Tag Archives: teaching

Exploring Teacher Professional Development in Art Museums: CALL FOR PAPERS

By Dana Carlisle Kletchka, Curator of Education, Palmer Museum of Art at Pennsylvania State University

Although art museum educators exist in the interstices of teaching, learning, and research, it is not often that we are invited to share our professional experiences in the form of a scholarly publication. It is clear from the content on this blog and others, however, that we have a lot to say and a great deal to share with one other. In that spirit, I invite you to consider the following Call for Papers for an edited volume on professional development for preK-12 art teachers, with particular consideration to how it occurs in museum spaces. My co-editor, B. Stephen Carpenter II, and I hope that it will ultimately be a resource for university and art museum educators, preK-12 art teachers, and graduate students in art and art museum education/museum studies courses.

CALL FOR PAPERS

Art museum educators and academics who engage in or study professional development for teachers:

2013 Summer Institute on Contemporary Art, Pennsylvania State University
2013 Summer Institute on Contemporary Art, Pennsylvania State University

We are accepting chapter abstracts for an edited book that explores the history, philosophy, and theoretical foundations of professional development in and from art museums; provides examples of meaningful professional development experiences with particular attention to the broader impact and translatability of such experiences; and delineates institutional partnerships between academic entities and art museums.

A central tenet of the book is that collaborative engagements with works of contemporary art in art museums, coupled with critical reflection and pedagogical application, provide art educators opportunities for professional development that renew, strengthen, and expand their effectiveness and influence within art educational spaces.

Please send a 250-word summary of your proposed chapter to: Dr. B. Stephen Carpenter at bsc5@psu.edu or Dr. Dana Carlisle Kletchka at dck10@psu.edu before Monday, November 18, 2013.

2013 Summer Institute on Contemporary Art, Pennsylvania State University
2013 Summer Institute on Contemporary Art, Pennsylvania State University

RELATED POSTS THAT MIGHT BE OF INTEREST:

Rethinking the Way Museums Work with Teachers

Integrating Art Museum Education into a K-12 School

A Manifesto for Schools Visiting Art Museums

Not Just for Field Trips Any More: 7 Ways to Ignite Learning at the Art Museum

What’s the Value of an Art Museum Field Trip?

Photo by Stephen Ironside
Photo by Stephen Ironside

By Anne Kraybill, School and Community Programs Manager, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

Early in my career, I worked at an art museum that experienced what many art museums have experienced, a steady decline in school tours. Our tours did not cost anything to the schools, we had a grant for some transportation and the school district had funding as well. As an institution, we were puzzled. If the tours were barrier-free in terms of cost, what could be causing this? This was just around the time of the initial implementation of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and we had anecdotal evidence that preparing for the NCLB test was deterring administrators from approving field trips during the months preceding the exam.  But even in the non-test prep months, attendance was down.

As I progressed throughout my career, I continued to face the challenge of convincing administrators that a trip to the art museum is a worthy endeavor. Even with funding for transportation, it has been a difficult case to make with little rigorous research available to back up our arguments. Through my teaching practice in the gallery, I can see the connections students are making: the critical thinking and inference, and the expansion of their interpretive framework that opens up their world. But could it be proven? We needed hard numbers:  How does a one-time field trip to an art museum actually impact a student, and is that impact enough to convince an administrator?

Fortunately, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art inherently believes in the power of the field trip and the multiple effects it has upon student learning. Thanks to the generosity of the Willard and Pat Walker Charitable foundation, the Museum established a $10 million endowment that provides every school with transportation, substitute teachers, and a lunch for students during their museum visit. This makes a field trip barrier free and as one might imagine, the demand was high. Everyone wanted to visit the Museum when we first opened. But as I had experienced previously, financial barriers are not the only challenge to ensuring school visitation. How could we ensure that five or ten years from now we still had the same interest and support from school administrators?

Photo by Stephen Ironside
Photo by Stephen Ironside

Located in the Ozarks, Crystal Bridges is the first large art museum in the region. Prior to the opening of our Museum, schools would have to drive to Tulsa or Little Rock to visit an art museum. The combination of never having an art museum in the area, plus a demand for field trips that exceeded our Museum’s initial capacity, lent itself to a natural experiment. We contacted the University of Arkansas, Department of Education Reform to measure the impact a one-time field trip has upon students.

Researchers Jay Greene, Brian Kisida, and Daniel Bowen designed a random assignment study. Schools applied to visit the Museum in grade levels or pods. Groups were matched and then randomly assigned whether they would get the field trip right away, or if they would get the field trip later. Once the study began, the treatment group visited the Museum and the control group was surveyed. Following the field trip, the treatment group was surveyed (an average of three weeks after). The research was conducted from March through December 2012. There were almost 11,000 students and 489 teachers at 123 different schools throughout the region in this study.

Tour Methodology

Crystal Bridges school tours are similar to those at many art museums. We use interactive dialog that allows the tour to be student driven. Students make observations or statements and Museum Educators respond through paraphrasing, questions, or layering additional contextual information for the student to a level of understanding that they might not get to on their own. For many students and their teachers this is their first time on an art museum field trip. We want to be sure they know this is not about the passive reception of information. We emphasize to the students that this tour is about their ideas, and we produced a video to help deliver this message:

Tours are led by Museum Educators that are on staff rather than a volunteer corp. As they are leading tours daily, the educators are continually refining and reflecting. In addition, peer review and mentoring is part of the training process.

The Findings

Photo by Stephen Ironside
Photo by Stephen Ironside

The researchers were interested in revealing several areas of possible impact. These included cognitive and non-cognitive skills from knowledge acquisition, critical thinking, tolerance, historical empathy, and desire to visit museums in the future.

