Category Archives: OpenThink

What Might Museums Look Like in the Future? NMC Virtual Symposium

Submitted by Alex Freeman, Director of Special Projects, New Media Consortium

The New Media Consortium’s upcoming Future of Museums Symposium will bring together a collaborative global conversation around issues of technology, museums, and the future. This free, online Virtual Symposium will be held on Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014, and will feature keynote speakers and crowdsourced presentations by your peers.

unnamedAs its name suggests, the Symposium looks toward the future: what might the museum world look like in five years? Ten? Further out? Technologies and practices that are just beginning to show promise in an educational or social context may well be commonplace in that time frame. In this day-long event, we are bringing the research and work behind the NMC Horizon Report 2013 Museum Edition to the greater museum community. The Horizon Report’s advisory board participates in thoughtful discussions about an array of museum technology topics, trends, and challenges in the museum wiki that informs the writing of the report — this virtual event will give participants an opportunity to engage in similar discussions with museum thought leaders in real-time.

The Symposium grows from the NMC’s Emerging Technologies Initiative, which seeks to answer the question of how to keep abreast of emerging technologies that may be important to our collective work as educators. At the core of this initiative is a focus on emerging technologies and the ways they can be applied in the service of teaching, learning, research, and creative inquiry. A major goal is to stimulate systematic thinking and discussion of the real challenges that face our world and our society, and in particular, how emerging technologies might be applied to solve them.

The program will run from 11am to 6pm ET and is going to consist of an opening keynote by Jasper Visser, a lunch Keynote by Nik Honeysett, and a closing keynote by Nancy Proctor with a variety of small group discussions based around topics in the latest NMC Horizon Report > Museum Edition  (BYOD, crowdsourcing, location-based services, and makerspaces).

In the past we have utilized platforms such as Second Life to bring our international community of practice together, but for this special museum edition we are exploring the online communication tool Business Hangouts which shares similar functionality to Google Hangouts On Air. A virtual symposium offers many of the affordances of a face to face conference without the need for travel.

To register for this event please visit: http://go.nmc.org/SympReg

Keynotes and Panelists include:

Jonathan Carfagno, Director of Learning and Audience Engagement, Grand Rapids Art Museum (USA)

Lath Carlson, Vice President of Exhibits, The Tech Museum of Innovation (USA)

Marc Check, Associate Vice President, Information and Interactive Technology, Museum of Science, Boston (USA)

Jennifer Corriero, Executive Director, Taking It Global (Canada)

Alex Freeman, Director of Special Projects, New Media Consortium (USA)

Barry Joseph, Associate Director for Digital Learning, American Museum of Natural History (USA)

Jeffrey Inscho, Web + Digital Manager, Carnegie Museum of Art (USA)

Vivian Kung, Former Director and CEO, Balboa Park Online Collaborative (Japan)

Elizabeth Merritt, Founding Director of the Center for the Future of Museums, American Alliance of Museums (USA)

Nancy Proctor, Deputy Director for Digital Experience at the Baltimore Museum of Art and Co-chair of the Museums and the Web annual conference (USA)

Ed Rodley, Associate Director of Integrated Media, Peabody Essex Museum (USA)

Sarah Stierch, Susan B. Miller Fellow,  Berkeley Center for New Media (USA)

Mariano Ulibari, Founder and Director, Parachute Factory Makerspace (USA)

Jasper Visser, Author of Digital Engagement Framework and blogger at “The Museum of the Future” (The Netherlands)

Elycia Wallis, Manager, Online Collections, Museum Victoria (Australia)

Holly Witchey, Director, the Wade Project, Western Reserve Historical Society and Faculty of Museum Studies at Johns Hopkins University. (USA)

Have You Ever Had a Transformative Experience With Art?

Have you ever had a transformative experience with a work of art?

I’m collecting as many stories as possible about the experiences people have had with artworks. Please share your story (anonymously if you like) at this Google Form.

Want to know more about this project?

Photo by Brian Koprowski. Creative Commons Attribution -NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic.
Photo by Brian Koprowski. Creative Commons Attribution -NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic.

Over the past year, I’ve started to think more and more about what the relationship is between objects, contextual/historical interpretation, and our human experiences with them. This interest began after I myself had a transformative experience with a work of art that greatly changed how I think: Agnes Martin’s Untitled #10 at the Milwaukee Art Museum. In a teen program discussion, one of my students helped me see the connections between Martin’s work and meditation practice. As I continued to look at the piece on my own and reflect on our group comments, I began to recognize that being with Martin’s painting was when I started to become more comfortable living in ambiguity — a transformative personal and professional turning point.

More broadly, from my teaching practice, I have noticed that our collective understanding of art objects is greatly enriched when we consider both art historical/contextual information and our own personal reactions and interactions with objects. We bring our own background when we look at and interpret art objects (whether we’re alone or in groups)–and I’m interested in how those experiences help us better understand the objects themselves, as well as how these objects can help us create meaning within our own lives.

Although I could not attend the NAEA Gallery Teaching Marathon this spring, I had hoped to explore the topic of transformative experiences with art objects with the Marathon group. The survey above and this very blog post is my digital attempt at exploring this topic with a wider group. I hope you will share your stories with me, and as I collect them, I hope to better understand and share what it means to bring objects, people, and information together. I’m not yet sure what we’ll find — perhaps there will be patterns, perhaps not — but I am sure that looking at these stories as a whole will get us started on considering these questions.

So, I hope you will join in this experiment with me and share your own story!  Please feel free to share the survey with as many folks as you like — the more stories, backgrounds, and people, the better.

Thank you for contributing!

OpenThink: Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) & Museums

VTS-bostonFor the past two decades, the overall discourse regarding Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) has been the subject of rather thorny debate.  The often-cited conversation between Philip Yenawine and Danielle Rice at the 1999 National Docent Symposium (published in 2002) productively drew out many of the disagreements about the role of information in museum teaching, especially with beginning viewers and first-time museum visitors.  In their recent book Teaching in the Art Museum, Rika Burnham and Elliot Kai-Kee frame VTS as a restrictive teaching method, wondering about participants’ experience in the galleries: “Have they not perhaps been cheated out of an authentic encounter with the painting?”  These debates continue to today, and, at times, it seems like one needs to draw a line in the sand and decide which side they stand on.

So what is VTS?

