadership, advances research and knowledge, and fosters a culture of learning in the field.
Many thanks to Kris Wetterlund and Scott Sayre of Museum-Ed for endeavoring to bring this meeting to fruition while being the most gracious of hosts; to the Kress Foundation for supporting and and participating in this significant event; and to Maketa Wilborn for his ability to summarize, understand, and represent complex issues and ideas.
AMECO hosts: Museum-Ed and Frye Art Museum; sponsored by the Kress Foundation
Participating Organizations: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Art Museum Teaching, Marcus Institute for Digital Education in the Arts (MIDEA), Bank Street College, George Washington University, Museum Education Roundtable, Kress Foundation, University of Texas at Austin, Canadian Art Gallery Educators (CAGE), EdCOM/American Alliance of Museums, The Learning Project, Engage.org, Group in Education (GEM), Museum Education Division/National Art Education Association, and International Council on Museums/Committee for Education and Cultural Action (CECA).
“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.
“… 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…
Intended to take us beyond “best practices,” Next Practices in Art Museum Educationis 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.
Released in November 2013, the NMC Horizon Report: 2013 Museum Editionexamines 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.
Center 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.
Coming 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.
For 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?
What do maker spaces, bodily collisions with strangers, and sculptures made of Turkish delight have in common? They were all part of sessions at the recent 2014 National Art Education Association Convention in San Diego. To be more specific, they were all part of sessions that focused on a theme threading through the four days of sun and arts teaching: the spirit of play.
That’s how I’m referring to it, at least. The same idea was talked about as “being OK with failure”, “going in without predetermined outcomes”, and “iterative approaches”, but it was all shades of the same thing, and it was popping up everywhere. (Side note: The importance of play in our work lives has been a topic beyond the museum sphere for a while. Here’s a nice, clear Psychology Today article from 2008 that talks about what play means for our brains.) People are interested in testing new ideas without knowing how they’ll end up, and I love it. Like my theme tracking after the last AAM Annual Meeting, I want to follow this one through the NAEA Convention, highlighting some (though by no means all) of the conversations, actions, and tweets that made it one of my top conference takeaways.
Talking about play started out at the Museum Education Division Preconference, which was hosted at Balboa Park, home to some inspirational collaborations between cultural institutions. Collaboration was the theme of the Preconference, and the very first session of the day, a keynote panel of experienced museum collaboration facilitators, included advice like:
Heather Berry: sometimes #MuseumsConnect collabs btwn museums/community orgs don’t meet stated goals, but have great outcomes. #naeamused14
David Bowles from the Metropolitan Museum of Art talked about what motivated him to take part in the Noguchi Museum’s Teacher Think Tank (a program that started with the open-ended goal of getting museum educators and K-12 teachers together to think about museums and schools working together).
On Saturday morning, a session called Museum Maker Spaces: Creating and Play for Adults (not to be confused with “adult play”) took up the playfulness banner. I’m sorry to have missed that session, but thanks to colleagues like Emily Holtrop (from the Cincinnati Art Museum) and Cate Bayles (from the John Michael Kohler Arts Center), I heard about some of its key themes on Twitter.
What is play? How do we play? Have adults forgotten how to play? What do we get out of play? How do you play? @NAEA#naeamused14#naea14
No pressure for an end product? What do we get out of play? As the larger debate continues about how to make museums relevant, I’m glad these are some of the issues being posed. I’m a firm believer that the museum can be a space for more than an in-depth, object-centered experience. As a museum educator, yes, that’s at the heart of what I do in many ways, but is it the only thing I do? No. The only—or, dare I say best—thing visitors can experience when they come to a museum? Heck, no!
Museums can be many things to many people. For those of us dedicated to making museums meaningful, setting up experiments and pushing the boundaries of what makes a “good museum visit” is a great way to find out what some of those many things might be.
That was exactly the spirit of the Gallery Teaching Marathon, organized by this site’s Mike Murawski and hosted at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego on Sunday of the NAEA Convention. As any regular reader of ArtMuseumTeaching.com knows, Mike is a voice for pushing our museum education practice, and he invited us to do just that through in-gallery sessions throughout the day. In his original email looking for educators interested in leading a session, here’s how he put it:
“I would encourage people to think of this as an opportunity to try something new, take risks, and know that you will be among supportive colleagues, peers, and educators.”
And for those who ventured into one or two or all of the Gallery Teaching Marathon sessions, risks and newness were there for them to find. Without speaking for my talented fellow educators who offered a wide range of experiences in the galleries that day, I will say the session I facilitated was exciting and invigorating to lead, and I hope fun to take part in.
We used Richard Serra’s site-specific work, Santa Fe Depot to inspire us to write found poems, to focus on the environment around the work (up to and including the tourists dancing on top of Serra’s forged steel blocks, the commuter trains arriving and departing immediately next to us, and the pile of “organic sculpture” a dog had left behind next to the artwork), and finally, to create our own interpretive movements based on the words we’d generated.