  • Overall, students remember what they learn from works of art! Shocking I know, but students were able to answer very specific questions about contextual information, demonstrating that they retained that information not because they had to for a test, but because it was interesting information to keep.
  • In critical thinking, students also displayed more observations and inferences if they had been on a field trip.
  • Students indicated that they would be more open to diverse opinions, even if they were in opposition to their own thinking.
  • Students were better able to imagine a situation unlike their own in the form of historical empathy.
  • There was also a built-in behavioral measure indicated if the treatment or control group would be more likely to come back to the museum. The treatment group did independently return with their families at a higher rate than the control. In all of the areas there is an impact, but the most significant impact is found within student populations that are considered to attend low-socio economic and/or rural schools.

With recent research in non-cognitive abilities as a predictor of student success, these findings help to make a rigorous case to administrators, policy makers, philanthropists, and educators that there is significant value in a field trip.

To learn more about the findings and research methodology, read the article in Education Next.

To hear the research team discuss the findings, view the September 16th Media Conference.

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About Author

AnneKraybillANNE KRAYBILL: School and Community Programs Manager at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. With a team of educators, she developed and implemented all programming related to K-12 students, teachers, and pre-service teachers as well as community groups. She has held positions at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, MD, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, the Center for Creative Education, and the Vero Beach Museum of Art. Prior to joining Crystal Bridges, she worked as the Art School Director at the Durham Art Council, managing visual and performing arts classes for over 3,000 youth and adult students annually. She is currently developing a distance learning initiative for Crystal Bridges and pursuing her Ph.D. in Education Policy at the University of Arkansas. Anne’s postings on this site are her own and don’t necessarily represent the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art’s positions, strategies, or opinions.

Integrating Art Museum Education into a K-12 School

Guest post by Michelle Marcus, The Dalton School

As John Dewey was integrating museum visits and other object-based experiences into his Lab Schools at the University of Chicago, Helen Parkhurst was incorporating similar principles into what would become the foundation of The Dalton School in New York City.  Dalton is still committed to interactive teaching and learning in museum settings; witness my particular position as art museum educator and resident art historian within a larger Museum Program. In close collaboration with classroom teachers and other specialists, both inside and outside the school, the program integrates objects and images into the existing K-12 academic curriculum (especially in social studies and history). At the same time, it weaves age-appropriate methods and questions of art history across the school. My experiences at Dalton over the past 15 years resonate with new directions in art museum education, as the latter begins to explore its shared roots with progressive schools.

Archaeological Analysis with iPads at the Met

Third graders with iPads in the European Painting Galleries at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Photo courtesy S. Brudnick).
Third graders with iPads in the European Painting Galleries at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Photo courtesy S. Brudnick).

Third grade doesn’t get any better than an archaeological dig. Even a simulated dig, chock full of museum replicas and flea market finds that only look like they belong to the Age of Exploration. The challenge is keeping the analysis of the finds as engaging as their recovery.  In one strategy, the students revisit the Met to find comparative materials with which to determine the possible place of production of their artifacts. Using iPads to document their finds, students rely on attributes of material, shape, and style: the bend of a tree trunk, the outstretched wings of a bird, the sense of spatial illusion.

Such authentic analogies raise the level of inquiry. For example, were the artifacts from a century palace at Kashgar made locally (in Central Asia), or had they been imported from elsewhere? Why are there Chinese-style cranes on an inscribed Persian tile? By mapping their museum parallels, the students start to reconstruct the nature of exchange along the Silk Road in the time of Columbus. Their finds convince them that Kashgar was a major player in a trade network that stretched from Italy to China. The students take ownership of a history they created from the ground up. While the archaeology provides the initial motivation, an authentic visual analysis sustains it. The use of art museum replicas as primary visual resources in school (whether excavated or not, whether high or low end) provides obvious opportunities for integrated museum visits, or for similar work with online collections.

Rolling Ancient Cylinder Seals at the Morgan Library

Student seal
A student’s rolling of an ancient Sumerian cylinder seal. The Morgan Library and Museum (Photo courtesy of I. Donnelly)

While the Met meets most of our needs most of the time (in terms of collection, proximity, and access), the smaller institutions can nevertheless offer more direct experiences with objects and curators. For example, a curator at The Morgan Library offers our fifth graders a remarkable opportunity with cylinder seals from ancient Iraq (ca. 3000-5000 BCE). He lets the students roll an ancient seal across damp clay to create a continuous impression of the engraved design.

What makes this experience so humbling, rather than excessive, is the degree to which it is informed by a classroom curriculum. The students arrive at the Library familiar with the iconography and function of cylinder seals in antiquity, including, for example, the way they were used to mark tablets as signs of authority. We are always delighted (but never surprised) to see the seal-bearing students quiver as they are transported back in time, knowing they are using the same object a Sumerian or Babylonian official did 3000 to 5000 years ago.

Mesopotamia Day at the University of Pennsylvania Museum

The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology offers a different sort of experience for our fifth graders. It is based on the museum’s renowned position at the forefront of archaeological and academic research about the ancient Near East; as well as an unusual collaboration among a number of individuals at several institutions. The excursion is organized along the lines of a junior academic conference, in which students have direct access to objects, scholars, and ancient methods of production. In one session, scholars let students handle ancient cuneiform tablets before teaching them how to make one of their own.

A cuneiform tablet made by a Dalton fifth grader at The University of Pennsylvania Museum (Photo Courtesy P. McElfresh)
A cuneiform tablet made by a Dalton fifth grader at The University of Pennsylvania Museum (Photo Courtesy P. McElfresh)

One memorable moment has students passing around an ancient school tablet, used to practice making cuneiform signs on clay. They notice odd impressions along one edge. Are they ancient numbers? Is it damage? Finally, one student recognizes them as teeth marks! Indeed, a physical anthropologist had already attributed them to the teeth of a ten-year old. Suddenly, our fifth graders could identify with a scribal student who lived 4000 years ago, thinking of those moments of frustration when they leave similar teeth marks on pencils.