For those of you unfamiliar with Visual Thinking Strategies, it is an inquiry-based teaching method developed by Abigail Housen and Philip Yenawine more than twenty years ago and used in museums and school classrooms across the country.  Here is how Philip Yenawine describes it in his latest book Visual Thinking Strategies: Using Art to Deepen Learning Across School Disciplines (2013):

“VTS uses art to teach visual literacy, thinking, and communication skills—listening and expressing oneself. Growth is stimulated by several things: looking at art of increasing complexity, answering developmentally based questions, and participating in peer group discussions carefully facilitated by teachers.” (19)

Even those who do not practice VTS may be familiar with the sequence of open-ended questions that form one of the main aspects of VTS teaching practice:

  1. What’s going on in this picture?
  2. What do you see that makes you say that?
  3. What more can we find?

If you are interested in learning more about VTS, the foundational research behind it, and ongoing research in museums and classrooms today, here are some excellent resources:

Pushing Beyond the Protocol

My own approach toward VTS has been to set aside any controversy and more fully explore the research as well as the practical implementation of these teaching strategies ‘on the ground’ in museums.  Back in 2009, I led a panel at the American Association of Museums conference that called attention to the many questions, challenges, and apprehensions that exist regarding this method.  After interviews with more than 30 museum educators from across the country, I was able to gain a more complete and complex view of how VTS (and the research behind it) is being implemented in art museums—including adaptations of the original protocol, metacognitive dimenions as part of the VTS experience, pushing the boundaries of artwork selection, and alternative applications for docent and teacher training.  I have even found institutions that use Abigail Housen’s “stages of aesthetic development” (the core foundation of VTS) as part of their curatorial practice, the writing of labels and wall texts, and working with teaching artists to examine ways of creating art that addresses developmental stages of the viewers.  In addition to being one of the most commonly used teaching methods in art museums today, it is interesting to see how many other ways that VTS and its research has entered into museum practice.

Burning Questions about VTS: Ask Philip Yenawine

PhilipNeroVTSWhile I have never been trained in VTS myself, I have adopted it as part of my own teaching toolbox — often using its open-ended questions as a way to spark looking, talking, and listening with a work of art.  I respect the research and practice involved with VTS, which is why I jumped at the chance to partner with the national VTS organization to bring Philip Yenawine here to the Portland Art Museum.  Philip has been traveling around the country since his latest book was released last year, and his speaking engagement here at the Portland Art Museum (this Saturday, May 3rd, 2:00pm) will be part of that series of talks.

When we were first offered to host Philip’s talk here in Portland, I invited Philip to also join me for a conversation on stage as part of this Saturday’s program (which he gladly accepted).  I wanted to have the opportunity to discuss the applications of VTS with art museum teaching, and discuss some of the ‘burning questions’ that many museum educators have about VTS research and practice.

So, I am using this blog post (and the ArtMuseumTeaching community) to gather some juicy, burning questions that we all might have about VTS in museum teaching.  To seed this “open think” process of gathering your questions, I asked Jennifer DePrizio and Michelle Grohe at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston (a leading museum in VTS research & practice) to send me some of their questions.  Here is some of what they sent me:

  • We know a lot about what VTS looks like (both in terms of facilitation and types of learning to expect) in elementary students, primarily in grades 3-5.  What does that learning and teaching look like with older students, particularly high school? 
  • Listening is the cornerstone of paraphrasing and ensuring that students know that you not only listened to their ideas, but they were heard as well.  That can be a difficult skill to encourage teachers to develop. Can you really train someone to be a good listener?  How can we design effective professional development experiences that help teachers become aware of how they listen, and how to listen better? What activities and practice can we put into place to help our gallery educators hone their listening skills?
  • Since professional development programs at the Gardner invest a lot of time, over time, with teachers, what does their growth look like in terms of: aesthetic development, comfort with visual art, use of student-centered teaching practices, use of VTS questions with non-visual art, overall attitudes and understandings of teaching and learning and role of visual art in the classroom/school?  
  • What is the long-term effect or stickiness for VTS?
  • What does the use of VTS look like with non-beginners, or with viewers who are moving from beginner viewers (Housen stages I and II), into different aesthetic stages such as Housen’s stage II/III, II/IV and III?  How could we best support their growth while also challenging the students effectively?  What would that facilitation look like?  How would we know that we were addressing the students’ actual questions, not just sharing information that we think would help them?  
  • How do we responsibly respond to the many misrepresentations of VTS that exist?  How do we help colleagues in the field of art museum education understand the nuances that are available within VTS?

ADD YOUR QUESTIONS:

Please help me crowd-source some more ‘burning questions’ about VTS, and use the Comments area below to add your own questions.  If you add your thoughts here between now and Saturday, I’ll bring many of these questions to my conversation with Philip Yenawine here at the Portland Art Museum (and I should be able to post the video of this conversation here next week).

Thanks for helping me think about VTS in this open space for exchange, questions, and ideas!  And I’m looking forward to my conversation with Philip on Saturday (join us if you’re in Portland — the event is FREE and starts at the Portland Art Museum at 2pm).

#PhilipYenawineSelfie #VTSselfie
#PhilipYenawineSelfie #VTSselfie

Open Letter to The Walker Art Center

Editor’s Note: While ArtMuseumTeaching.com does not frequently republish posts from other sites, there are interesting and urgent issues raised periodically that, I feel, could spark productive conversations, exchange, and potentially even change in our field.  The provocative post below published at Opine Season has already sparked lots of thinking and questioning, and I’d like to utilize the online space and community of ArtMuseumTeaching.com to allow for an OpenThink on these meaningful issues of diversity, audience, community, and social responsibility.  As the letter’s authors state below, “we write this not as disgruntled individuals wanting access to one event. We write this as a collective who are asserting their voice to hold the institutions in their community accountable to a higher responsibility of service.”  I invite everyone to share thoughts, questions, and experiences below.

Written by Chaun Webster, Jeremiah Bey Ellison, Arianna Genis, Shannon Gibney and Valerie Deus

Originally posted at Opine Season on October 29, 2013.

To Whom It May Concern at The Walker Art Center,

We have learned that on October 30, The Walker Art Center will be showing the film, 12 Years a Slave, directed by Steve McQueen, and followed by a talk with the director on Nov 9. This film is perhaps one of the most honest and visceral visual representations of the horrors that were part and parcel of the institution of slavery. Furthermore from the beginning, 12 Years a Slave has been, from its firsthand account, to the writer, to the director and leading actor, one of the most highly recognized, fully Black cinematic collaborations in the history of film.

12yearsWe are concerned that though this film is being shown, that peoples of African descent, whose ancestors’ lives and histories were disrupted by the slaveocracy, will be largely underrepresented in the audience. Our position is that equity is not just about the diversity in the art being shown but the material work of creating greater access to exhibitions to ensure that audiences are representative of the subject matter.

We understand that these events were publicized to members of The Walker and on The Walker’s website. As you may or may not know, when marketing strategies are limited in media and points of origin, the race, class, gender and other layers of social location are also limited.

Within the Walker Art Center’s Mission Statement the institution is described as “a catalyst for the creative expression of artists and the active engagement of audiences” and having programs which “examine the questions that shape and inspire us as individuals, cultures and communities.” Which communities do you seek to inspire and what questions do you seek to examine with the creative expression of artists?