Throughout the day, the Marathon sessions were full of eager, interested attendees, gung-ho for all the weirdness that might come their way and then ready to reflect on it. For my part, I found it incredibly liberating to be trying something with no idea how it would go over. I liked explaining to the experimental adventurers at my session that I’d never done this before and talking about which elements of what we did made them uncomfortable and why. It felt like an exciting deviation from what I expect from my own teaching, which led directly to me thinking about how to make it less of a deviation.
How can I take that spirit of fun, unexpected experiences in the museum and layer it into my job? How can I give the teachers I work with—especially now, when so many are stressed over standards and evaluation—the same kind of joyful, playful invigoration that I felt from all these NAEA sessions and colleagues? How can I spread my own belief that sometimes the most fun you can have in a museum comes from doing something within its walls that you would never have expected to do?
That’s what I’ve come home thinking about, and I’d love to hear if this idea affected any of you, too. Any anecdotes to share about how the spirit of play has impacted your museum work? Any advice for spreading the enjoyably surprising? Any other NAEA sessions you attended that connected to this idea? Share your thoughts in the comments.
By Olga Hubard, Teachers College, Columbia University
We all know that one way we grow as museum education professionals is by sharing our practices and the thinking that surrounds them. In most cases we do this through traditional presentations: our ideas and experiences tidily packaged; challenges and difficulties presented as something that occurred (safely) in the past, and which we now frame as food for productive reflection. The experimentation and messiness that is so often part of our work — at least if we take the risks necessary to keep evolving — do not often occur in front of our colleagues. That is, unless we participate in a Gallery Teaching Marathon like the one that took place in the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego during the NAEA conference this spring.
I left the Gallery Teaching Marathon both inspired and hopeful. One important reason was the very nature of the marathon: a group of seasoned museum educators guiding each other in engagements with works of art. Some, by their own admission, did “something they had never tried before;” others shared approaches that had been tried and tested but with works that were new to them. The fact that these educators felt comfortable enough to make themselves vulnerable in front of their colleagues is indicative of extraordinary trust among this community. As well, it reflects the passion and indomitable spirit of a group of professionals who have helped shape our field from the ground up.
For those of us who have become accustomed to teaching in the galleries, it was a luxury to be on the audience end of things, with the primary responsibility of helping make meaning of a series of compelling artworks. It was also fascinating to witness a range of teaching approaches that overlapped as much as they were different. I know many of us left the marathon with new ideas — particular strategies that we plan to borrow from our peers, and which will likely be incorporated into our practice soon enough.
I am ready, for example, to invite viewers to think more explicitly of the layers of meaning that a work might yield (Niki Ciccotelli Stewart), or to encourage them to enact the movements they might make if they could go inside a picture (Jen Oleniczak). I am also keen to have visitors post written questions on the periphery of a work (Heidi Hinish and Liz Diament), or to ask them to do what a particular work “is asking them to do” (Elliott Kai-Kee). More than anything, I am curious to see what happens as other educators in the group borrow and adapt this or that approach, make it their own, and come up with yet other ideas. It is this sort of cross-fertilization that keeps things moving along.
Another gain for me was renewed empathy with audiences. Throughout the marathon, I was acutely aware of how I responded to the various conditions that shaped our gallery interactions. When did the pace of a conversation leave room for my comments and when did it seem too fast or too distant from my ideas? In the case of non-discursive activities, when did I feel too self-conscious to really be in the experience and when did I feel comfortable “going for it”? How did the educator’s demeanor influence my interaction with the work and with others in the group?
By taking the participant’s seat, I was also able to re-discover something I already knew — or thought I knew. Like all of you, I have known for years that partner talk is a valuable approach in the galleries (of course!). But at MCASD, when a group got too large, or when for whatever reason I did not feel prepared to share my thoughts in a group dialogue, how grateful I was to be able to share what had been in my mind all along with a partner! The next time I facilitate partner- or small-group work I will do so from a renewed level of empathy and awareness. Perhaps like me, some of you also left the marathon with your own “re-learnings,” which can only work to enhance visitors’ experiences in the museum.
Beyond specific strategies and empathy, the gallery teaching marathon animated some larger issues that underlie our work. Two that are particularly alive for me at this point:
If the experiences that took place in MCASD are in any way representative of the field, it would seem that we have come to accept that the meanings that viewers shape through words and rational thought are no more worthy than those they shape through poetic and non-discursive modalities. In an educational milieu that values rational thinking and word-based forms of meaning making above all, this places us at the vanguard–but also in tension with the status quo. Given this, how might we work to deepen and strengthen a commitment to poetic/artistic and multimodal ways of knowing so that museum visitors can continue to benefit from rich, multidimensional experiences with museum objects? How might we articulate the educational worth of diverse modes of meaning making? And how might we avoid dichotomizing rational, word-based approaches vis-à-vis more poetic ones, which might put us at risk of throwing out the baby with the bath water — or from recognizing when the two intersect?