In another session, the students explore ancient technology with a curator from the Met, who traveled with us. They reconstruct ancient gold-working techniques by examining artifacts on display, side by side with the curator’s own microscopic photographs of the same finds. Her new photographs had been loaded onto iPads for the visit. The University of Pennsylvania Museum activities make lasting impacts on both the students and the scholars alike. For the former, it authenticates their curriculum through the lens of experiential archaeology and current research. For the latter, it challenges them to re-think their conceptions of K-12 teaching, as they interact with 100 young learners who, they admit, are more engaged by the material than many adult audiences they encounter.

I share these few museum visits — a sample of many dozens undertaken at Dalton each year — with a personal sense of excitement about the future of art museum teaching. I am encouraged to think that the recent turn by art museum educators can include renewed collaborations with progressive school educators. Our mutual interest in making visual materials accessible to a contemporary audience begs for the sort of collaboration, finally, that enriched progressive education at the turn of the 20th century. Granted, we face a challenge inconceivable in the time of John Dewey and Louise Connelly: how to take advantage of new computer technologies without compromising the direct experience with works of art.

About the Author

Marcus PhotoMICHELLE MARCUS earned her Ph.D. in Art History from the University of Pennsylvania.  Before taking on the position of resident art historian and museum educator at The Dalton School in New York, she split her time between college teaching, curatorial consulting, and writing about the art and archaeology of the ancient Near East.  Her research and publications have been supported by grants from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Getty Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.  More recently, she has been speaking and writing about using images to teach history on the K-12 level.  Beta grants from AMICO and Artstor supported her early efforts to use digital art images at Dalton.

Teaching for Independence: Empowering Learning in the Art Museum

Written by Mike Murawski

Prefatory Note: Before ArtMuseumTeaching.com went public, there were several months when it was simply my own personal (private) online space to reflect on my practice as well as larger issues around teaching and learning in museums.  It was (and is) so valuable to write about what we do as educators and museum practitioners, even without publicly sharing that writing.  Since the site went public back in February 2012, these reflections (along with those of nearly 2 dozen other practitioners) have been openly shared via this unique online ‘bazaar’ that spotlights practice — from million-dollar cutting-edge initiatives and multi-year projects to simple, personal reflections and moments to add one more teaching tool to our belts.  And while conferences such as the NAEA, AAM, and Museums & the Web — among others — can surface some truly incredible, thoughtful work happening in museums today (some of which has been highlighted on this site), it is also important to provide a space for reflections and conversation around a more daily teaching practice.  This post is an attempt to maintain those types of reflections on this site, and to encourage others to share their teaching & learning experiences as we continue to build this online community of practice.

A couple weeks ago here at the Portland Art Museum, I had a unique opportunity to work with a group of students visiting from neighboring Portland State University as part of their Freshman Inquiry course entitled “The Work of Art,” led by artist/educator Sarah Wolf Newlands.  This multidisciplinary course examines the ‘work’ that goes into artistic production, but goes way beyond that to explore the role art plays in our lives.  As the course site describes:

“It looks at the work art does in the world — how it shapes, reflects, disguises, complicates, challenges, or brings reality to our assumptions about the world…. What are the artistic levers with which we can move our world forward? What can looking through the lens of ‘art’ at the products from a broad range of disciplines reveal about ourselves, our culture[s] and our society? How does the art we do and the art we experience shape our identity? How does it disguise or reveal our essence, heal our hearts, and enable our joy? How does art influence cultural change? How can we use the arts to build community?”

bradford1

One of my own goals when working with groups of college students and adults in the galleries (and in the classroom) is always to break down the often rigid expectations of “what we do” in front of a work of art — moving past the assumptions that we need to behave a certain way or know something specific before we can have an experience with art. I also aim to teach for independence — an approach to our ‘work’ with art that empowers a participatory, learner-centered process of making meaning and attempts to break down the constructed hierarchies between teacher and learner, professor and student, expert and novice, institution and audience.

“The visitor’s response and experience come first, before the museum’s, before the history of art.” —Rika Burnham

For me, at its heart, teaching for independence asks that educators (whether in the museum, K-12 classroom, or university lecture hall) strive to facilitate deep, collective experiences with art that leave participants and learners better equipped to look, explore, question, and engage deeply on their own without always relying on the museum or an ‘expert’ to lead that process.

Opening Up the Learning Experience: An Hour with Mark Bradford’s Scorched Earth

As the PSU students gathered in the gallery, we began with a quick discussion of “what does learning look like in an art museum” to establish an atmosphere of thinking and reflection.  Then, we dove head first into a 60-minute co-learning experience with a single work of art — Mark Bradford’s Scorched Earth (2006). The experience was intended to be multi-modal, involving various ways of thinking and openly responding to the artwork in front of us– a process similar to other experiences about which I have written.

bradford3Here is a quick outline of our experience with Bradford’s piece  (and I always want to be clear that these tips and strategies are not ones that I necessarily invent, but are inspired by some of the ‘Jedi knights’ of museum education like Rika Burnham, to whom I am greatly indebted. I also do use some of these strategies repeatedly when I am in the galleries, since some are just exceptional ways to open-up an experience of freedom, comfort, creative looking, and excitement):