Over the years we have become acutely aware of the way that art institutions are guided by an exceptionalism that will welcome works of art by select artists of African descent and other historically marginalized groups but will largely have little to no relationship with members of those communities. This in no small way contributes to the issue of representative audiences.

stevemcqueenRepresentative audiences insure that narratives are not placed in a vacuum where art institutions can be absolved of responsibility to the cultures and traditions that those stories come from. When white-dominated spaces, often of a homogenous class, bring work like McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave in, they in many ways manage the narrative and the way that it gets interpreted. In these spaces the participant/viewers are freed of any responsibility, social or otherwise, to historically marginalized groups and in so doing re-inscribe the roles of colonialism in art production, distribution, and consumption. In other words, in this case, African art can be present and maybe even a few “exceptional” African artists, but by and large African bodies are unwelcome.

In light of all of this we are calling on The Walker Arts Center to recognize their exclusive practice of not intentionally involving historically marginalized groups at the table for this occasion. This recognition can in part take the form of publishing this letter as an addendum to the material circulated at the screening of 12 Years a Slave and director talk.

We urge The Walker to open up more ticket space for both the screening and the discussion with Steve McQueen. This ticket space would be freely given to reputable organizations of our choice that work with underrepresented youth.

We urge The Walker to arrange another screening and talk with the director that we would host in a community space of our choosing.

Lastly we are calling on The Walker to host a panel discussion at The Walker where we can convene a public conversation on art and social responsibility as it relates to the artist and art institutions.

The tremendous contributions of Africans, on the continent, in the United States, and other parts of the diaspora cannot be understated. These contributions stand in chorus with that of other historically marginalized groups whose communities continue to be denied access to tables carved from their own wood.

The Walker can serve a role in equity as it relates to the production, distribution, and consumption of art in the Twin Cities, but that will require a resolve to listen to its diverse constituents who represent a variety of cultural and ideological perspectives. We write this not as disgruntled individuals wanting access to one event. We write this as a collective who are asserting their voice to hold the institutions in their community accountable to a higher responsibility of service. It is our belief that this is not only possible but imperative as we move forward.

*     *     *     *     *

About the Author

chaun-webster-e1362580382950Chaun Webster is a Twin Cities activist, publisher, and poet in the Black radical tradition. Founding Free Poet’s Press in 2009 with the intention of empowering Black and Brown artists to control their own images, Webster is a 2011 Verve Grant recipient and is preparing for the release of HaiCOUP: a fieldguide in guerrilla (po)ethics. More information about Chaun Webster and Free Poet’s Press can be found at www.freepoetspress.com.

RELATED POSTS THAT MIGHT BE OF INTEREST:

Blurring the Lines: Walker Art Center’s Open Field

Reflecting on Our Radical Roots

Making the Conversation More Inclusive

 

Museums Un/Plugged: Are We Becoming Too Reliant on Technology?

wall-plugI 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.

Google Hangouts: Live Video Chatting between Museums & Online Communities

By Brinker Ferguson, Digital Media Fellow, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

In the past several months, many museums have begun using live video chat as a way to enhance and foster new online discussions and interactions between museum educators and the public. One of the most popular tools has been Google Hangouts which is part of the Google+ social network. It allows for up to 10 users to video chat together and gives them the ability to broadcast the video stream live to a large audience and even record the session for future viewing. The recorded video, which is archived on the museum’s G+ page and YouTube channel, can be shared on various social networks. In addition, the videos collect (limited) analytics information so museums can track the attention it receives. Users who express interest in a museum video session ahead of time can be alerted when it is about to begin via Google+ email messaging.

This use of video chatting has spawned a new online forum that helps to bring together museum curators, directors, historians and educators with different virtual communities for in-depth conversations of art and ideas. Rather then a YouTube video, which disseminates information in a “I talk, you listen” format, video chatting can enable a more flexible and collaborative seminar style discussion. This idea of accessible online videos is very much in keeping with many museums’ mission of providing an open space for dialogue, learning, and exploration for the public, and working toward developing meaningful online communities of practice.

Current Projects

Though relatively new, there have been a large number of museums using Google Hangouts from all over the globe. This past month alone, MoMA debuted its “Art Hang” series, which brings together art educators with other art enthusiasts to discuss topics surrounding art and identity. The Google Art Project began its #ArtTalk hangouts with the National Gallery on March 20th and more recently with the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The series, which discusses the stories behind famous works of art, will continue to take place each month at different cultural institutions such as the Museo Nacional de Arte in Mexico and the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar.

screenshot of Google Hangout of artist Felipe Iskor
screenshot of Google Hangout of artist Felipe Iskor

Hangouts have also been leveraged in several other artistic ways. For example Google Brazil has used hangouts for their street art campaign, where artist Felipe Iskor created a mural live.

Likewise artists have conducted live studio visits, in which they talk with interested online groups about what inspires them, what their next artwork might look like, and get much needed critical feedback from online art communities.

Understanding Its Impact

Of course, use of a new medium brings new challenges. In trying to gauge the success of video chats, museums are learning how to interpret the relatively sparse analytics information provided by Google+ and YouTube. Statistics like “this video was viewed 5000 times” does not paint a full picture of just how beneficial the video was for the museum and its viewers. It is very clear, however, that hangouts have the ability to reach far greater percentage of the global online community and can do so in a more engaging way. And while it can be difficult to measure the success of these videos, museum educators know it is worth their time to continue exploring the limits of new this technology in order to captivate a broader audience and share more of the museum’s passion for art and cultural heritage.

Possible Uses in the Future

Tools associated with video chatting such as live commenting, image sharing, hash tags, and social media sharing have become additional ways of connecting online viewers with the live discussion. Recently, Mike Murawski of the Portland Art Museum brought up another possible use for video chatting. He suggested using Hangouts as a way of connecting living contemporary artists with museum visitors both in the gallery and online. What would it be like then to talk with an artist about his/her work right in front of the artwork in the gallery? Or watch an artist explaining his/her artwork online while you ask questions?

How can we use these new tools to better facilitate learning and interaction onsite and online in the future? Are there other ways that Google Hangouts or other chatting services will connect people, or perhaps help the museum’s visitors feel closer to its collection?

Anybots meets Wall-E and Eve.
Anybots meets Wall-E and Eve.

Taking this question further in a mini-thought experiment, imagine what would happen if the video feed were not fixed to the wall. What would a more intimate conversation with an artist look like? While you ebb and flow around the gallery, could an artist virtually tag along with you?

