Tag Archives: Experimenting in Museums

Falling in Love with Your Visitors

Written by Marianna AdamsAudience Focus, 2014 Educator-in-Residence at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Cross-posted from mariannaadams.blogspot.com

I know this sounds a bit too new-agey but it’s what keeps coming up for me after my first full week in my residency at the Gardner Museum. Three families came to the museum this past week and the best way I can describe the experience is that I just fell in love with all of them. They arrived so excited and in good spirits, even if some of the children were a bit wary at first.  Their openness to new experiences reminded me to be more open in turn  to their unique ways of visiting and looking at art. A few reflections are shared below (while the experience are real, the names of the family visitors have been changed).

It’s About Choice & Control

One of the first things I learned from my mentors, John Falk and Lynn Dierking, was that visitors like and need choice and control in their museum experience. When I checked back with the families a day or so after their visit, the one consistent remark was how much they liked doing their own thing. Cole (age 10) told his mom, who had not been able to come to the museum, that he liked the visit because “they let us do whatever we wanted.”

tapestry-smallOne thing visitors like to choose is the pace. Eva, who visited with her two sisters, and her grandniece, Suzie, (age 7) and grandnephew, Chuck, (age 12) said she liked the “very relaxed pace” of the visit and added “this is a great way to come to the museum together.” A rather quick and focused pace was set by 8-year-old Zuri because she wanted to use the family guide, while her father and brother, Cole, (age 10) were happy to keep up. In another family, Baylor (age 10) had recently discovered audio guides and he immediately plugged into one during the visit. This slowed the pace down considerably. As his mother wrote to me the next day, “Using the audio guide really clicked in for Baylor last summer, and has totally changed our museum experience, allowing us both to have more private and quiet looking times as well as more social looking.”

Kids See the Darndest Things

I am continually fascinated by what draws children’s attention and this week’s visits were no exception. Typically it is not what educators tend to include on tours. For example, Suzie was first taken with the missing head on a statue in the courtyard. Throughout the visit she commented on how many statues were missing heads and arms. This caused us all to heighten our attention to what was missing. When we passed along a hallway to go upstairs she paused at a niche housing several stone and marble heads a long with a sculpture missing all limbs and the head. She said, “Oh, so this must be where they keep the heads” and calmly walked on.

combined headless & heads

Because the Gardner is one of the few museums lit primarily by natural light, and there are many cases with small, fascinating objects and notes, sometimes things can be difficult to see. Even though, there were opportunities in all the groups where they were straining to see something they did not ask to use the flashlights. or magnifying glasses. Sometimes I would shine the light where they were looking and everyone in the group would gather round and spend more time looking and talking. Reports from families a few days after the visit suggested that the flashlights were a big hit, even though they never directly asked for them.

combined magnify flashlight

They “Stumped the Chumps

Children frequently stumped us all with their insightful questions that we couldn’t answer. When that happened, all of us, adults and children, got involved in the conversation, equally contributing bits and pieces of what we knew and speculating on all the possible answers. Yes, I could analyze these interchanges and point to how they are modeling critical thinking, good inquiry, and how children need to see that no one has all the answers, but I’m not. They were just beautiful moments of people coming together and puzzling out something. I want to leave it at that.

What About Content?

It’s challenging for educators to intentionally lighten up on content in any museum experience, even though research continually finds that family motivations for museum visits is NOT to learn new knowledge. Families seek an enjoyable time together that serves as a sort of family glue, creating memories that they continue to share. Certainly parents and children like to learn things but it’s not the focus or reason for their visit.