  1. Looking: We began with 1 minute of quiet looking, then having students share their initial observations with a person sitting next to them.  We followed that with another minute of quiet looking, this time using a paper tube as a telescope to see the artwork differently — followed by more sharing with their neighbors about anything new they noticed.
  2. Question: Students were asked to write down one question or wondering they had for this work of art.
  3. 60-Second Sketch: Everyone spread out across the gallery and then had 60 seconds to make a quick sketch of the entire artwork, filling their paper from edge to edge.  Students were asked to lay all of the sketches in the center of the gallery, walk around and see what others drew, and then select a sketch that interested them (and was not their own).
  4. Sketching with Language: Students had several minutes to “finish” the sketch they had selected, but by using only language — adding words, phrases, thoughts, and reflective writing directly on top of the drawing. I call this “sketching with language,” something pulled from Jack Kerouac and his creative process.
  5. Reading: In small groups, students shared their writing by reading it aloud– really honoring their writing by reading it directly instead of simply summarizing or paraphrasing it (which is what we too often do).
  6. Conversation Extender: By this point, students have had some serious time to look at Bradford’s work, share and exchange ideas about what they see and what they think about it, and do some sketching and writing to deepen or even shift their interpretations.  To extend their conversations and spark further thought, each group received a small packet of historic photographs from the 1921 Tulsa race riots — an event that historians have called “the single worst incident of racial violence in American history,” and an event that has been strongly connected to this work by Bradford.  Each group of students was simply asked to continue their conversation about the Bradford piece, yet to see how this added layer of historic images (powerful in their own right) might build or shift that conversation in any way. In talking about his own work, Bradford once says: “It’s about … tracing the ghost of cities past. It’s the pulling off of a layer and finding another underneath.”
  7. Group Discussion: During this entire experience thus far, students have been building personal meaning or sharing their ideas in pairs or small groups. So to wrap up, each group brings their thoughts and insights to the full class as we spend the last 10-15 minutes in an open discussion about the artwork and our experience with it.

Learning to See Learning in the Art Museum

For me, much of the experience with this group of college students was about empowering them to learn to see learning in an art museum (and with a work of art) differently — to begin to see looking and learning with art in a more active, participatory way that also allows for shared authority around knowledge and interpretation.  To help me gain a better understanding of how (or whether) this happens, I invited students participating in the experience described above to send me an email with their reflections after their museum visit. Here are a few great insights from their reflections:

collection of student sketches, questions, and writing in response to Bradford's "Scorched Earth"
collection of student sketches, questions, and writing in response to Bradford’s “Scorched Earth”

“Usually when I go to an art museum, the experience isn’t as fun and exciting. It’s hard for me to look at a work of art and really dissect it…. I probably will never get to just sit down in front of a work of art and analyze it with that many people again, and it was an awesome experience. Thank you for taking the time to teach our class fun tools that we can use in an art museum to really get the most out of our time there.”

“It was really cool to spend a solid hour just looking into what the piece could be about, what it could mean. I’m glad that you opened up the learning experience by allowing us to interpret the painting in our own way, then discuss with one other person, and then discuss in small groups. I think this allowed each student to really get the most out of what other students were understanding and interpreting from the work.”

“This experience was very enlightening because we learned so much from so little. It was profound to get so much out of little more than looking, thinking, and discussing.”

“It’s crazy how observing a piece for just a little longer than a glance can change your perspective of a piece and your understanding of it…. If more people were to do what we did today and take time to observe art, they would see it in totally new ways.”

This type of learner-centered, participatory meaning-making is something I continue to explore in the museum context, but I think it also has significant implications for how we conceive of art history teaching outside of the museum.  What if we allowed for more active, open-ended looking and exploration with art, and hold back some on the passive transfer of information?  What if we used drawing, movement, or creative writing as another way of looking deeply at art?  What if we really focused our teaching more on creating and supporting independent learners who see and think for themselves?

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This post has also been published online at Art History Teaching Resources (AHTR), a streamlined, peer-populated teaching resources site sharing Art History Survey teaching materials between teachers and stimulating conversations around pedagogy in the arts. The site was initiated in 2011 by Michelle Jubin and Karen Shelby, products of the CUNY Graduate Teaching Fellows program.

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’s at Your Core? Knowing What’s Important to You and Why It Matters

Photo by tiff_ku1

I was recently asked “What are your core values as a teacher?” For a moment I was stumped. I have taught students and colleagues about articulating clear and effective core values and the importance of using these to guide strategies and practices. I referenced established core values and used them in my own work as a museum educator. However, I realized that I had been thinking about institutional core values. What are the core values of your museum? What are the core values of your department? While I felt that I had a strong sense of who I was as a museum professional, it has been a very long time since I thought about and articulated my core vales, separate from the institution where I worked. This process was eye opening and resulted in something very valuable—knowing my core values.

So what are core values? In their book Built to Last, Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras  define core values as “the essential and enduring tenets of an organization—the very small set of guiding principles that have a profound impact on how everyone in the organization thinks and acts.” The National Parks Service further defines core values as foundational values that are “so important to us that through out the changes in society, government, politics, and technology they are STILL the core values we will abide by.” I like to think of core values as:

  • Those things that you will go to the mat for and defend doing every time.
  • The things that you will keep doing even if you are penalized for doing so.
  • They must also have a consciously rejected but equally viable opposite (more on this later).

If we re-draft Collins and Porras’s definition for ourselves, core values are the essential and enduring tenets for our lives—the very small set of guiding principles that have a profound impact on how we think and act.

A key to this definition is the phrase “very small set.”  I recently read, “If you have 10 core values, you don’t have core values, you have a shopping list.” Core values should be honed to get at the depths of your guiding principles. You should be able to remember and list your core values on one hand, or may one hand and a thumb, and be able to practice these values everyday, not just on the ideal, perfect once-in-a- lifetime day.

“What do you love to do?” or “How to find your core values?”

I must admit this took me a while. When I had done this work with my own museum colleagues or students it had always been generative group process, but on my own I found myself staring at a blank page. Clearly I had to stand for something, but what? Lots of museum and education jargon floated in and out of my mind. I decided to start making notes throughout the week. I kept an ongoing list on my phone of all the things that I did that were important to me or I felt good about doing, from job tasks, to how I acted in a meeting, to how I taught a program. I also looked for things that I saw in others that I appreciated and respected. In addition, I kept a list of all the things that upset and angered me, both in my own actions and those I saw exhibited in others. The latter I analyzed for what was upsetting me and considered what the opposite might be. From these lists I had a more honed and simplified one, but it was still a shopping list.

The next step was to really get to the core. I took each item on my list and asked a series of questions.

