Museums Prove that Education is for Everyone

Added to Medium, March 15, 2018

As museum professionals, we need to help visitors and other individuals outside of the museum field understand the significance of education and the museums’ role in education. I have reiterated its importance in the museum field in previous blog posts but it is an important point that needs to be reiterated especially when we need to show that education is for everyone. The latest edition of American Alliance of Museum’s Museum magazine is dedicated to education by discussing all-ages programming in museums.

In a message from the President and CEO Laura Lott, she stressed that as an Alliance we need to find new ways to engage the education community and share our resources. We need to make sure individuals outside of the museum field are aware of what we can offer to help people of all ages see what museums have to offer especially through educational programs. Also, we need to show that our educational programs are not limited to school field trips. We should show our visitors and other individuals not familiar with museums that our programs are created to engage with all ages. A couple of articles that show examples of programming for all ages include cultivating lifelong appreciation of museums through teen programs, and about early education programs and how they make sense for all types of museums.

There is also an article written by Ericka Huggins and Kevin Jennings, two keynote speakers for the 2018 Annual Meeting & MuseumExpo in Phoenix, encourage museums and museum professionals to create more inclusive education programs. Huggins is a human rights activist, poet, educator, Black Panther Party leader, and former political prisoner. Jennings is the new president of the Tenement Museum and is the co-founder of LGBT History Month. In their article called “Who Will Tell My Story?”, Huggins and Jennings share some of their thoughts on the power of storytelling, and how important it is to be authentic and inclusive in this work.

Both of them shared their experiences through storytelling and shared important facts that museums should think about moving forward in education. Huggins pointed out that we can learn to be global citizens by making sure museums support the larger community in thinking beyond nation-states. Jennings stated that he believed museum professionals should take a hard look at what stories we tell and don’t tell, and consider what that says about whose lives we feel matter. Huggins’ and Jennings’ statements are important considerations because we all need to remember we have a significant impact within our communities and we should work together to be more inclusive.

Conversations about museums proving education is for everyone, and inclusion, has recently been taking place though online discussions such as today’s EdComVersation through the American Alliance of Museums and the Twitter discussion #MuseumEdChat. Both of these online platforms have discussed social justice and museums by discussing the importance of inclusion and diversity within our museum community from the staff to the visitors.

Today, I participated in an EdComVersation discussion about engaging audiences as socially responsive museums. It was hosted by Rebekah Harding, Associate Director of Learning and Engagement at the Ronald Regan Presidential Foundation and Institute, and Sheri Levinsky-Raskin who is the Assistant Vice President, Education & Evaluation at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum and the Chair for Professional Development for AAM’s Education Committee (EdCom). The guest speaker was Monica O. Montgomery Nyathi who is the founding director and curator of Museum of Impact the world’s first mobile social justice museum, inspiring action at the intersection of art, activism, self and society.

According to the EdComversation event webpage, Monica believes that museums can best engage their audiences when they catalyze socially responsive practice, acting as conveners, sites of conscience and spaces that welcome difference. To prepare for the discussion, we were given links for pre-reading material including my blog post “Reaction to Article: Museums transition from institutions of elite to places that ‘promote humanity’” which made me glad because I am always happy to see how individuals especially museum professionals benefit from continuing important discussions using resources such as the ones I provide.

During this program, we discussed how to embrace the needs and nuance of modern audiences, and how educators and front line staff can fuse informal educational with the wave of social activism the world is experiencing, to create space for awareness, inspiration and understanding of social movements. We used a new format called Zoom, which allowed all participants to not just type in their questions and responses, but they could also use their computers’ microphone and video camera to participate in discussions.

Zoom also had a feature that allowed us to form smaller groups to chat with each other to address questions such as:

How does your institution incorporating current events or social activism into the lesson, tour or discussion? How might you incorporate more of this?

What forms can socially responsive museum practice take? How have you observed it in local and national museums in the field? How have you observed it in your own?

What are the possibilities of celebrating and explore issues around material culture, power and untold stories, to honor visitor voices, challenging apathy and illuminating ideas?

I enjoyed this format because it allowed me to get to know other museum professionals I would not have been able to with the old format of listening to speakers and typing questions into a chat feature. The old format seemed to lead to passive participation. While this is a new feature and it would take some getting used to, I see the potential in having a more interactive experience in these discussions.

One of the statements that stuck with me was when said “museums are a partner for learning and enrichment but shouldn’t be overshadowing- if you want to know what audiences want- ask them and involve them”. We need to establish and maintain our relationships between museums and our audiences to understand what we all want from our experience in educating ourselves about social justice and social movements.

This discussion was continued during tonight’s #MuseumEdChat on Twitter. Participants answered a number of questions about social movements, and continued to discuss these questions within the hour and beyond the hour discussion. One of the questions asked was: Why should museums connect with visitors through social movements?

I believe that museums should not only remain relevant in today’s community by connecting with visitors through social movements but museums can provide resources that will help visitors get educated about the issues social movements address. I have also read other responses to this question, and one of the responses that stood out to me was:

Because social movements are an important part of the human experience! They are part of what drives change in societies across time, cultures, etc. By engaging w/current social movements we can teach empathy and appreciation for movements of the past.

This response stood out to me because it is true that all social movements, in the past and present, are part of the human experience. Many changes within our society were made because of the social movements that occurred. Social movements today are getting a lot of attention and inspiring more discussion on what changes we need to make in our community and in our government.

Another example of the questions asked during the #MuseumEdChat discussion was: What makes a good partnership with an audience successful? I believe successful partnerships with an audience need to have open communication and build the trust between museums and its audiences so visitors are more likely to turn to museums to learn about the issues and the past to understand the present social movements.

What we should all take away from reading the latest edition of Museum magazine, and from what participants in the discussions talked about, is museum professionals and people outside of the museum field need to work together to find out how we can show them educational programs can be for all ages. We can also show them that not only our educational programs can be for all ages but we can also reveal that we are safe spaces to discuss social justice.

Do you have examples of educational programs in museums that are geared towards all-ages? How does your organization discuss social justice among the staff and/or visitors?

 

 

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