The changing shape of learning in museums

Art Gallery of Ontario hosted a conversation with two women who have impacted the share of learning in museums in recent years – Wendy Woon, Deputy Director for Education at MoMA, and Anna Cutler, Director of Learning and Research at Tate. They significantly influenced how museums work with practitioners and the public to build dialogues and opportunities to connect art and society and the broader issues society faces today. 

They discussed their roles and approaches as well as how the museum’s role is changing in a time when people are impacted or traumatised by the pandemic, and museums are under more scrutiny in relation to decolonisation. 

The conversation circled around questions about the museum’s role today when communities are as central as objects, and how museums can become more part of their local community, or, as Anna Cutler suggested, at Tate “our local can be international.” They spoke about the importance of providing a civic space – a physical or digital meeting place where people bring their knowledge, feel being heard and acknowledged. 

Among the challenges discussed is “the desire of museum people to tell people”. There is a need to hold back and let others in, to move from telling to an exchange, and rather than getting rid of the expert it is about approaching education as facilitation. 

They acknowledged the challenge of decolonisation when the concept of a museum is a colonial enterprise in itself. Building on Stuart Hall (you can’t decolonise, you need to rethink it) they see an opportunity to rethink and relook at why we do what we do and for whom, and what narratives are not being heard. 

Touching on the power of digital, they recognised that a certain digital saturation and fatigue are setting in, which requires museums to use digital more inventively and better interlink it with analogue experiences. 

Now that their museums are reopening, both see an opportunity to fully understand the impact of this moment in time and if/how art and museums can add value to people’s lives. Anna Cutler wondered whether we can set out with genuine questions we don’t know the answers to. What is really important? What do we have to change and what do we want to change? 

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Author: sabine.doolin

Strategy consultant working with the cultural sector

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