One company exploring the idea of digital presence is Anybots, a team that has created a roving avatar robot with video screen projecting the face of a remote participant. The robot is controlled remotely and reacts to speech frequencies to directly address and react to questions or comments from multiple people. Right now, the Anybots are in the hypothetical realm (due to the hefty $15,000 price tag).

While video chatting environments will continue to develop (though at the moment we are not yet sure in what form they will appear) the strides taken by #ArtHang, Google Art Projects, and many other institutions and artist communities will continue to push online connection and conversation.

What Can Art Museums Learn from the MOOC Phenomenon?

Written by Linda Forshaw, guest author
_______________________________________

MOOC-connections1In recent years there has been a new player in the field of education. MOOC (massive open online courses) have taken the world (somewhat) by storm with various free courses from prestigious (and sometimes not so prestigious) universities and colleges. Here is a quick YouTube video describing the basic nuts and bolts of a MOOC, if you are thinking “What in the world is a MOOC?”

Despite there being some skepticism — mainly in relation to the quality of education, incidents of plagiarism, and low completion rates — the popularity of online education platforms continue to grow. In an article entitled “The Year of the MOOC,” Laura Pappano writing for the New York Times reports how the online learning revolution–that reportedly started when more than 150,000 willing students enrolled on an “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” course back in the fall of 2011–has grown at an ever increasing pace. As an example, some 370,000 students signed up for the first official courses from edX, a nonprofit MOOC created by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. edX is not alone in attracting record numbers of online students. Coursera, a for-profit MOOC created by Stanford professor Andrew Ng, has seen 1.7 million students sign up since its inception.

The pace at which online learning is traveling continues to grow. The year 2013 is set to herald a new offering from the UK’s Open University. Futurelearn, the country’s first real step into MOOC platforms is set to offer courses from Kings College London, the University of Warwick, and others. Meanwhile, back in the U.S., 2U (one of ten startups changing the world according to Forbes) is planning to advance the field of online learning even further by by offering paid, for-credit undergraduate degrees from the likes of Duke, Vanderbilt, and Emory Universities.

With online learning platforms showing no immediate signs of abating, the question remains how art museums can play a role in this sweeping open education movement? It seems that they already are to at least some extent . Initiatives to deliver art to the masses by the likes of the Khan Academy, Google Art Project, The Virtual Hampson Museum, The Giza Archives, and Europeana have been heralded by some as offering an opportunity for those alienated from the world of art to get involved and slated by others who argue that images of famous painting and other artifacts are all well and good, but fall short as an adequate substitution for the real thing.

MOOC1Perhaps the best path forward for museums looking to make inroads in online learning is to create courses that can act as complementary to personal visits, but also provide more than enough information to be sufficient in their own right for those who cannot (for whatever reason) attend in person. Thanks to the Google Art Project and the expansion of the Khan Academy into art history, displaying works online is likely to become increasingly commonplace for museum and art galleries. Steven Zucker and Beth Harris, in their article explaining why the Google Art Project is important, report that other museums have started to make public domain images available for download – namely The Brooklyn Museum,, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and The National Gallery of Art. As a result, those who do not get involved may well be left behind.

While there is much discussion about what these open technologies are not, what we do know is that they are expanding opportunities like no other and it can be reasonably said that the museums themselves should join others in discussing the options for learning.

And isn’t learning what it’s all about?

Author

lindaLinda Forshaw is a Business Information Systems graduate from Lancaster University in the UK. A contributor to Degree Jungle, she is a full time writer and blogger specializing in education, social media, and entrepreneurship. Contact her on Twitter @seelindaplay

Toward an Even More Participatory Culture in Art Museums

“The value of museums begins and ends with the relationship with our visitors. It’s a contract that is renewed each and every time they engage with us, and if we don’t live up to it, we will be usurped.” — John Falk, speech to AAM (2010)

Encountering Space, Center for Creative Connections at the Dallas Museum of Art. Photo by Maria Mortati
Encountering Space, Center for Creative Connections at the Dallas Museum of Art. Photo by Maria Mortati

Working in museums can be a messy, messy game, but I always love the conversations that crop up when you get a handful of museum educators together to talk ‘shop.’  A couple weeks ago at the National Art Education Association 2013 annual conference in Fort Worth, there was certainly a lot of that happening. I was fortunate enough to be invited to present — or rather have a public in-process conversation — about participatory culture in art museums with an incredible group of colleagues: Preston Bautista (Deputy Director for Public Programs & Audience Engagement, Indianapolis Museum of Art), Judy Koke (Director of Education & Interpretive Programs, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art), and Susan Diachisin (Director of the Center for Creative Connections, Dallas Museum of Art).  By far, the best part of preparing our presentation was the series of winding, organic conversations that led to Fort Worth.

Not only were we all wildly passionate about visitor engagement and participatory practice, but our own working environments were all changing rapidly — from my own move from St. Louis to the Portland Art Museum this past fall, to leadership changes and various grants & innovation projects.  All in all, we were fairly hyper-motivated to talk about these issues with each other and, ultimately, to explore concepts of participation and exchange in our institutional cultures.

How does an institution’s hierarchy, leadership, and organizational structure actually enable (or disable) participatory practice? How could museum educators at various levels become more involved in fostering an institutional culture focused on visitor experience and engagement?  Could these values find ways of ‘trickling up’ from participatory programs and smaller-scale education projects or exhibitions?

“If … museums must move away from assumed public value and begin to measure their impact, and if … museums must achieve impact for the community instead of impact for the museum, then the impetus is on museum education to rise to the challenge that lies before us and reposition the museum in the eyes of the public.” — Tina Nolan, JME (2010)

As we entered our NAEA session entitled “Toward an Even More Participatory Culture in Art Museums,” we had decided on a set of assumptions that were key to making this a valuable and productive conversation:

  • conversation at our sessiomn (yes, we exploded the traditional conference furniture layout)
    conversation at our session (yes, we exploded the traditional conference furniture layout)

    There is a shift happening.  Art museums across the continent are taking big steps to change the ‘business as usual’ model, creating structures to put the public’s expectations, needs, and experiences at the center of interpretive planning and exhibition development. We can see this in institutions such as the Detroit Institute of Arts (see great article by their Exec Dir of Learning & Interpretation), Art Gallery of Ontario, Denver Art Museum, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, among many others. In the specific realm of ‘participation’ and public engagement, it is always important to note the Irvine Foundation’s support for institutions such as the Oakland Museum, as well as museum “Innovation Stories” featured via EmcArts & ArtsFwd.  If you still need convincing that change is afoot, watch this video compiled by the Innovatrium at their January 2013 ‘think tank’ of museum leaders.