A few times during the marathon, I heard participants note that certain activities had taken them away from, rather than closer to, the works that were the target of our exploration. In the same breadth, these people added something along the lines of, “I’m not sure that it matters, though; the activity was worthwhile anyway.” For us educators, this raises a question of intentionality: When are our activities meant to bring us into deeper interaction with an object? When are they meant to spark off creative activity beyond the work itself? When are they meant to do both–or to do something different altogether? Does it matter and, if so, in what way? (These questions remind me of my colleague Megan Laverty’s provocative idea that perhaps the main purpose of art is to generate more art.)
With these and other questions in mind, throughout the marathon, part of me kept wishing for more time to debrief and reflect on what we were all experiencing. The rest of me was content with the limited reflection time we had, however — there was something wonderful about spending an entire day in the midst of practice; a day of sharing our work in the making; our practices in all their messiness and all their (realized and yet-to-be realized) potential. Perhaps an idea for another occasion might be to have a one-day gallery teaching marathon followed by a half-day reflection session.
But back to the event at MCASD. Early in this post, I said that the Gallery Teaching Marathon left me hopeful. I meant it. As I think back to our day together, I am hopeful for what is to come for our field, full as it is of courageous and dedicated educators who continue to build from the ground up, and to push us all to think and play and interact in thoughtful, imaginative ways. This is significant work for us as educators, and I trust that in time it will lead to more meaning-full museum experiences for visitors.
UPDATE: Response from Elliott Kai-Kee, J. Paul Getty Museum
“Olga Hubard’s reflection on the issue of non-discursive and ‘poetic’ approaches versus word-based and ‘rational’ approaches struck a responsive chord with me. I like the way she cautions us against putting the two in opposition rather than seeing them as ‘intersecting,’ or even better, complementary. Indeed, I think it’s crucially important to figure out ways to work them together. I commonly see docents separate their school-group lessons into ‘activity’ stops and ‘discussion’ stops. How is it that we have defined the two in ways that result in such a dichotomy? They must get this from us somehow. Is it a reflection of an argument pitting engagement against interpretation? Materiality against symbolism? The Gallery Teaching Marathon demonstrated a wonderful variety of approaches to the practice of gallery teaching. Is there a way of thinking about teaching that brings them together in a way that would make them more powerful in combination?”
About the Author:
OLGA HUBARD: Associate professor of art education at Teachers College, Columbia University. Olga is interested in the humanizing power of art and in how educators can help promote meaningful art experiences for learners. She has published extensively about this issue, particularly in the context of museum education. Her scholarship has appeared in journals including Studies in Art Education, Curator: The Museum Journal, International Journal of Art and Design Education, Journal of Aesthetic Education, Journal of Museum Education, and Art Education: The Journal of the National Art Education Association. Olga’s writing is informed by years of experience as a museum educator and art teacher, and by her ongoing studio art practice. She holds doctoral and master’s degrees in art education from Teachers College, an MFA from the School of Visual Arts, and a BA in Art History from the Universidad Iberoamericana (Mexico). Olga’s postings on this site are her own and do not necessarily represent Columbia University’s positions, strategies, or opinions.
As the second year of the ArtMuseumTeaching site wraps up, I thought it would be good to post a brief review of the past year as well as some thoughts as we look ahead in 2014. Not that we need any more end-of-the-year lists or calls for resolutions, but I think it can be meaningful to take a minute and look back at some of the issues that have been on our minds this past year, and imagine a bit about what is on the horizon. From 3D printing and hacking the museum to MOOCs and the value of museum field trips, there have been a lot of interesting and sticky topics that we’ve discussed here on this site.
Through its second year, the ArtMuseumTeaching community has continued to grow. Doubling the number of authors, adding 39 new posts, starting a new Google+ Community, and now reaching readers in 143 countries, interested contributors and readers have pushed this site to new heights in 2013. I hope that the online community and conversation around this site will continue to grow, include more diverse perspectives, and be a space of exchange where we can connect on issues of teaching, learning, and community engagement that matter most in museums.
Looking Back: Most Read Posts of 2013
While I always hate the popularity game of “most read,” it can be fun to look back at the year and see what people seemed most interested in across the board. Here are the Top 5:
“Is This Art? Tales from 3 New York City Educators” (June 2013): Rachel Crumpler, Jen Oleniczak, and Shannon Murphy got together and shared with us the most common “Is this art?” situations they’ve encountered — from grumbles and snarky looks to “pfft, that’s disgusting” and “my four-year-old could do that.” Great tales we can all relate to, and some excellent strategies for tackling these awkward (yet extremely teachable) moments.
