The Manual of Museum Learning by Barry Lord

The Manual of Museum Learning by Barry Lord

Author:Barry Lord
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9780759113787
Publisher: AltaMira Press
Published: 2013-06-24T16:00:00+00:00

Such a policy and plans should facilitate the operation of the museum learning or education department as described in the pages of this section.


The Centrality of Museum Educators Organizing and Budgeting for Museum Learning


One Saturday afternoon in the early 1960s I stopped in to the Vancouver Art Gallery to pick up something I had forgotten from my assistant curator’s office, only to find a distraught receptionist delighted to see me because she was facing down a group of disgruntled young men from a local correctional institution, and their two angry minders, who had brought them to the gallery for a tour that seemed to have slipped off the booking clerk’s list. She immediately told them, “Ah, here is Mr. Lord, now, he will give you the guided tour.”

My impromptu tour began where the hostile group was standing, at the entrance to the Emily Carr Gallery, which we had just reinstalled. Sensing their feelings of alienation that had been reinforced by their initial discovery that the gallery had apparently forgotten them, I took them through the Carr paintings biographically, explaining how she had been isolated as an artist in early twentieth-century British Columbia, how her alienation had led her to abandon painting altogether, and then how her kinship with West Coast First Nations people (of whom there were several in the correctional institute group), and her identification with the awesome landscape of Canada’s Pacific coast, had allowed her to achieve the power and majesty of her later works.

As the tour progressed, the mood of the group changed, as more and more of the young men, and even their minders, saw how their own lives had parallels to that of the artist. We ended in a gallery of contemporary art produced by local painters and sculptors, and several heads nodded when I said that young men just like them often felt a similar alienation, and expressed it in works like those they could see around us.

It was a 1960s incident. Postmodern art historians have subsequently qualified Carr’s heroic life story (although the essential facts are undisputed), and the approach to contemporary art that stresses expression of alienation was already somewhat dated by the advent of pop and minimal art, as I knew at the time. But the broader lesson of the experience for me was the potential that we, as museum educators, have to help visitors find their way in, to discover the relevance of what the museum has to offer, and to make it part of their lives. Museum educators can make a difference.

Hence the title of this chapter: “The Centrality of Museum Educators.” Any consideration of organizing and budgeting for museum learning must begin with the staff and volunteers who are at the center of the museum learning experience for many visitors. Of course, curators and exhibition designers aim to communicate directly with the visitors, and graphics and audio tours can be powerfully effective. We want the unaccompanied visitor to enter deeply into the learning experience, and he or she need not be dependent on a guide.


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