  1. Why is that important to you?
  2. Why is that important to you?
  3. Why is THAT important to you?

This exercise is based on one presented by Geoffrey M. Bellman in “Getting Things Done When You Are Not In Charge” and “Your Signature Path: Gaining New Perspectives of Life and Work.”

While seemingly silly at the outset, this is a very challenging exercise. Each questions requires deeper soul searching and greater clarity. The process asks us to challenge our assumptions and look deeper at the things that we do and why we do them.

Through this process many of my initial ideas remained on my list of core values, others merged, and some fell off all together because I realized that they were more about my own capacities or an institutional culture, not a personal core value.

The final step was to ask myself what was the viable opposite of each value, and did I consciously reject it. As with many things in life, knowing something’s opposite makes you understand it that much clearer. For example, if I value collaboration, the opposite of that would be to work alone without the help or contributions of anyone else and the belief that a single mind makes the best ideas and products. I consciously reject that idea. By the end I was able to be more articulate about why my personal core values were important to me and why I would be willing to defend them, no matter what.

You are probably asking, “What did you come up with?” I came up with a list of five core values. I share them with you only as an example. You core values must truly be your own.

Listening— It shows care and respect for others and builds trust. When teaching in the art museum trust is essentially to creating dialog around works of art. It enables people to feel safe to share their ideas, leading to greater understanding of each other and works of art.

Reflection—enables us to pause and a look back upon what we have experienced and learned.  It is essential for improving our practice as teachers and the experience of our students. It is also critical to aligning our teaching with the goals and values of our programs, our institutions and ourselves.

Collaboration—enables us to create something that is stronger and better as the result of many people contributing to its creation. When teaching in the museum learning becomes a collaborative process in which all participants contribute to the experience, making it stronger and more meaningful than if the teacher solely directed it.

Acknowledging the skills, experiences and contributions of others—When we do this, we show respect for others and value what they bring. Although seemingly simple this is critical to open communication. In the workplace, in our partnerships and in our teaching, this practice can open dialogue, leading to more meaningful interactions, and a greater sense of agency.

Mentoring—mentorship and support can go in all directions, upward to our directors and managers, horizontally to our peers, and forward to a younger generation of practitioners. I am committed to the profession of art museum education and believe that as a practitioner I have a responsibility to contribute to the growth and improvement of the field as a whole. I also believe that I have not made it to where I am today in my career alone. I owe a debt to teachers, advisors, colleagues and the students I have taught. This cycle of mentoring invigorates and improves the field of museum education and thus the experiences of students, the value of works of art and art museums.

Why is THIS important to you?

So why should we do this work. As I said before it isn’t quick and it isn’t easy. But it is valuable.

Core values can help us make decisions. In “Ten Essentials for Getting Value from Values,” Rosebeth Moss Kanter explains that principles guide choices. While she is speaking about for profit businesses, this can also apply to us. When we know our core values, our decisions become clearer and simpler.

conquerCore values can help us be our best selves and guide us in aligning our actions with our values. Rosebeth Moss Kanter also writes, “principles are codified, made explicit, transmitted in writing in many media, and reviewed regularly to make sure people understand and remember them.”  While I don’t think you need to scream these from the mountaintop or put them on a t-shirt, I would encourage you to write them down. I keep mine tacked to the wall next to my computer. I see them everyday. As I wrote this I reviewed them and asked myself if they still held true. They guide me day-to-day, project-to-project, and keep me pointed in the right direction. If you are in a safe work environment I encourage you to share your core values with your colleagues. This process can build understanding and generate a discussion about how your shared work embodies the values of your team members.

For me, this process helped me better understand the kind of place I wanted to work and the kind of work that I wanted to be doing. Many of my core values share similar sentiments and ‘lead in a direction.’ Is that the direction that I am going? Is that the direction that this institution is going? Am I living my core values? When we ask ourselves these kinds of questions and live our core values we work smarter and more passionately, our work is more meaningful, and we are better educators.

A Teaching Interview: THE Audition for Museum Educators

Stricken with those awful nerves that overcome your system while you try to remember those lines you were up past midnight cramming into your head, you cling to your crumpled, dingy papers for dear life – the papers that contain the information you were trying so hard to memorize, the statements you need to naturally and conversationally say. You know you know it, but every time you try to say something without glancing at your papers that are quickly becoming damp from your sweaty palms, your brain freezes. Your name is about to be called as you sit in the uncomfortable chair, fidgeting with the sticker that betrays your best outfit. Doors swing open, and a smiling voice says, “We are ready for you.”

This scenario easily depicts almost every audition I’ve ever had. It also depicts the ‘teaching interviews’ or ‘sample tours’ or even ‘classroom simulation’ I and many other museum educators have had to do as part of interview processes. As a still-sometimes actress, if it quacks like a duck and looks like a duck, call it a duck – museum educators audition for their jobs. A lot. Good monologues do not get actors cast – and good information doesn’t always get museum educators hired. Technique plays a large part in both careers, posing the question: Isn’t it about time we start paying more attention to how we are saying things, and not just what we are saying?

Teaching AuditionIn an audition, the actor is usually provided with an opportunity to bring in a prepared monologue. The actor will perform said monologue and the director makes a decision if the actor is getting called back or sent on their way. Generally speaking, the actor will spend hours, days, even weeks finding that perfect monologue that not only showcases their skill set as a performer, but also connects with the particular role they are auditioning for. If an actor is auditioning for Cosette in Les Mis, their first choice wouldn’t be a piece that brings people to gut-busting laughter. Sounds a little familiar, doesn’t it?