“What is Museum Hack?” (December 2013): Museum hackers Mark Rosen and Jen Oleniczak recently described how a group of renegade museum lovers can get people really excited about museums. Leading creative and thought-provoking tours at the Met, Museum Hack is certainly getting museums and museum educators to ask some interesting questions about what we do. Jen and I connected via a tech-challenged Google Hangout before the end of the year, and were able to address some of the questions about ‘hacking’ museums for positive change (see video archive embedded in the post).
“Do Museum Educators Still Have Time to Read Books?” (June 2013): In an effort to ‘bring back the books,’ ArtMuseumTeaching launched its Online Book Club this summer. Far from MOOCs, the two book club discussions were intimate exchanges that focused on books that have not popped to the best seller list: one very meaningful new volume entitled Museums and Communities(edited by Viv Golding and Wayne Modest) and a classic text re-examined, George Hein’s Learning in the Museum(first published in 1998). While it is always a challenge to carve away time to read, I hope we can continue the Online Book Club in 2014.
“What’s the Value of an Art Museum Field Trip?”(September 2013): It is important for us to remember that 2013 saw the first-ever large-scale, random-assignment experiment of the effects of school tours of an art museum — thanks to the incredible research team pulled together at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Anne Kraybill shared with us the results of this significant research; findings which help to make a more rigorous case to administrators, policy makers, philanthropists, and educators that there is significant value in a field trip.
“Teaching for Independence: Empowering Learning in the Art Museum” (May 2013): For me, it is still always important to see ArtMuseumTeaching as a site where we can share our own daily teaching practice — since this is where the blog started for me, personally, back in February 2012. I was excited to share an experience I had with a group of Portland State University students, thinking about how an educator can empower visitors to learn to begin to see looking and learning with art in a more active, participatory way that also allows for shared authority around knowledge and interpretation. The post was also a collaboration withArt History Teaching Resources(AHTR), a peer-populated teaching resources site begun by Michelle Millar Fisher and Karen Shelby that promotes discussion and reflection around new ways of teaching and learning in the art history classroom — a collaboration that I know will only grow in 2014.
As we look ahead to this new year, there is so much potential and possibility. In addition to the great posts and contributions already mentioned, 2013 was a great year for collaborations and partnerships. ArtMuseumTeaching has been connecting with so many other exceptional blogs, online communities, and digital networks, and I know that is going to grow and expand in the year ahead. We’ve also been experimenting with using Google Hangouts as a way to connect people, and I hope to push that a bit farther in 2014 (perhaps even experimenting with connecting our gallery teaching practice via Hangouts or video connections).
For 2014, I am also excited to be working on ArtMuseumTeaching’s first-ever “gallery teaching marathon” that will happen during the National Art Education Association national conference in San Diego this year. So if you’re interested in experimenting with a new teaching strategy or just seeing some great museum teaching, please stay tuned. As soon as we have all the details confirmed, I’ll be sharing this with everyone! And if you’re interesting in helping coordinate this, definitely let me know — I think we’ll need a few hands on deck to make this work.
The year ahead certainly promises a whole new set of challenges, success stories, and new ways of thinking about both the theory and practice of art museum teaching. If you would like to share the projects you’re working on or the issues and challenges you are grappling with, please add your voice to this growing community (and just send me a tweet at @murawski27). Happy New Year!
Submitted by Lydia Ross, Programmer of Education, School and Teacher Programs, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Re-published from NAEA Digication e-Portfolio site.
As 21st century art teachers there are so many competing pressures for time and attention that it can sometimes be difficult to focus on a core concern of creative teachers. How to gather innovative ideas for projects and curriculum that introduce students to a wide range of contemporary artmaking strategies?
“Recognizing the need to create opportunities for teachers to share innovative practice and understanding that old style curriculum sharing methods may not be the most efficient or engaging ways of exchanging quality curriculum, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago’s Educator Salon invented a fast-paced and fun format to share art projects—the Curriculum Slam!” explained Chicago art educator Olivia Gude.
“Today’s society of media saturation has given us all a touch of ADD. The curriculum slam format works well because it’s quick and entertaining and because the careful selection and preparation process guarantees that the content is fresh and well-thought out—based on significant contemporary ideas about making art.”
Inspired by the emceed hip hop-style poetry slams pioneered in Chicago in the 1980s that brought contemporary aesthetics and style to traditional poetry readings, the Curriculum Slam! re-invents the old-style curriculum fair by adapting a 21st century presentation innovation—the rapid style PechaKucha format. PechaKucha (in which 20 images are set to advance automatically every 20 seconds) was developed by the Klein Dytham architectural firm in Tokyo because there was a need for a public forum to share innovative work, but if you “Give a microphone and some images to …most creative people…and they’ll go on forever!”
