My teenage students learning from a docent while visiting the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth.
Students exploring medieval armor discover a dragon at the Tower of London.
Northstar School student photographing the Wari figure after our docent tour at the Kimbell Art Museum.
How does learning happen in a museum?
This essential question opens the door to viewing museums through the lens of an educator. Leading children and young adults through encounters with artwork and ancient artifacts invites learning on many levels. The experience of being in the museum attaches memories of sights, sounds, smells, and the feeling of being in a beautifully designed space to the information they are taking in.
I encourage pre-service and current art teachers to keep this question at the forefront of their thoughts as we visit local museums together and as they independently explore museums around the country and the world.
This question is expanded as we move past observations of printed didactic material to consider: Who decides what is taught through these words? What knowledge (ideas and interpretation) is overt and what is implied? We discuss the range of educational events such as school field trips and family weekend programs. Such critical analysis informs us about the nature of learning in the environment of an arts based institution.
In the growing and exciting field of museum education, issues of inclusion and access can be as significant as the curation of exhibits and management of the institution itself.
Museum Education Experience
My formal studies in museum education began in 1989 with an internship at the Abilene Museum of Art, which was transitioning to become the Grace Museum. As an undergraduate art major, I was thrilled to spend two summers investigating how museums operate as I worked closely with the curator and director. My tasks included hanging artwork for exhibition, photographing and cataloging about 500 items in the museum's collection, assisting with office duties and donor events, and transferring collections data onto a newly purchased software program.
Later, as a K-12 educator in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, I organized many museum field trips and cultivated a strong relationship with the museum educators. Every group of students and chaperones I brought included people who had never been in a museum before that moment. Knowing that their lives will be enhanced by direct encounters with artwork encouraged me to keep planning the trips and working to ensure successful visits.
While in the doctoral program at the University of North Texas, my expertise was further enhanced with Dr. Laura Evans in the Museum Studies program. Through her classes my knowledge about the history of museums, particularly in the United States, was deepened. We investigated the education programs at the many fine museums in the area including the Dallas Museum of Art, the Nasher Sculpture Center, the Kimbell Museum, the Meadows Museum, the Carter Museum of American Art, the Rochofsky Warehouse, and the Fort Worth Modern Art Museum. At each institution we were given an inside look at how they run their education and docent programs, manage archives, summer youth programs, and community outreach. We talked with educators and curators, cultivated relationships and shared best practices for learning through living encounters with art.
As an instructor of art education courses, I have made museum studies a vital element of the curriculum. Whether preparing for the classroom or a career in a museum, the relationship between schools and museums is an empowering partnership, offering learners of all ages the opportunity to connect with meaningful artwork and innovative ideas.