At the beginning of the visits this week, I let families know that I did not have any plans for them, I just wanted to wander around with them, that I didn’t know the collection but there was a Gardner Museum educator with us in case there was anything they wanted to know.  Having a knowledgeable person with us proved to be a popular feature for families, for when questions came up Julia Brucker and Michelle Grohe were there. I’m grateful for their skilled ability to know just when and how much to engage so that the experience stayed in the family and was not diverted to the educator. That said, the families did not automatically think to ask the educators when a question arose. In most cases, after listening to families wonder out loud about something, I suggested asking the museum educator, which they eagerly did and it enlivened the conversation. I’m not sure why this is the case and together with families enjoying but not asking for the magnifying glass and flashlight, it feels like a pattern might be emerging. I will see if it continues in this week’s visits.

talking with volunter and elbow of hanger-onAt one point a group intercepted a gallery volunteer roaming the gallery for just this purpose. The volunteer noticed that Suzie and Chuck were interested in a silver encased ostrich egg and talked to them about it. This brief interchange warmed my heart as the volunteer was focused totally on the group’s interest and experience. She had no agenda except to facilitate visitors’ interest.

Implications for Practice

Realistically we can’t accompany every family group in this way, but it feels increasingly important that we, as educators, connect with audiences on more than an intellectual level. Finding practical ways to fall in love with the visitors seems key to me. When we connect with visitors on a deeply human level then the way we design experiences will change. When we start to see visitors as thoughtful, insightful friends who are eager to explore what the museum has to offer, we stop seeing them as security risks or potential dollar signs. I invite you to find your own ways to authentically connect with your visitors and share what happened.

Note: All the photos were taken with Blynk a tiny time-lapse camera during the family visits. This little gadget is now my new best data-collecting friend. And the “Stumped the Chumps” reference is a nod to Car Talk.

OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:

Towards a More Mindful Practice

Barriers to Family Engagement in Museums

Evaluation Can Be Fun

ABOUT AUTHOR

AdamsMARIANNA ADAMS is President of Audience Focus Inc. Her professional roots began in K-12 public and private school teaching (fine art, English literature, social studies, and special education) and segued into museum education where she headed several education departments in Florida museums. She founded Audience Focus Inc., in 2007 after 12 years of conducting evaluation, research, professional development, grant proposal writing, and concept development for the Institute for Learning Innovation. Her degrees are from George Washington University (Ed.D.), University of South Florida (M.A.) and Mercer University (B.A.). In her spare time she is an avid yoga practitioner and teacher.

Meeting the Future Head On: Future Reports, Trends, & Next Practices

“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.

In an exceptional Museum-iD post gathering perspectives from global museum innovators in response to the question “What will museums be like in the future?,” Adam Rozan from the Oakland Museum of California remarked:

“… 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…

Visitors engaging with a sea of all images that were posted on Flickr during a 24-hour period and dumped into the exhibition space in the "What's Next" exhibition at the Future of the Photography Museum in Amsterdam. Photo by foamamsterdam
Visitors engaging with a sea of all images that were posted on Flickr during a 24-hour period and dumped into the exhibition space in the “What’s Next” exhibition at the Future of the Photography Museum in Amsterdam. Photo by foamamsterdam

Next Practices in Art Museum Education

NextPracticesIntended to take us beyond “best practices,” Next Practices in Art Museum Education is 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.

NMC Horizon Report: 2013 Museum Edition

HorizonReport2013Released in November 2013, the NMC Horizon Report: 2013 Museum Edition examines 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.

TrendsWatch 2014

TrendsWatchCenter 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.

Building the Future of Education: Museums and the Learning Ecosystem

BuildingFutureComing 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.

Guide to the Future at the 2014 Annual Meeting

CFMFor 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?

Long Live the Spirit of Play: Tracking a Theme through NAEA 2014

By Rachel Ropeik, Brooklyn Museum

Nothing signifies 'play' like this installation by Martin Creed. Photo by Nicolas Mirguet.
Nothing signifies ‘play’ like this installation by Martin Creed. Photo by Nicolas Mirguet.

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:

and

Conference attendees were excited about this theme, too, and talked/tweeted about it throughout the day.

Seema Rao of the Cleveland Museum of Art reminded us about taking chances.

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.

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.

photoWe 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.