The Curriculum Slam! has become a popular yearly feature of the MCA’s teacher programming since 2010. Teachers have presented on a wide range of topics—using the work of contemporary artists to inspire contemporary curriculum. Presentation subjects have ranged from 5th graders making paintings with the self-imposed limitations (based on the work of Matthew Barney), building and photographing miniature environments (in the style of artists such as Laurie Simmons and outsider artist Mark Hogancamp), humorous horror drawings (inspired by drawings and animation of Tim Burton) and explorations of self-identify in the digital age in which students’ text messages contribute to making self-representations.
“The Museum of Contemporary Art is a learning institution as well as a presenting institution. Through this project we are tapping into many forms of contemporary pedagogy. We are learning from teachers.” -Marissa Reyes, Associate Director of Education, School & Teacher Programs at the MCA
The PechaKucha format has been adapted to enhance curriculum sharing—“We have been using a 14-slides-in-40-seconds format to allow teachers the time to explain some of the details relating to core objectives, materials, choice of artists and other details that contribute to successful projects. We wanted to create a format that balanced being fun and sort of frantic with conveying useful content.”
Curriculum Slam! Goes to San Diego
Now, Chicago brings this dynamic presentation format to the country with the first ever NAEA National Conference Curriculum Slam! emceed by OMGude, Marissa Reyes and DJ Jamie Rees. The event will be held during the 2014 NAEA National Conference in San Diego (March 29-31, 2014) on Monday, March 31 from 4 to 5:50pm. NAEA Secondary Division Director, James Rees commented, “One thing teachers seem to be always looking for is timely content that matters to their students. This curriculum slam will model a dynamic method of communication, along with a dizzying array of meaningful curriculum. This will be a must attend event this year at the conference!”
How to Get Involved at the NAEA Curriculum Slam!
All members of the NAEA community are invited to apply to be a presenter in the San Diego conference Curriculum Slam! by sending in a short initial application explaining how the teacher’s curriculum unites great contemporary art and great contemporary curriculum, accompanied by a few images. The Museum of Contemporary Art Teacher Advisory Committee will review the applications, conduct phone interviews, choose participants and help presenters prepare for the fast-paced format.
See below for more information on the process of submitting an application by downloading the application forms and template for sample 3 slides in the presentation.
By Dana Carlisle Kletchka, Curator of Education, Palmer Museum of Art at Pennsylvania State University
Although art museum educators exist in the interstices of teaching, learning, and research, it is not often that we are invited to share our professional experiences in the form of a scholarly publication. It is clear from the content on this blog and others, however, that we have a lot to say and a great deal to share with one other. In that spirit, I invite you to consider the following Call for Papers for an edited volume on professional development for preK-12 art teachers, with particular consideration to how it occurs in museum spaces. My co-editor, B. Stephen Carpenter II, and I hope that it will ultimately be a resource for university and art museum educators, preK-12 art teachers, and graduate students in art and art museum education/museum studies courses.
CALL FOR PAPERS
Art museum educators and academics who engage in or study professional development for teachers:
We are accepting chapter abstracts for an edited book that explores the history, philosophy, and theoretical foundations of professional development in and from art museums; provides examples of meaningful professional development experiences with particular attention to the broader impact and translatability of such experiences; and delineates institutional partnerships between academic entities and art museums.
A central tenet of the book is that collaborative engagements with works of contemporary art in art museums, coupled with critical reflection and pedagogical application, provide art educators opportunities for professional development that renew, strengthen, and expand their effectiveness and influence within art educational spaces.
Please send a 250-word summary of your proposed chapter to: Dr. B. Stephen Carpenter at email@example.com or Dr. Dana Carlisle Kletchka at firstname.lastname@example.org before Monday, November 18, 2013.
By Anne Kraybill, School and Community Programs Manager, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
Early in my career, I worked at an art museum that experienced what many art museums have experienced, a steady decline in school tours. Our tours did not cost anything to the schools, we had a grant for some transportation and the school district had funding as well. As an institution, we were puzzled. If the tours were barrier-free in terms of cost, what could be causing this? This was just around the time of the initial implementation of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and we had anecdotal evidence that preparing for the NCLB test was deterring administrators from approving field trips during the months preceding the exam. But even in the non-test prep months, attendance was down.
As I progressed throughout my career, I continued to face the challenge of convincing administrators that a trip to the art museum is a worthy endeavor. Even with funding for transportation, it has been a difficult case to make with little rigorous research available to back up our arguments. Through my teaching practice in the gallery, I can see the connections students are making: the critical thinking and inference, and the expansion of their interpretive framework that opens up their world. But could it be proven? We needed hard numbers: How does a one-time field trip to an art museum actually impact a student, and is that impact enough to convince an administrator?
