Tuesday 5 February 2013

Adult education

Since starting at The Dowse, I've spent as much time as I can hanging out with our educators. This is partly because I want to understand what they do and how they do it, and partly because I just find it really enjoyable. The school holiday programmes I went to in January, for example, made my week.

One of the things that this has got me thinking about is how different the experiences we make for adults and kids are. When a school group visits, they are greeted and introduced to the museum. They are taken around a show, or gathered in front of Nuke Tewhatewha, or seated in a circle to touch items from our handling collection. Jen and Jolie draw connections between the objects in the museum and objects or experiences in the kids's worlds and lives. They are asked questions, and ask them themselves. There's reading and role-playing and scavenger hunts and binoculars and all manner of things - and that's before they even get to the education workshop and start making things themselves. That's where making turns into a form of learning; perhaps, from the teachers I know, it's even the best form of learning.

Jen and Jolie open the kids' eyes and ears and minds, and even just the physical way they interact with the kids is different: they hunker down to their height, use their bodies to tell stories, smile, laugh. When one of the older girls, who was clearly a regular visitor, left our Camp Rock school holiday programme the other week, she hugged and kissed Jen and Jolie goodbye - and then did the same to me. She was entirely in her element.

When I go to a event at any gallery - including my own - it's rarely like this. I'm an expert gallery visitor, but I still occasionally feel nervous and a little off-kilter. Events for adults tend to feature a lot of being talked-at, with a little uncomfortable question time at the end of the hour. (I'm preparing one of these myself at the moment. Maybe I should just chuck in the talk and see if we can run an instawalk instead.) From my experiences at Foo Camp, we grown-ups actually love being given the chance to learn and then respond, moving between the two modes, exploring as a group.

Taking part in the school holiday programmes also reminded me how impoverished my imagination has become. I empathise deeply with the kids who sit in front of their sheet of paper or ball of clay, utterly stymied as to where to start or what to make. I feel skill-less and almost intimidated by the four-year-olds who just merrily throw themselves into it. But once I get over my self-consciousness, I start to feel very happy. There is a very simple an strong level of enjoyment in the physical act of creating something, that goes alongside the mental activity.

All of this has made me think - what would adult activities that are more like kids activities be like? Would people attend them? Would a group of made up of people who mostly don't know each other be able to have the same kind of experience as a classroom or Foo Camp group? I've been looking with interest and a little professional envy at what Auckland Art Gallery are doing with their Drop-in Drawing sessions (and the numbers they get along).

We have a little glimmer of an idea brewing for 2014 that I can see being a beautiful opportunity to take these musings and really unleash them. In the meantime, I'm going to keep ticketing away ideas and, when we've recruited our new curator/public programmes coordinator, explore these notions with them.

Finally, the motivation for getting this post down came via two articles on the MOMA blog: Making art at MOMA and At Play, Seriously, in the Museum. In them Wendy Woon looks at historical education activities at MOMA, and especially the period under Victor D'Amico, hired by director and diagram-drawer Alfred Barr in 1937 to lead the 'Educational Project':
Over the next thirty-two years, fired by a pedagogical position that put art making and creativity at the center of appreciating modern art, D’Amico created a series of programs and resources, including a Young People’s Gallery; a Veteran’s Art Center; the innovative Art Barge, where summer classes were held; and The People’s Art Center (later the Institute of Modern Art), which brought five hundred children and three hundred adults to the Museum every week for art classes.
MOMA run their Art Labs as a way of continuing some of the ethos Barr and D'Amico put in place. I'm keen to learn more myself. If you have attended or run events like this yourself, I'd love to hear from you.

No comments: