Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Why I do what I do

Today's New York Times has an article by Edward Rothstein about the opening of the new Uris Center for Education at the Metropolitan Museum. In the museum field, there's been a great deal of thought--and some very interesting writing--devoted to meaning making. In his article, he says,

"But art education is a strange and surprising enterprise. It makes memories as important as celebration, traditions as crucial as innovation." He goes on to describe his family's participation in programs in the old education center, which began with the "scruffy informality" of the center and then, "a train of adults and children would follow an instructor up the stairs into the American Wing or the African galleries or the 19th-century European-painting rooms, and press close to two or three works as the instructor teased the underage aesthetes into learning how to see a painting, or into thinking about what can be learned from looking and even sketching."

And then, Rothstein recounts, "And then the train would return to the Uris, where some aspect of the gallery experience would inspire a craft project using cups of pencils and crayons, sketchbook paper or scraps of construction paper for pasting.

There were programs about portraits, about families, about countries, about particular artists. And they were so refreshing because, given the nature of the audience, there was no way even the most accomplished adult could veer into intellectual abstractions or indulge in the lingo of the art theory industry."

For Rothstein and his family (including a daughter, now an art history major, who started her love of art at the Met), these experiences created indelible memories, and a chance to make their own meaning of the museum's incredible collection. In addition to talk about meaning making, there's also a great deal of talk about outcome-based evaluation. So a post workshop evaluation might have shown that the Rothstein family learned about a particular artist--but it wouldn't show us how those workshops shaped a family.

Why did I title this post this way? Because the chance to create those lasting memories--about things that matter--whether it's at a community history museum or the Met--are worth doing and worth doing in the very best way we can.

(and by the way, 20,000 educational events a year at the Met! I'm tired even thinking about it but wish they could offer even more--and most family programs are free with admission)

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