For the teaching interviews I’ve had the pleasure and anxiety of experiencing, it all starts with successfully completing the in-person/phone interview. Then there is the nerve-racking moment of reading the invitation to do a teaching interview. While each institution is different, usually the main idea is to assemble a sample tour (or tour stop) and, with a nod to multimodal learning, an activity for that stop. Usually the prospective educator has about a week to put together this stop and spends countless hours researching the collection, choosing objects, picking that ONE object that will showcase knowledge, teaching skill and personality. Just like an actor auditioning for a role.

actors warming up prior to auditions
actors warming up prior to auditions

But actors will warm up before auditions – take 10 minutes and walk into Ripley-Grier and see dozens of actors at all times doing tongue twisters, stretching, working on breath support and even adjusting their posture. They’ve realized that it’s not just about what you are saying – while the selection is important, it’s equally about how they are saying those words. There is the old adage that you can make people interested in a banana bread recipe if you are interesting enough. In museum education, you might know every fact about Rembrandt and his Self Portrait that hangs exquisitely in the West Gallery at The Frick Collection – but, if you can’t capture your audience and if you can’t be heard, then what?

Some museums are picking up on this idea and calling it what it is.  I had the pleasure of being at the Denver Nature and Science Museum at the end of January to lead professional development workshops and found they audition their education staff. There is an educator position entitled “Performer – Facilitator” and part of the interview is a legitimate audition. According to David Allison, Visitor Programs Manager, and Samantha Richards, Educator/Coordinator for Earth Gallery Programs, after the telephone interview, “they [the candidates] are asked to prepare a monologue and a science facilitation…we also have them do a ‘cold read’ of a script.” When asked why, David replied, “The cold reads show us the comfort level they have with improvisation and the ability to ‘ramp up’ their performance on the spot…the prepared pieces both shows us how well they prepare and also what their instincts are around performing and presenting dynamic shows to our guests.” Samantha added, “The cold read also shows us their performance skills…it is as much about how they wear the cape and how engaging they are as how comfortable they feel.”

For the educators who are uncomfortable with the performance aspect, DMNS has an alternative. According to Samantha, “We do also offer the option of reading two contrasting stories instead of monologues.” The audition section of the job description itself is very clear:

Two contrasting monologues (e.g. comedic and dramatic, 3-5 min each) with some movement;

OR

Choose two children’s stories to read. For one, pick 2-4 pages to read as if you were reading one on one with a child. For the other pick 2-4 pages to read as if you were reading to a large group, where you would need to use dramatic voices and movement to tell the story.

David added, “Some educators take to it quickly and can easily adapt. Others struggle. We can generally tell very quickly if someone is a good fit or not for our team.”

The audition aside, DMNS also does ask for a science facilitation – the information and research is still there. They are also focusing just as much on the presentational aspect of the positions. Samantha added to this idea: “It is very important that our staff is comfortable doing everything from talking to one child about a rock to wearing an astronaut suit and ‘being’ an astronaut in front of a hundred visitors.”

Teaching interviews are not much different than auditions. As educators, it’s time to start focusing on how we are saying the things we are saying. Take an improv class. Do deep breathing before a tour. Pull out some tongue-twisters to get the muscles in your mouth ready to say those artist names and movements without tripping over syllables. We are not actors – but – we have an audience. And taking advantage of every trick of the trade will only make us more engaging and our passions more interesting. In the words of Kid President during his pep talk, “Boring is easy, everybody can be boring. But you are gooder than that.”

Have you had a teaching interview/audition? Does your institution conduct them? How did/do you prepare? Should more museums have auditions and practice-based interviews for education positions?

Improv(e) Your Teaching

When I left the improv world after 10 years, I was never going back. I had just gotten a job at my first NYC museum (NY Transit Museum!) and was back in school for art history, ready to put acting far behind me. Time went on and the more I learned about museum education pedagogy, the more my brain connected it to improv. Fast forward a few years, museums, internships, freelance jobs, and tours later – I found myself convinced that good museum teaching went hand in hand with everything I learned as an improviser.

Giant Improv Class by CM
Giant Improv Class by CM

NPR recently aired a story about MBA students taking courses in improvisation. But why improv? For the very same reason every museum educator should be trained in improv: communication. That is not saying we should all be “onstage” when we teach, cracking jokes and making our students laugh. On the contrary, many improv principles are qualities we strive for in our teaching – things that are not taught when we learn a collection or study museum education.

The idea of an educational toolbox is something we hear at every professional development conference and class. What are we really filling it up with? The multi-modal teaching strategies and classroom management skills are essential. But have we been paying enough attention to how we say what we are saying and how to sharpen and enhance our listening skills? Or flex our collaboration muscles? Improv courses do exactly that. It’s like going to the gym for your brain – those revered careful listening, honest responding, fearless and flexible teaching skills are all enhanced by improv ideas.

Yes, And…

One of the first things educators learn about inquiry is the idea of asking open-ended questions that allow for many responses, then scaffolding information on top to deepen the conversation. This idea is echoed in improv. The first ‘rule’ of improv is the phrase ‘yes, and’. A scene partner offers information. You take it, affirm it, and add something to it, and your scene partner repeats. This back and forth is the foundation of improv. Negation ends the scene – and in inquiry, defeats the students. It’s about saying, “Yes, I accept your idea and I’m going to make it better” instead of “no, I have a better idea.”

yes-and2The ideas of ‘yes, and’ and inquiry only work when people are listening to one another. If you are not paying close attention to what your scene partner is saying, you may miss the information needed to propel the story. The fact is true with inquiry as well – if you repeat what the student is saying incorrectly or miss their point, you will change the meaning of their observation or interpretation.

During beginning improv classes, instructors lead students in several affirming exercises. It’s all about taking a gift, agreeing, and adding. It is also raising the stakes. By scaffolding more details on to a suggestion, a scene immediately becomes rich and interesting. Sharpening those careful listening skills is essential to any improviser. Responding skills are also put to the test and enhanced through speed games that not only quicken response time, but also better public speaking skills.

Collaboration

Improvisation is a group sport. Teams will practice weekly in order to get to know each other and build trust. Interaction is key to improv – which is why so many companies will hire improvisers to teach team-building. The activities teach individuals how to interact effectively, operate under pressure and, most importantly, trust one another. Also important in improv: the notion that you always want to make your scene partner look better – you will in turn look better as well. We want to affirm our students ideas and teach them to practice critical thinking. Working together builds on the idea of a team: you and your group are living the art in that moment, experiencing it together. These values: trust, interaction, and poise– even when 15 more students than you expected show up for a field trip in a tiny museum – are imperative in good gallery teaching.