If you want to read more about some of the things I’ve mentioned, check the Twitter hashtags #naea14, #naeamused14 (for museum-related content), and #galleryteachingmarathon.  There’s also my complete Storify account of the Convention, which has plenty more tweeting about the spirit of play, and Olga Hubard’s recent reflection on the Gallery Teaching Marathon itself (touching upon some of these same ideas).

In the Midst of Practice: Reflections on the Gallery Teaching Marathon

By Olga Hubard, Teachers College, Columbia University

Liz Diament leading part of a gallery teaching experience with Ai Weiwei's "Marble Chair."
Liz Diament leading part of a gallery teaching experience with Ai Weiwei’s “Marble Chair.”

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.

Participants engaging in movement and pantomime strategies led by Jen Oleniczak.
Participants engaging in movement and pantomime strategies led by Jen Oleniczak.

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:

  1. 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?
  1. 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.)
Elliott Kai-Kee leads group to openly explore the question "what is this particular artwork asking me to do?"
Elliott Kai-Kee leads group to openly explore the question “what is this particular artwork asking me to do?”

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:

hubardOLGA 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 EducationCurator: The Museum JournalInternational Journal of Art and Design EducationJournal of Aesthetic EducationJournal 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.

Letting Go and Opening Up: Teen Voices in Art Museums

By Chelsea Emelie Kelley, Milwaukee Art Museum, and Patty Edmonson, Cleveland Museum of Art

When museums share interpretive control of their collections, amazing things can happen. Many museums are reimagining how visitors can interact with and engage in their collections, through technology, after-hours adult programming, and even hacking (both sanctioned and independent).

Recording video content with teens as part of the Teen CO-OP program at the Cleveland Museum of Art.
Recording video content with teens as part of the Teen CO-OP program at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Teen programs provide a very different kind of opportunity for museums to experiment with interpretation. Because many teens participate in multiple programs for extended lengths of time, they become advocates and resources for our museums and its collections. Teens at the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Cleveland Museum of Art have been part of two experimental interpretive strategies that go deeper than one-day-only programs, providing not only learning experiences for students involved, but powerful tools and content for their institutions.

From the museum educator’s perspective, we—Chelsea Emelie Kelly at the Milwaukee Art Museum and Patty Edmonson at the Cleveland Museum of Art—originally connected because both of our programs create video content featuring teens for our collections. However, we’ve come to see that there are more connections and applications to what we’re doing than simply producing object-focused, teen-made videos. We share our programs and projects below, and we’re now thinking about how we can make use of this content beyond teen audiences. Read on and share your thoughts with us!

Teen CO∙OP at the Cleveland Museum of Art

Patty Edmonson, Intergenerational Interpretation Specialist

The Teen CO∙OP started in 2013, and it’s the Cleveland Museum of Art’s newest teen program. We chose ten students from a pool of applicants to participate in a two-week summer session, where we trained them to work with the public and create their own programming. They use these skills during our monthly family days, called Second Sundays. CO∙OP members work in our interactive gallery, Gallery One, answering visitor questions and starting conversations about art and the museum. During these events, they also help with studio projects, pass out the teen guide they made, and create Vine videos. The CMA is working toward a more visible teen presence and authentic teen voices.

Video has been a tool for us to hear these teen voices and get students to think about storytelling in museums. During our summer session we created short films with a local production company, North Water Partners. Each student began by choosing an artwork and we interviewed them about their initial reactions before they knew very much about the piece. After these first interviews they read about their artworks and we talked about historical context. We asked them to complete a series of small tasks: choose three words that describe the artwork; describe this to someone who can’t see; write a tagline for the artwork; tell a story about this artwork; make a Vine about it. These tasks became pieces that they could include in their storyboards. Some also created their own typography or imagery to incorporate into their video.

One of the biggest challenges was balancing fun and appropriateness. I wanted the students to feel comfortable being silly, but there were several moments when we stopped to talk about respecting the art and museum. We also went out on a limb by letting the video content come from their ideas and observations, not solely art historical information. We are not creating mini art historians here. That said, we did have to navigate one interpretation of a portrait with a shadow that looked like a bruise. The student was interested in creating a story of a battered woman, but we stepped in to talk about why this story might not be the best one to imagine, and spent time looking at more portraits and their shadows.