Fortunately, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art inherently believes in the power of the field trip and the multiple effects it has upon student learning. Thanks to the generosity of the Willard and Pat Walker Charitable foundation, the Museum established a $10 million endowment that provides every school with transportation, substitute teachers, and a lunch for students during their museum visit. This makes a field trip barrier free and as one might imagine, the demand was high. Everyone wanted to visit the Museum when we first opened. But as I had experienced previously, financial barriers are not the only challenge to ensuring school visitation. How could we ensure that five or ten years from now we still had the same interest and support from school administrators?
Located in the Ozarks, Crystal Bridges is the first large art museum in the region. Prior to the opening of our Museum, schools would have to drive to Tulsa or Little Rock to visit an art museum. The combination of never having an art museum in the area, plus a demand for field trips that exceeded our Museum’s initial capacity, lent itself to a natural experiment. We contacted the University of Arkansas, Department of Education Reform to measure the impact a one-time field trip has upon students.
Researchers Jay Greene, Brian Kisida, and Daniel Bowen designed a random assignment study. Schools applied to visit the Museum in grade levels or pods. Groups were matched and then randomly assigned whether they would get the field trip right away, or if they would get the field trip later. Once the study began, the treatment group visited the Museum and the control group was surveyed. Following the field trip, the treatment group was surveyed (an average of three weeks after). The research was conducted from March through December 2012. There were almost 11,000 students and 489 teachers at 123 different schools throughout the region in this study.
Crystal Bridges school tours are similar to those at many art museums. We use interactive dialog that allows the tour to be student driven. Students make observations or statements and Museum Educators respond through paraphrasing, questions, or layering additional contextual information for the student to a level of understanding that they might not get to on their own. For many students and their teachers this is their first time on an art museum field trip. We want to be sure they know this is not about the passive reception of information. We emphasize to the students that this tour is about their ideas, and we produced a video to help deliver this message:
Tours are led by Museum Educators that are on staff rather than a volunteer corp. As they are leading tours daily, the educators are continually refining and reflecting. In addition, peer review and mentoring is part of the training process.
The researchers were interested in revealing several areas of possible impact. These included cognitive and non-cognitive skills from knowledge acquisition, critical thinking, tolerance, historical empathy, and desire to visit museums in the future.
Overall, students remember what they learn from works of art! Shocking I know, but students were able to answer very specific questions about contextual information, demonstrating that they retained that information not because they had to for a test, but because it was interesting information to keep.
In critical thinking, students also displayed more observations and inferences if they had been on a field trip.
Students indicated that they would be more open to diverse opinions, even if they were in opposition to their own thinking.
Students were better able to imagine a situation unlike their own in the form of historical empathy.
There was also a built-in behavioral measure indicated if the treatment or control group would be more likely to come back to the museum. The treatment group did independently return with their families at a higher rate than the control. In all of the areas there is an impact, but the most significant impact is found within student populations that are considered to attend low-socio economic and/or rural schools.
With recent research in non-cognitive abilities as a predictor of student success, these findings help to make a rigorous case to administrators, policy makers, philanthropists, and educators that there is significant value in a field trip.
As art museum educators, we get so wrapped up in our own practice and day-to-day work that there are many things we sometimes do not have time for. From writing that article we’ve always wanted to write to simply spending more time in the galleries looking at art, we can get so busy that these things speed past us. Too frequently, recognizing the work we do as educators also falls by the wayside. So I am calling on you to press the pause button for one moment and recognize the excellent work your peers are doing in the field. It’s time to recognize excellence in art museum education!
Take 5 minutes and think of someone who is making a difference in your work as a museum educator — whether they are a super supportive mentor, a transformative colleague, or an emerging educator whose hard work is deserving of recognition.
Contact them — shoot them an email saying that you think they simply ROCK, and that you would like to nominate them for an NAEA Museum Division Award (regional or national).
Write a short letter saying how great they are! What has been exemplary about their practice or their role in the field of museum education? What impact are they making at their institution; in their community; in the National Art Education Association? How have they pushed you to become a better educator? Please make them blush when they read it.
Ask your rock star nominee to fill out the short CV form (download here) and to select 2 people to write short, glowing letters of support. Again, this is usually very easy, since as a field we are all here to support each other and recognize excellence. Ask the nominee to have their support letters sent directly to you.
Submit this entire packet (nomination letter, CV form, and 2 letters of support) to Ben Garcia (email@example.com) or myself, Mike Murawski (firstname.lastname@example.org), no later than October 1st. Please don’t miss this deadline! We really want to consider your nomination and recognize excellence in your colleagues.
Over the past 30 years, the National Art Education Association has recognized excellence in nearly 150 museum educators that are members of NAEA, many of them are mentors and colleagues that we have had the pleasure of working with or continue to work with now. The list includes “movers and shakers” in our field, but also the quiet, modest, yet powerful educators who would not have been recognized without being nominated by someone like yourself.
So take the time to recognize the excellent and transformative work happening in our field, and nominate someone for an NAEA Award!