  • We’re all in this together. Instead of anyone pretending to be an ‘expert’ about these changes in organizational culture, we wanted to be conscious of the fact that we are all co-learning with each other.  It doesn’t matter the size of one’s museum or how involved your senior leadership is in this shifting landscape — we’re all working toward the greater public value and relevance of museums in our communities and beyond. And this needs to be an open, inclusive conversation if it is to be meaningful one.
  • You can’t talk about participatory practice without becoming participatory.  I always feel like every lecture on “visitor engagement” and “participatory practice” is, in part, quite disingenuous if it does not attempt to actually ENGAGE.  Even if an attempt to activate a lecture hall full of 200 spectators fails, I always feel that we should try — walk the walk, right?!  So I was able to convince our group to do a crowdsourcing activity to engage those attending our session, and pull out their ideas in a participatory way.

“For a museum to truly engage its users, it must cease acting as a controlling gatekeeper to its collections and expertise. Rather, the museum must work with its users and communities to unlock the stories its collections hold, responding to the choices its users make. As such, it must give up its traditional authoritarian voice so that users are free to question, debate, collaborate, and speculate — seeking out those issues that most concern them — and are given the support and inspiration required to do so.”  — Graham Black, Transforming Museums in the Twenty-First Century (2012)

After our initial discussion and framing of these issues, we jumped right into the crowdsourcing exercise to activate everyone’s thinking and to have the group generate ideas. To prevent this conversation from quickly deteriorating into a litany of complaints, barriers, and reasons why we might not be able to enact change at our institutions, we granted everyone in the room freedom from all of these restraints … with a magic wand.  Therefore, without concern about budget cuts, personality conflicts, and perceived curatorial barriers, we invited each participant to take two or three minutes, envision some ways to engender a more participatory culture at their institutions, and then write down a “what if” statement on a small slip of paper.  We collected more than 50 “what if” statements, crowdsourced them with the group, and then spent the final chunk of time opening up a conversation around these ideas.  Here are the 4 statements that, at this moment and with this group, bubbled to the surface:

  1. What if everyone in the museum understood everyone else’s job?

  2. What if there was a real plan for interpretive team development of exhibitions and permanent collections? What if curators and educators didn’t feel like they were ceding territory when they worked together?

  3. What if educators/interpreters and curators worked collaboratively on creating in-gallery participatory experiences?

  4. What if I could include funds for “things I may think of after the budget process” [an “innovation” fund] when I’m writing my department budget?

sampling of the 50+ "what if" statements that participants brainstrormed for crowdsourcing
sampling of the 50+ “what if” statements that participants brainstrormed for crowdsourcing

Rather than recount the conversation or provide my own opinions, thoughts, and perspectives here, I wanted to take this opportunity to open the conversation … to OpenThink the “what if” statements we collected during our NAEA session.  So below is a link to all of the “what if” statements that we were able to collect, in no particular order. Feel free to peruse, and add Comments to the GoogleDoc if you choose.

>>Click here to see ALL of the “What If” statements<<

I invite you to share these with colleagues, send this to others at your museums (yes, curators, too!), and let’s create a conversation in the GoogleDoc or below in the Comment area.  Do you have a “What If” statement that you would like to add?  Are these concerns about exhibition planning, community involvement, and staff development similar at your institution, or different? How can we engender more participatory practice/culture in our work? in our institutions?

 

Reimagining Peer Networks in a Digital Age

By Mike Murawski, Portland Art Museum; Dana Carlisle Kletchka, Palmer Museum of Art, Pennsylvania State University; Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, National Writing Project, University of California Berkeley

“People’s relationships remain strong—but they are networked. Neighbors, and neighborhoods still exist, to be sure, but they occupy a smaller portion of people’s lives. It is hard to borrow a cup of sugar from a Facebook friend 1,000 miles away, but it has become easier to socialize, get advice, and exchange emotional support at whatever distance. Where commentators had been afraid that the internet would wither in-person ties, it is clear that they enhance and extend them.” (Lee Rainie & Barry Wellman, Networked: The New Social Operating System, 2012).

In their recent book Networked: The New Social Operating System, Lee Rainie (director of the Pew Charitable Trusts Internet & American Life Project) and Barry Wellman (Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto and Director of NetLab) have argued that the large online social circles of familiar platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. actually expand opportunities for learning, problem solving, decision making and personal interaction. Their work at the Pew Internet Project and the NetLab (especially research for the Connected Lives Project) suggests that digital technologies are not isolated — or isolating — systems, but rather networked systems built upon these social networking platforms as well as mobile device technologies.

As Rainey and Wellman remind us (although we need no reminder):

“Daily life is connected life, its rhythms driven by endless  email pings and responses, the chimes and beeps of continually arriving text messages, tweets and retweets, Facebook updates, pictures and videos to post and discuss. Our perpetual connectedness gives us endless opportunities to be part of the give-and-take of networking.”

But how do we—as museum and arts education professionals—maneuver within a technology-mediated world in a way that allows us to cultivate productive, human-centered networks and communities? Museums and schools have been widely engaged in how digital media and technology can connect them with their students and audiences. But what about the potential of these same technologies to build entirely new “communities of practice” among professionals—whether art teachers, university faculty, or museum educators?

These questions are at the core of a series of conversations that we will be facilitating over the next several weeks, centered around a panel discussion that will be part of the National Art Education Association annual conference in Fort Worth at the beginning of March. Through these organic and open conversations, we hope to begin exploring models of human-centered professional exchange and peer networks suited to the increasing complexity, connectivity, and velocity of the 21st century. Drawing on innovative work from the National Writing Project (such as Digital Is), sites of exchange such as this one (ArtMuseumTeaching.com), and connected learning models developed with MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative, we’ll be discussing how online networks and communities can harness the power of emerging technologies and social media to share, collaborate, curate, and participate with peers both today and in the future.

One way to more easily digest this sizeable topic is perhaps to take it one bite at a time.  So we’re excited to be facilitating two public “on air” Google Hangouts along with the session at NAEA—one hangout prior to the conference to take that first bite, and one a couple weeks after the conference to extend our thinking and perhaps follow-up on questions raised in the panel.  The online Google Hangout format also allows us to potentially engage a wider range of people than just those attending the NAEA conference, while at the same time practicing one of the most widely used technologies for face-to-face online engagement.

CONVERSATION #1 – Come Chat With Us via Google Hangout

“What Do WGoogleHangoutIcone Want from Online Communities of Practice?”

Open Google Hangout w/ Mike Murawski, Dana Carlisle Kletchka, Elyse Eidman-Aadahl

Thursday, February 28th – 1:00pm Pacific / 4:00pm Eastern

For this preconference conversation on Google Hangout, we thought we might simply ask:  “what do we want from online communities of practice and peer networks?”  What online networks and communities are you involved with? When you consider jumping into a new online community, what do you hope it will achieve?  What types of exchanges and experiences keep us engaged and prevent us from leaving (or ignoring) the online network? During this conversation, we were able to gather your thoughts, questions, and experiences which will inform our discussion at NAEA on March 7th.