Failure is Ok

75% of improv is bad. Real bad. You may see a show after reading this and think “Wow. I do not want to look like that.” But how they look is not the point – improv is all about removing the sense of failure. In order to grow, you have to fail. In some improv classes, when students get that feeling of “I screwed up” they take a ‘failure bow’ – a bow, paired with the declaration “I failed!” The rest of the class will clap and cheer, affirming the chance that was taken. When people are less afraid at failing at improv, it connects to their lives, and we learn to handle setbacks with grace and ease.

As educators, we aim to create celebratory spaces that embrace student work. But how can we create these spaces if we ourselves fear failure?

We improvise every day of our lives. We have no idea what the next word is that might come out of our mouth when talking to a friend or co-worker. These skills taught in improv classes will only make for better educators – ultimately better communicators – all while having fun. If only our theses made us laugh this much. The same week I finished school, I was welcomed back by my old improv troupe – and rarely miss a single rehearsal or show. The difference this time? It’s my professional development for teaching.

Have you ever taken an improv class or used it in your teaching? Or do your peers or colleagues have any experiences with improv as professional development? Share your perspective.

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Tableaux Vivant: History and Practice

Students creating a tableau at the Met. Photo by Don Pollard.
Students creating a tableau at the Met. Photo by Don Pollard.

With the growing popularity of kinesthetic teaching strategies, I frequently hear the term ‘tableaux vivant’ thrown around. How does the activity actually work, and where did it come from? A close look at the history of the practice illuminates this powerful tool for education and community building.

Tableaux vivant is often referred to as a playful pastime, but it has also provided a great amount of purpose in the cultural history of the United States. Translated from French, tableaux vivant means ‘living pictures.’ The genre peaked in popularity between 1830 and 1920. During a performance of tableaux vivant, a cast of characters represented scenes from literature, art, history, or everyday life on a stage. After the curtain went up, the models remained silent and frozen for roughly thirty seconds. Particular emphasis was placed on staging, pose, costume, make-up, lighting, and the facial expression of the models. Sometimes a poem or music accompanied the scene, and often a large wooden frame outlined the perimeter of the stage, so as to reference the frame of a painted canvas.

In Victorian England, people used tableaux vivant as a parlor game to amuse guests and engage them in a deeper appreciation of art. The initial interest in the genre in the United States teetered between the desire for aesthetic entertainment and the desire to catch a glimpse of the female nude. The historian Jack McCullogh researched the popularity of tableaux vivant on the stages of New York City. Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, for example, was a famous tableau that fell somewhere between artistry and indecency, so much so that models were occasionally arrested if they revealed too much skin. Even with the controversy, many critics hailed the performances for their skill and value:

It is a pleasure to find that, although many nude pictures are realized, there is not a suspicion of indelicacy about the entire show… These pictures, besides affording pleasure to the public, are calculated to educate the public taste. (as cited in McCullogh, 134)

Actress Hedwig Reicher as "Columbia" with other suffrage pageant participants, 1913. Library of Congress.
Actress Hedwig Reicher as “Columbia” with other suffrage pageant participants, 1913. Library of Congress.

During the later part of the 19th century, tableaux vivant spread throughout the United States via the publication of how-to manuals. The genre was primarily used by youthful Americans as a way to discover their group and individual identities. The historian David Glassberg wrote about how tableaux vivant was used in local pageantry. Small towns and cities would often host parades featuring floats carrying women in tableaux vivant, reenacting pilgrim scenes or allegorical scenes such as “Columbia,” or “the Thirteen Original States.” Monika Elbert focused on how the growing middle class of women used tableaux vivant to alter their personal identities. She explored how women used the genre privately to try on new costumes and characters, some of which were controversial, as a way to merge their public and private self. In both cases, the action of creating tableaux vivant allowed people to explore new phases of their identity.

During the early 20th century, tableaux vivant was used as a form of protest. It was an especially fitting genre for women to use during suffrage protests because it was a familiar form of expression for them. They took on many poses from art including Jules Bastien-Lepage’s Joan of Arc and Raphael’s Madonna to symbolically convey their desire for women’s right vote. Other minority groups used tableaux vivant as a form of protest. In 1913 textile workers from Patterson, New Jersey protested poor working conditions in a pageant at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Also in 1913, W.E.B. DuBois directed The Star of Ethiopia, a pageant to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. A still and quiet performance might not seem like a choice activity for a protest, but it likely etched a lasting impression in the minds of audiences and performers, an impression that could inspire change. When cinema became popular, the heyday of tableaux vivant ended. In many ways, though, the genre has found its way into modern photography and performance art.

Teaching in the Galleries with Tableaux Vivant

Tableaux vivant is a terrific tool to engage students during a museum tour. I’ve found that the activity not only speaks to kinesthetic learners, but it activates the imaginations of everyone involved. During a recent tour at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I brought a group of students to Gustav Courbet’s Young Ladies of the Village. I had volunteer students freeze in the scene, and the other students help them find their positions with greater detail. The activity brought exactly what I wanted: more details. We engaged in a lengthier discussion about the peasant girl and her relationship with the well-dressed women.