Through these videos, the teens learned to look closer. They seemed excited that their observations were valid and their confidence grew. I also saw their public speaking abilities improve after being behind the camera, which can be tough. One of our big goals was to capture an authentic voice, and we chose not to correct language that museums wouldn’t normally approve, like “I’m finna to the grand ball” (as in fixing to go). I felt that by letting their real voices come through, we let them know that they can be themselves in a museum.

We hope to show these videos on our website, and you can see some of the good and bad Vines under the account, CMA Teen CO-OP. Our plan next summer is to make content that can better fit into our app, ArtLens.

Satellite High School Program at the Milwaukee Art Museum

Milwaukee Art Museum Satellite Program group, 2013-14
Milwaukee Art Museum Satellite Program group, 2013-14

Chelsea Emelie Kelly, Manager of Digital Learning

The Satellite High School Program is an art history focused weekly gallery program at the Milwaukee Art Museum for sixteen arts-interested teens from the Milwaukee area to connect with works of art and each other. As part of the program, teens choose a work of art in the Museum collection to study and interpret, and share their ideas in a final project. Over the past year, we’ve experimented with how they share using video in two very different ways.

In the spring 2013 program, teens had one semester to choose a work, study it, and make a creative response to it, in visual art, writing, music, or media of their choice. I wanted to be sure their work was shared with a wider audience, so I used my own personal DSLR camera to film them with their artwork and creative responses. I had them write their own voiceover explaining their piece, their connection to it, and their response project, making sure that the video was just about one minute long for quick, easy consumption. Here’s just one of their videos, featuring Joel:

That project was successful, but I wanted to turn much more of the creation over to the teens themselves. I knew I had a chance to do just that when we received funding to buy a set of iPads for the Education Department.

This fall, as part of a school year-long program, a new group of teens had a different task: they shared their personal connections to their work of art through a video they created on an iPad. Over the course of the semester, they created video blogs (vlogs) reflecting on their changing thoughts about their work of art. They also received “readers” with basic information on their work of art or artist, and led a group discussion with all the Satellite students about their piece to get others’ opinions and thoughts. At the end of the semester, they created midterm videos piecing together with their reflection vlogs to show their evolution of thought. Here is ZouaPang’s video:

Teens continually asked themselves what they were still wondering about, and much changed over the course of the semester. When asked what she learned after an early session, Alana responded: “I learned how to better analyze paintings.” Her answer to the same question at the last session of the semester was much richer: “I learned a lot more about how to analyze art and research which I think is really cool because now instead of just looking at a piece and saying ‘pretty picture’ I notice more things about the pieces I see.” Alana’s video—and all her research and analysis!—is below.

One-to-one iPads came with their own set of challenges. Instead of solo weekend troubleshooting with DSLRs and iMovie, I found myself with a wonderfully excited group who wanted to use the iPad for much longer than I’d anticipated! In fact, I learned that students about doubled the time I usually allotted to use the iPad comfortably and feel good about their work.

Next semester, the same group of students will continue to explore their artwork and create more formal videos for a wider visitor audience about their work of art. We’re going to kickoff the semester with some visitor studies: teens will go into the galleries and do a card-sort exercise with Museum visitors to discover what people actually want to know about works of art (thanks to Marianna Adams for this activity!). Then we’ll pool our data and discuss how we might format our videos for a larger audience, as well as how the teens think we should share the content.

Your Thoughts?

We’re now in the phase of thinking about what we can do with the content our students have worked so hard to create. We know their voices are important and engaging, and are thinking about how best to share them. Since ArtMuseumTeaching.com is a forum for practice, we would love to open our questions up to all of you. What other purposes might these videos serve? Would they be interesting to other audiences? Where and how should these videos be shared? Please share your thoughts with us, as well as comments or questions, below!