View the YouTube recording of the “On Air” Google Hangout here:

Couldn’t join the Google Hangout?  Watch the broadcast above, and please add your thoughts and perspectives to the “Comments” section below, and we’ll utilize this space to keep the conversation going.

CONVERSATION #2 – NAEA Conference Session

NAEA_logo  “Reimagining Professional Exchange & Peer Networks in a Digital Age”

  NAEA Panel Session w/ Mike Murawski, Dana Carlisle Kletchka, Elyse Eidman-Aadahl

  Thursday, March 7th, -12:00-12:50pm, Meeting Room 121C/Center/1st Floor

At this session, we gathered with a great group of peers to share some of our own experiences working as developers, researchers, and participants in online networks and communities of practice, but also spent time opening up the conversation about key issues (many pulled from the preconference Google Hangout).  For example: how do we promote online ‘contributing’ instead of just online ‘visiting’ when it comes to these experiences? What are some ways to build co-learning interactions online?

Couldn’t attend the session?  Please feel free to connect with either of the Google Hangouts, or chime in via the “Comments” section below.

CONVERSATION #3 – Reconnect via Google Hangout

GoogleHangoutIcon“The Digital Follow-Up: How Do We Drag Everyone Back to Their Screens?”

Open Google Hangout w/ Mike Murawski, Dana Carlisle Kletchka, Elyse Eidman-Aadahl

Thursday, March 28th – 1:00pm Pacific / 4:00pm Eastern

One of the most difficult things to motivate busy museum and education professionals to do is to reconnect online after the conference or workshop.  While we all know the values of extending these relationships and opportunities to reconnect, it can be so difficult to make these a reality.  It only seems appropriate to make this one of the topics of our own ‘digital follow-up’ discussion.  How do we manage and nurture online professional networks so that members stay active, build stronger ties, and feel supported?  We also kept this follow-up conversation open to issues and questions that were addressed in the panel session at NAEA.

View the YouTube recording of the “On Air” Google Hangout here:


We look forward to continuing this exciting series of conversations!  If you have any ideas for a future Hangout or online get-together, let me know and we can work to schedule here within the ArtMuseumTeaching.com community.

Reposted through the National Writing Project’s Digital Is website.

Teens’ Vision for Docent-Led Tours

Sara shares her thoughts on Jean Joseph Benjamin Constant's "Evening on the Seashore—Tangiers." Photo by Nate Pyper.
Sara shares her thoughts on Jean Joseph Benjamin Constant’s “Evening on the Seashore—Tangiers.” Photo by Nate Pyper.

How do we engage teenagers at art museums? Our museums offer powerful classes, internships, and multi-visit programs–but their reach is limited. For many teens, their first (and sometimes only) exposure to an art museum is through a school field trip. There are already a number of great conversations on this site posing suggestions and challenges for ideal school tours, which consider the needs and perspectives of the museum educator and the classroom teacher.

But what about asking the students themselves?In summer 2012, we did just that at the Milwaukee Art Museum.  A group of fourteen teen interns teamed up with ten docents to delve deep into what can make a school tour successful and engaging.  They worked to jointly share ideas and troubleshoot concerns. The session was such a hit for both groups that we decided to bring back five of those students this fall to share their thoughts with our full docent corps–all 100+ of them!

We taped the dialogue so that we could share the teens’ ideas as faithfully as possible. The video below shows the five summer teen interns in dialogue with our docents. The teens quickly do a check-in/icebreaker with the docents, describe the summer program, and facilitate a Q&A session.

What I found particularly powerful about the teens’ suggestions is that they are not only relevant to teen audiences–these tips can be used for younger and older visitors, too. In the spirit of continuing the conversation begun by these young people and our docents, I’d like to offer some of my own take-aways:

  • Take the time to get to know each other (even if the tour is only an hour). Over the summer, I began our sessions with a “check in” activity, inspired by the Milwaukee Writing Project, as a way for us to get to know each other. If you know your audience, you can tailor your tour to their interests from the get-go. As Rosehaydee said in the video, it can bring the group together and set a friendly tone.
  • Be aware of your group–and do what they want to do. Be in tune with your group and their reactions: if something’s not working, move on rather than pressing it.
  • Be yourself. Share your passion, and be friendly and relaxed. As Sensei said, if you are enthusiastic about what you’re discussing, chances are good that your group will respond to your enthusiasm.
  • Museum tours can be intimidating. Teens are aware that docents and educators are extremely knowledgeable; and it’s scary to offer your thoughts in front of not just a docent but also your peers. To support conversation, Steven suggested using clear, simple language (without being patronizing), and Rosehaydee encouraged us to acknowledge student voices, even if they’re not the “right” answer, so teens know they’re being heard.
  • Technology is a tool, not a goal. When asked if museums should use more technology to engage teens, responses were mixed. Yes, technology is cool and lots of teens use it–but not all teens have access, and technology is not always successful or necessary. If the activity can be done equally as well or better in analogue format, it’s probably not worth it to try to use a gadget. But if it’s something that can only be done with technology–like Skyping with an artist or out-of-town group–then take the time to give it a try.
  • Remember that we all learn differently. To combat teen boredom, Rosehaydee suggested calling on specific individuals to get them to pay attention, but Sensei noted that sometimes it can be just as effective to try a pair-share or solitary writing activity. This reminded me that museum educators and docents have a responsibility to provide many different kinds of learning opportunities for our students. We need to know when to support and when to gently challenge them.
  • Respect the group; think of them as family. One of my favorite suggestions from the teens over the summer was for docents to think of the teens as their children or grandchildren. To me, this gets to the heart of working with any visitor that comes into our space: respect them–their prior knowledge, their interests, their reasons for coming to museums in the first place. We can learn from visitors as much as (if not more than!) they can learn from us.

Sometimes, as we plan programs and tours, educational goals and strict standards can overshadow the much more abstract magic that can come from engaging with works of art. I’m glad these young people remind us of the steps we can take to achieve that “bigger picture”: a museum experience that is supportive, interesting, and fun. Such experiences help teens know that museums are places where they can be themselves, connect with peers who also love art, enrich their thinking, or simply take a break from a busy day of school.

Fragonard
Helena discusses Fragonard’s “The Shepherdess” in the Milwaukee Art Museum galleries. Photo by Nate Pyper.

Epilogue: Why Museums Don’t Suck – Connecting with Howard Hwang

Flickr photo of visitor at California Academy of Sciences, one of Howard Hwang’s favorite museums these days. Photo by Alastair Green.

