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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A Manifesto for Museum Learning and Engagement

For the Museum Association in the UK, the combination of the coronavirus crisis and the climate crisis “makes it imperative that we make a transformational change to the role of museums in society. This is a time that requires radical social innovation.” This has led them to publish a Manifesto for Museum Learning and Engagement. Built on two years of research and consultation with museums, it wants to provide a framework for museums to reflect on their purpose and develop their practice.

Image: Museum Association

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What will people pay for? Education, education, education

One of the big questions for cultural organisations in light of the financial effects of Covid and the multitude of free online content offered last year is what people would pay for. A key answer seems to be education. This article observed that organisations are seeing surprising levels of success around workshops, participatory, and learning-focused activity delivered online. 
Some intriguing examples are mentioned: 

  • Performing arts companies are seeing success with tutorials. English National Ballet’s Active Ballet, for instance, is a library of training and classes available on subscription. 
  • English National Ballet also taps into the new habit of ‘on-demand’ viewing by offering a video-on-demand platform for ballet performances and training available to rent. 
  • In the museum world, V&A Academy offers courses from art history to learning practical skills such as sewing, to exploring contemporary design discourse in forums with curators, researchers, designers and makers as well as professional development courses. Online or offline they are all paid for. 

The start of the new year is always a good time to tap into people’s desire to learn and do new things, so now might be a good time for trialling some of these ideas. 

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Image: English National Ballet

Humor, play and fun are serious work

Creating the environment in museums for authentic learning experiences

An interesting piece on the idea of authentic learning and the conditions it requires in museums.

Alli Rogers Andreen, Community Engagement Coordinator at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, discusses the importance of play, of finding multiple entry points and considering what participants bring to the discussion for a good learning environment. And she suggests to avoid setting up divisions – between “real” learning and “just playing” and – between teacher and learner as we can be teachers and learners at the same time and learn and play at the same time.

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