If you have any questions at all, or need help with this process, do not hesitate to email me at email@example.com or Ben Garcia at firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember that the deadline for submitting nominations is October 1st!
I don’t know if it was attending the Museums & the Web conference back in April or just simply recognizing the amount of time I spend navigating technology issues in the museum, but I recently have had a good old-fashioned “freak out” when it comes to museum tech. Touch screens, apps, MOOCs, mobile-optimized web design, iPad tours, Hangouts, social media, photo sharing, Vine, Instagram, YouTube … EEK!
The budgets and staff support for technology at museums seem to be growing and growing, with some museums investing more in a single technology project than other museums have in their entire annual operating budget. I’ve certainly been an advocate for this shift in 21st century museums — don’t get me wrong. As a museum blogger but also as a Director of Education, I have truly come to understand and appreciate the benefits of online engagement and the use of technology for interpretation and learning. But when I head into the galleries to facilitate a learning experience, technology often falls away and I find myself focusing entirely on the analog elements of museum teaching.
Earlier this year, I was invited to give a public talk at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego as part of their “Outside Perspectives” program, so I decided to grapple with this issue in a public forum. The main risk here was that I have not fully formed my own ideas and position about the role of technology in museum teaching and learning — but I was excited to throw out a series of raw questions and spark a conversation that would no doubt help me shape my own ideas and thinking. Here is a link to the SlideShare of my PowerPoint:
The title of the talk kicked everything off with a rather false dichotomy between “plugged in” and “unplugged” museum experiences and the preferences museum visitors might have — even assuming that these experiences are separable in some way. But the real core questions I wanted to deal with were:
Are we becoming too reliant on technology in museum education?
As we focus more and more on digital and online experiencea, are we sacrificing any of the human-centered elements that have been at the core of museum education for more than a century?
If your museum lost power, how would that affect the learning experience in the galleries and across programming?
During my visit to the MCA San Diego, they had the Lifelike exhibition on view at their La Jolla building. So in preparation for my talk, I took some time to explore the online and digital side of people’s experiences with this exhibition — even adding my own Instagram photos and Vine videos to the mix — and presented these incredible layers as part of my talk about the “plugged in” experience. I also brought in to the conversation a series of technology projects gaining attention in recent years, including Google Art Project, online courses and Google Hangouts via museums like MoMA, the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Gallery One and the ArtLens app (showing this project always gets some oohs and aahs), and the Rijksmuseum’s new website.
During my talk at MCASD, I stopped to open the floor for conversation and audience thoughts about the balance between plugged-in and unplugged engagement in museums, and whether we rely too much on technology. And even after presenting a series of eye-popping, meaningful, transformative technology-based projects and experiences in museums, the audience largely seemed to place more value on the analog and non-technology-based social experiences they have (or develop as educators) in museums. And I am reminded of the human core of my own gallery teaching practice — a core that was highlighted so perfectly by Briley Rasmussen’s post on this site last year after the Getty’s decision to cut its education teaching staff. In her post, Briley boldly states:
“When art museums support their collections through personal human interactions, … moments of humanness and ‘unselfing’ occur. This is when our collections shine and are the most profound. This is when we have real public value.”
So with these raw questions laid out, I’m curious about other people’s thoughts. Are museums becoming too reliant on technology and the internet? Are we sacrificing any of our core values as we dedicate more and more resources and staff to technology initiatives? How can we create a meaningful balance between the “unplugged” and the “plugged in” as we move forward into the 21st century? Join the conversation below.
“Real isn’t how you are made. It’s a thing that happens to you.”
This year’s American Alliance of Museums (AAM) Annual Meeting wrapped up in Baltimore last week, but I’m still wrapping my mind around some of the ideas that came up in sessions and lively discussion (in person and via the Twitter hashtag #aam2013). Although the official theme was “The Power of Story”, I walked away thinking that another fitting tagline could have been the above quote from that classic of children’s literature, The Velveteen Rabbit, shared as wisdom from the Skin Horse to the titular lagomorph.
The idea of realness and how that matters in a museum context was on people’s minds throughout the conference, enough that it had a whole session dedicated to it on the first day. “Is It Real? Who Cares?” brought together a group of museum professionals to engage the room in debate over some knotty questions. Before you get excited for a recap of that session, I’ll clarify that I wasn’t there. But they’ve set up a Tumblr that’ll give you some ideas of what you missed, and the handout includes some of the questions that may affect your thoughts about realness.
They ask some great, substantial doozies:
Does authenticity of objects matter more or less to different visitors?
Can display context render real objects fake or make fake objects seem real?
Is the object rendered more real because it’s rare or one-of-a-kind?
If I were feeling more academically-minded, here’s where I’d drop some quotes from Walter Benjamin’s seminal The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction about the aura that a real object has due to its very realness, but I’m only feeling academically-minded enough to use the word “seminal” and bring Benjamin up in the first place. Besides, he wasn’t speaking at AAM, so I’ll move on.