Many times when I have encountered a brusque and surly teenager in the museum (whether on a tour, in a program, or simply visiting with his or her family), I do wonder what that kid will be like years down the road.  Maybe it’s the parent in me, but I can’t help thinking: will that teenager still roll their eyes during museum visits? will they perhaps change, and gain a new perspective toward museums?  These same questions arose when I first read Howard Hwang’s now-infamous article “Why Museums Suck” — would he really be such a choleric and grumpy person after he became an adult?  Could we ever see Howard visiting a museum alone or with his family, and loving it?  If I could only hop into a time machine, and ask him myself.

Well, as it turns out, no time machine is necessary!  As I dug further and further into the LA Youth article, I not only found out that Howard wrote the piece 11 years ago (part of a fall 2001 issue), but I was able to get in contact with Howard himself to ask him a few questions. And while I would have loved to actually use a time machine to write this epilogue to my original post “Why Museums Don’t Suck,” I was lucky enough to speak with the now 26-year-old Howard about his article, his thoughts about museums, and what he thinks about all this attention surrounding his article so many years later.  In my opinion, this is a fascinating turn of events in a story that has garnered so much attention from across the museum community.

Here are my notes and thoughts from my short but very interesting phone conversation with Howard Hwang:

and now, the rest of the story…

Thoughts on writing the original LA Youth article: I began by asking Howard to tell me a bit more about why he wrote that article back in 2001 about “why museums suck,” and his thoughts at the time. He remembers writing the article as part of a group/community paper, focusing mostly on it being a piece that kids his age would read. It grew out of a high school project in which he was analyzing museums, so the article seemed a natural extension. “I wanted to be very honest, very blunt, and not sugar-coated,” recounts Howard.  After writing the article, he recalls telling his sister, “I want to write something that will make people feel that I am talking to them.”  This is a tone that made the piece more visceral for me and many of the museum professionals who have since commented, and I think it represented a certain level of honesty that many of us admired.

Thoughts on reading the article 11 years later: Howard’s editor from LA Youth (11 years ago) contacted him recently to let him know about all the back-and-forth going on in the blogosphere about his article, thinking he might enjoy seeing the ArtMuseumTeaching.com blog post and comments. So Howard did, and then he also read his original article which he hadn’t returned to since it was first published.  So what was his immediate response?  “My face turned bright red,” says Howard. He told me that he feels totally embarrassed by his teen article, especially because his entire perception of museums is completely different now.  I asked him a little more about why he might have written something like this back as a 15-year-old, and he remembers being very “A.D.D.” with a low threshold for attention — something had to really jump out at him to win his favor.

Current thoughts about museums: It was great to hear that Howard’s attitude towards museums has totally changed. But I asked a little more about why, and how did that change come about.  Howard attributes much of this shift to visiting museums in college for certain classes.  Majoring in molecular biology at the time, Howard says “I really started going to museums when they related more to my own interests.”  And those interests were obviously there in Howard when he was 15 as he capped his grouchy LA Youth article with unique praise for the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, writing: “All you museum people should go over to the Natural History Museum. This is a great museum.”

Any favorite museums these days? My final question for Howard related to any museums he might visit regularly now, and why.  He quickly mentioned the California Academy of Sciences, which he visits regularly (being a resident now in the San Francisco Bay Area), and actually just visited a few weeks ago to see their newest exhibits. Our conversation concluded with a brief discussion of what might make a museum more attractive to him these days, and Howard spoke of the volunteer tour guides and docents that interact with the public.  “The quality of tour guides,” says Howard, “are a very powerful thing for the museum experience, increasing the attractiveness of museums.”  He recounted the knowledgeable tour guides at the California Academy of Sciences during tours he has taken, and he wrapped up our conversation chatting about the importance of human interaction in museum learning.

I extend an enormous thanks to Howard for agreeing to talk with me about his article and his thoughts 11 years later, and I appreciate how much his article challenges us as museum professional to reflect on the extent to which we do, or do not, ‘suck’ when it comes to teen audiences.  All we can do is continue to reach out to all audiences, and know that cantankerous teenagers may very well grow up to be dedicated, thoughtful museum visitors.  Thanks, Howard!

Link back to original post: “Why Museums Don’t Suck: The Current State of Teen Engagement”

Why Museums Don’t Suck: The Current State of Teen Engagement

Note: This is NOT Howard Hwang.
Flickr photo by Kaptain Kobold.

This week, one of the contributing authors here at ArtMuseumTeaching.com, Dana Carlisle Kletchka, brought to my attention a recent column from LA Youth written by 15-year-old Howard Hwang who felt compelled to write about his distaste for visiting museums.  His piece entitled “Why museums suck” seems to have already generated an interesting response from the museum community and beyond, so I thought perhaps I would throw this post up and see if, in fact, anything productive could come from this teenager’s rant.  Howard admittedly hates museums, but he recently decided to visit six of them in the LA area anyway and then filed his ‘report.’

So the question presents itself: do museums really suck?

I’m probably not using Howard’s exact language or ideas when I define what it means for a museum to “suck,” but I think many of the reasons for his lack of connection with these institutions are not necessarily new. For him (and he is definitely not alone), museums are boring and not frequently places where teenagers go to have fun and hang out.  But is this entirely true? While Howard’s article seems to provide an opportunity for us museum folk to lament on the perpetual problems museums have engaging teenagers (adding fuel to Howard’s flame), I would rather take this as a moment to shine some light on what museums are doing that doesn’t suck.  I’m certainly not saying that museums are doing everything necessary to engage teen audiences (far from it), but I would rather counter Howard Hwang’s diatribe with some thoughts on “why museums don’t suck.”  And then maybe the conversation can productively refocus on what museums could be doing better to connect with teens like Howard.

So what are some ways that art museums are pushing forward with teen engagement?

It only seems appropriate to begin this look at museum teen programs and offerings by checking out what some of the museums that Howard visited actually offer for teens.  In other words, if Howard had decided to hop on the Internet before his visits, what would he have found about their offerings for he and his friends?