Here are some of the basics to keep in mind when developing tableaux vivant activities during your museum tour with students:

  1. Identity: In front of a sculpture or painting, invite your students to slowly take on the pose and facial expression of the subject. Have them freeze for a few seconds and guide their awareness to various parts of their body to make adjustments based on what they see. Break from the pose and look back at the painting or sculpture. Discuss how the pose and facial expression reveal clues to the subject’s identity. Try another tableau vivant, but this time, have students change their pose and facial expression. What would they change or do differently?
  2. Character: The addition of props and costumes can instantly help a student take on a character. Split your class up into actors and directors. Have the actors freeze in a scene from a painting or sculpture, while the directors instruct their poses and facial expressions using the work of art as reference. While the actors remain frozen, have the directors discuss new aspects of the work of art that were revealed to them in the process of creating the tableau vivant. Have the actors break their pose and share their new insights about the work of art now that they’ve become the character.
  3. Narrative: Break students up into small groups. Invite each group to create a tableau vivant (perhaps using directors and actors depending on numbers). Then, ask each group to create a before and after tableau vivant scene. Have each group share their three tableau vivant scenes and then discuss which parts of the painting or sculpture influenced their narratives.
  4. Politics: Briefly describe the genre of tableaux vivant to students and explain how a piece of literature was often read to an audience during the performance. Invite students to create a tableau vivant of a painting or sculpture. While students remain frozen, read a text that provides contextual information for the work of art, such as a historic speech or a quote from the artist. Look back at the painting or sculpture and discuss their new insights.
  5. Abstraction: While not a conventional tableau vivant, providing students an opportunity to take on shapes of an abstract painting or sculpture can help them look closer at forms and composition. Twists and turns of the body, or spatial relationships between students can invite new insights into the work of art.

Are you using tableau vivant or related kinesthetic strategies at your museums?  If so, let us know your tips and techniques.  If not, try this out, and let us know how it works. Add to the conversation and share your thoughts below.

Works Cited:

Elbert, Monika, “Striking a Historical Pose: Antebellum Tableaux Vivants, ‘Godey’s’ illustrations, and Margaret Fuller’s heroines,” The New England Quarterly 75 (2002): 235-75.

Glassberg, David, American Historical Pageantry (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1990), 106-56.

McCullough, Jack, Living Pictures on the New York Stage (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1981).

Getting Uncomfortable in Museums

Guest post by Suse Cairns, doctoral candidate in the PhD Fine Art program at the University of Newcastle, Australia, and blogger at http://museumgeek.wordpress.com.

This post has been a long time coming. When Mike first contacted me about the possibility of doing a guest post for Art Museum Teaching many weeks ago, I was too busy to immediately do so. I thought it was just a lack of time and clear head space. But even after the deadline driven urgency of that time had passed, I still hesitated and put off writing. Why? I was writing amply on other things, so it was no longer time that was the problem, nor general inspiration. So what was it? What was preventing me from starting this project?

It turns out that my problem was one of elasticity, or more accurately, a lack thereof. I was feeling stretched, and my avoidance of writing this post was a tactic to avoid the discomfort that brought.

Photo by Redfishingboat

Let me explain. When I write for my own blog, I have a very definite comfort zone. I have defined the intellectual space, and I know intimately its boundaries.  In fact, its boundaries are my boundaries. I can stretch or push them, I can expand them as far as I am comfortable, and still exist within a very safe space. I recognise the likely readers and know their vocabularies and topical touch points. I know intimately what’s been covered before and what people have responded to, because it has all been within my own domain. The community of readers is my community; the space is my environment. Even when I am exploring ideas that are at times uncomfortable and that push me to consider things that I have not previously, I still retain a certain level of control.

But I don’t have the same sense of easy intimacy with the Art Museum Teaching website or audience. I know less who reads this site, and the sorts of topics and ideas they will respond to. I have not worked as a museum educator myself, and was uncertain what I could contribute that would be of interest to those who are.

So even though I was undertaking an act that I do regularly (writing), I was on edge. Unnerved. Stretched.

Such feelings, then, seem to resonate with two concepts that are at the very focus of the current investigations here on Art Museum Teaching.

The first of those is of art museum education itself.  When students come into a museum, or come into contact with art – sometimes for the first time – they may be out of their own comfort zones. That sensation can be in response to the physical space of the museum, where students might not know the rules or customs of the space; and it can be intellectual, when students have not encountered or don’t know about art and may not understand its language or how the art world is constructed. In many cases, students will feel both these sensations – out of place and uncertain of the context in which they find themselves.

The second way this sense of being stretched beyond comfort resonates is in the professional space of the museum, when ideas like the Elastic Manifesto that push for experimentation require that the museum itself, and its staff, make themselves deliberately uncomfortable.

Innovation and learning both require a certain amount of discomfort. They need a step into unknown territory, which will often be accompanied by a reciprocal jolt of fear. For some people who crave the new and who yearn to explore new spaces, this will be a great sensation. Such natural adventurers will likely thrive from these conditions. But there are many who will find such sensations stressful and do what they can to avoid them.

Henry Kissinger said that “The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been.” It is a useful angle for conceiving of the role of both art museum educators, and advocates for change and experimentation in the museum.

Visitor interacting with Doris Salcedo’s “Shibboleth” at the Tate Modern. Photo by truu.

Getting uncomfortable is important for growth, but mitigating that discomfort to keep it at an acceptable level is also useful. How can we provide scaffolding for that process, so that those who embark on the journey to somewhere new have the tools and permission to explore and accomplish, without fear that making an error will be cataclysmic? How can we make the museum space a safe environment for exploration and unknowning, both for students and staff?

I’d argue that one step in this process is for those who advocate for change in others spend a little time getting uncomfortable themselves, to remember the mildly unpleasant sensations the process can evoke. Stretching yourself, reaching beyond your normal boundaries can remind you that even small moves into unfamiliar territory can be challenging. Even writing this post, beyond my own ‘normal’ space, has required that I extend and stretch myself to find a creative solution. It has been a thoroughly rewarding process, but was neither easy nor fast. It required getting uncomfortable, and living in that state for an extended period of time. Being aware of such things is useful.

What do you think? How can we as museum professionals make sure that the museum is a safe space to get a little uncomfortable? How can we scaffold the process of experimentation, innovation, and learning, to draw out creativity and productivity, whilst mitigating the pain of the unknown?

(And if you don’t normally comment on posts, feel free to use this as an opportunity to get a little uncomfortable and step beyond your own safe space.)