I’m sorry I missed “Is It Real? Who Cares?”, especially because it was the beginning of what became a thematic thread I followed throughout the rest of the conference. In Tuesday morning’s session, “Significant Objects”, Rob Walker talked with the Center for the Future of Museums’ Elizabeth Merritt about his project of the same name, which started out with Rob and Joshua Glenn collecting thrift store tchotchkes, inviting an array of creative writers to contribute fictional short stories about the objects, and then selling the objects+stories on eBay. You can probably guess the punchline. The $128.74 worth of knick-knacks sold for $3,612.51.
But did that make those knick-knacks more real? Would purchasers have paid more if the stories had been nonfiction documents of the objects’ histories (the kind of thing we love to include in museum labels), or was there something special about fiction that drove up the value?
As Elizabeth Merritt put it in that room, there are plenty of stories museums choose to tell about their objects that are factual, but not terribly enlivening or enlightening.
It strikes me that this is part of what’s behind projects like Amuseum Guides or MoMA Unadulterated, unofficial audio guides that offer quirky alternative angles on museums instead of straight facts. Discover forty-six ways you could be killed by the animals and places in the dioramas of the American Museum of Natural History. Hear what 3-10 year olds have to say about the art grown-ups like to dismiss with that tired chestnut, “A kid could make that.”
Lively! Fun! Encouraging people to see museums in a different way, much like the material shared in the alliteratively alluring AAM session called “Magnificent Masters of Museum Mysteries: Narrative Games in Museum Contexts.” Seema Rao from the Cleveland Museum of Art, Susan Edwards and Rebecca Edwards (no relation) from the J. Paul Getty Museum, and Georgina Bath Goodlander from the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum all shared games they’ve developed that ask players to use museum objects to help move through stories. The objects are central to the game experience (visual clues often help answer questions that lead to the next step), but the games aren’t designed to specifically teach the player about the objects.
There are lots of great examples of this kind of approach that privileges the visitor experience and makes museums fun (*gasp*). Amuseum Guides and MoMA Unadulterated do it. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Murder at the Met: An American Art Mystery does it, inserting museum visitors into a fictional story that requires looking closely at the museum’s objects and allows some leeway between the fact and fiction of the contextual, historical information about those objects. Visitor engagement and careful observation are the goals, not formal learning about the art. A true experience in the museum that doesn’t rely on real facts to make it so.
But how does this sort of true–though not altogether real–experience balance out with museums’ responsibility to offer audiences truthful information? A central question throughout these sessions, but nowhere more relevant than on the last morning at “Talking About Race: ‘Mining the Museum’ After 20 Years”. Here was a panel of educators, scholars, and curators talking about Fred Wilson’s 1993 exhibition, “Mining the Museum” at the Maryland Historical Society, where he re-curated displays to juxtapose objects like iron shackles with elaborate silver serving ware and highly finished wooden chairs drawn like an audience around a post once used to whip enslaved people.
Wilson himself joined the panel and spoke eloquently about what inspired the exhibition in the first place. He talked about being mad walking into museums and not seeing racially diverse stories represented. “It made the museum complicit in the evils of the past,” he said. The idea of provenance came up and was questioned. How is provenance determined, after all? Is it who owned a thing? Who cleaned a thing? Certainly in most museums, that first one trumps all. Ownership tells us one part of an object’s story, but it’s far from the whole story.
And so ended AAM with these unresolved issues floating through my head. What makes an object real? Who determines that realness? How important is that realness to a museum visitor? And, maybe most importantly to those of us in the museum field, how can a museum balance out the nebulous concept of realness with an authentic, true experience.
I started with a quote, so in the name of symmetry I’ll end with one. It’s from “Peter and Alice”, a new play by John Logan that I caught in London a few months ago, and it hits on that careful balance between real and true. The play imagines the conversation that might have happened between the people who inspired Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland, and near the end there’s a scene where the real Peter (there’s that pesky word again) is remembering when he first saw Peter Pan performed onstage:
I remember the first time I saw the play. I thought it was all real. […]
After the performance Uncle Jim took us backstage. It was a mad bustle, even that was thrilling. I mean, I knew it wasn’t actually real, I knew they were all actors, and we were in a theater… But I needed to know if this place existed, if it were somehow true, even though it wasn’t real. So as the party was going on and everyone was celebrating I wandered onto the stage by myself. Just me… How large it was… I saw the painted backdrop of Neverland. The pirate ship… the wooden moon… And I closed my eyes and spread my arms… And it was true. […]
For a moment… Then I opened my eyes and heard the party, and Uncle Jim calling me, and my brothers laughing… And life went on.
I don’t have neat answers for these questions, but AAM certainly got my mental wheels turning. Do you have answers? Thoughts? Examples of how you find this balance of real and true in your own museum work?