  • Norton Simon Museum: Not sure Howard would have found much at the Norton Simon. They do offer a Teen Art Academy program, but the next session is not being held until December 1st when artist J Michael Walker leads a group of teens through the galleries to examine self-portriature, followed by a workshop in which students create their own self-portraits.  Pretty cool artist to work with, but certainly not a pop-in experience (the workshop asks teens to give up 3 hours spread across 2 days).
  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art: Being one of the largest art museums in the country, it is not surprising that LACMA has a range of teen programs.  But it’s still exciting to see LACMA trying out new ways of bringing in the teen audience.  They offer teen art classes periodically and a free NexGen membership to those 17 and under, but I think Howard would be more interested in their “After Dark” teen night that is free for teens, ONLY for teens, and offers a chance for LA teens to hang out, see art, and have fun.  LACMA also has offered a teen High School Internship Program for several years, which sounds like a great opportunity for interested teens (perhaps not Howard) to learn more about museums and gain in-depth experiences with art and artists.
  • J. Paul Getty Museum: Hmmmm, looks like the main Getty Museum does not offer any programs specifically geared toward teens.  The Getty Villa does have an interesting Teen Apprentice Program and Summer Latin Academy, but I think both sound more suited to Howard’s ‘nerdy’ friend Jennifer than to him (perhaps maybe even too academic for her). But, come on Howard, you can’t beat those views of LA from the Getty.
  • Skirball Cultural Center: The Skirball offers an interesting Teen Corps volunteer program that exposes interested teens to a range of museum jobs and skills. Yet, I think the work that the Skirball has done to rethink its visitor experience and interpretation model has done more to improve its experience for teens than anything else.  Howard seemed to connect to this institution more than any other, likely in large part due to their work to reinvent exhibition design. I also noticed that they installed an exhibit a few years ago on immigration in LA that was told from the perspective of local teenagers — and that would only happen at an institution that seems to truly value teen voices.
Teen Art Lounge at the Walker Art Center. Photo by starfive

Outside of Howard’s tour-de-LA-museums, there are lots of art museums that have developed robust programs to connect in meaningful ways with teenagers.  I wanted to highlight a few of them, but this list is no where near exhaustive.  Almost all art museums these days offer something for teens, from drawing classes and high school art projects to full-blown teen councils, teen-designed websites, parties, internships, etc.  Here are a few of the best that I have learned about over the past several years (please add your favorites by commenting below):

WACTAC: Working to target teen audiences and engagement for more than the past 15 years, the Walker Art Center certainly gets a nod here.  I remember speaking with their education staff a few years ago during a visit I made to Minneapolis, and I was blown away by everything they were doing to attract teen audiences and, more importantly, to listen to teen voices as they programmed and planned.  Their WACTAC (Walker Art Center Teen Arts Council) provides the institution with a dedicated, core group of teenagers who work closely with staff to plan program and events for teens.  Past programs have included teen art exhibitions, printed publications, performances, film screenings, artist talks, and art-making events. They even worked to design the museum’s teen website, which I think is awesome (how many museums let go this much, and open the thinking process to teenagers). The Walker also holds teen art workshops, exhibits the work of area teenage artists, and offers additional internships for this age group.

MoMA Teens: While I have always been a fan of MoMA‘s teen website called Red Studio (which is really quite fantastic, you should check it out), I recently learned more about their other offerings for teenagers. Beyond Red Studio’s teen interviews with artists and online art activities, MoMA offers free classes, film screenings, Teen Night Out events, and other websites designed by and for teens. One, called Pop Art developed in 2009 in conjunction with MoMA’s Youth Advisory Council, seems to be a new way to browse selected work in the collection and share them with friends (and I’ll admit that I spent a bit too much time on the site making my own collections and simply exploring the artworks that popped up on my screen). And if you’ve ever been to MoMA on one of their Free Fridays, you know that they are not having too much trouble attracting young audiences.

Teen Night at the ICA Boston. Photo by believekevin

ICA Teens & the National Convening for Teens in the Arts: The institution that has continued to impress me the most when it comes to teen audiences is the ICA Boston.  Like the Walker and MoMA, they utilize a core Teen Art Council to help them plan events for teenage audiences, such as their upcoming Teen Night in November that merges early hip hop with the imagery of dreams through live music, breakdancing tutorials, and spinning all night from the ICA teen DJ collective (yes, you heard me correct … they have their own DJ collective).  The ICA also runs a program called Fast Forward that brings together teenagers around creating film, video, and new media. Yet above and beyond all of these individual programs, the ICA Boston has worked to pull off its annual National Convenings for Teens in the Arts — an event that was initiated “in response to the lack of opportunity for students and educators to collaboratively discuss the issues, challenges, and possibilities facing the field of contemporary arts education for urban teens” (2011 Education Report). The convening brings together teen arts leaders and museum educators to explore the role museums can play in youth development, teen program advocacy, and experimenting in museums. The ICA has created an Education Report for each of the past events, and these documents are available on their website and totally worth a close look.

This just skims the surface when it comes to teen engagement in museums — notable mentions should also go out to the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Youth Insights program, as well as the much smaller but perhaps equally-as-powerful YouthSmart program at the Saint Louis Art Museum that hires Summer Teen Assistants to work closely with education staff and artists as well as lead tours for thousands of youth groups (unfortunately, you can’t find much information at all about this incredible opportunity for teens at SLAM, making it that institution’s best kept secret).

While this wide array of teen councils, parties, and online activities certainly shows that museums are paying attention to teens, I’m still unsure how these types of programs make a difference for the drop-in teen visitor (like Howard).  Have these institutions and others changed their visitor experience due to their close work with teenagers?  Is the remainder of the museum experience simply “business as usual” (which, for Howard and most teens, would mean ‘boring’)?

A Challenge to Museums

So I’m going to wrap-up this post where I started, and let the conversation turn back on museums.  As I mentioned, the link to Howard Hwang’s article came to me via a great colleague and friend, Dana Carlisle Kletcka, who directs education programs at the Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State (meaning that she is constantly struggling with issues that pertain to the slightly older teen audience). In her email to me, she summed up what many of us museum educators are thinking when we read Howard’s words and reflect back on our own efforts (or lack of effort) to listen to teenagers, open up opportunities for younger voices to be heard in our institutions, and allow for something interesting to happen as teens like Howard walk through the door.  So I’ll give Dana the last word here, and I invite your thoughts and responses below:

“[Howard’s] words certainly made me wonder what museum staff and volunteers can do to respond to his very honest assessment of museums, which is present in a certain portion of the population whether we like it or not…. What I had hoped to do by passing along this article was to stimulate thinking as to how the role of educators in museums–volunteer or not–can mitigate and in fact change such superficial reactions to the museum. What if he had been in a group with a really good docent? What if he had engaged in conversation with the other nameless gallery visitors who challenged his “I could do that” thinking? What if he had been greeted at the door by a friendly adult? What if he had engaged in any type of art-making activity that showed him just how challenging it can be to make something with your hands in concert with your mind?

“I’m certainly not suggesting that we modify our practices to suit one surly 15-year-old. But it is worth pondering how the work that we do is a catalyst for changing such opinions and in fact igniting sparks of intellectual curiosity that will grow in time.”

Reposted through the National Writing Project’s Digital Is website.

UPDATE: I was lucky enough to speak with the now 26-year-old Howard about his article (actually written in 2001), his thoughts about museums, and what he thinks about all this attention surrounding his article so many years later. Here is the link to my “epilogue” to this post, which includes notes and thoughts from my short but very interesting phone conversation with Howard Hwang: “Epilogue – Why Museums Don’t Suck: Connecting with Howard Hwang”

Teen group drops by for a visit at the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts.