Conversations About Abstractions

I briefly wrote several weeks ago about the roles of arts administrators and their importance to adapting to the constantly changing public roles of contemporary museums and the tasks they are faced with.  Some particular challenges that face museum administrators have often been illustrated to me by the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum’s education department, as education is one of the facets of museum administration that is most directly engaged with the public.

Last week, I experienced some of the challenges museum educators encounter when I had the privilege of substituting for one of our docents on a gallery tour while our docents and tour guides met for a meeting regarding our newest exhibition.  The Museum was fairly crowded at the time of the tour, and a large number of people joined my group.  I saw this as an excellent opportunity to employ some new strategies I have heard being discussed in the education department about encouraging visitor participation on tours to make a tour at the Museum a more engaging, deductive, and experiential exercise than a simple informational tour.  I encouraged visitors in my group to share their thoughts on Miss O’Keeffe’s artistic development and strategies in particular paintings, her possible inspirations behind the paintings, and their personal feelings and reflections on viewing the works.  I tried only to provide enough necessary factual information to continue the flow of the conversation, hoping for visitors not to wait to have answers to questions dictated to them, but instead to work toward finding answers and conclusions through the sharing of ideas and deductions among themselves.

Many visitors were extremely receptive to this strategy, and a very enjoyable and productive conversation was carried on throughout the tour.  However, other visitors were definitely left wanting for more facts, such as details of Miss O’Keeffe’s biography.  I fielded their questions to the best of my ability, but my more conversational approach did not prove ideal for them.  My reflections on the effectiveness of the tour reinforced the lessons I took from my previous, brief experience in education as an undergraduate teaching assistant: for every person a teaching strategy is perfect for, there is another that it does not work for at all.  Thus illustrates the struggle for museum educators to find a balance in education methods, strategies, and styles to appeal to and interest the largest possible segment of visitors.  Fortunately, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum has a visionary staff constantly exploring new pathways to achieve this goal, marking the Museum as an innovative and dynamic institution that is working to fully engage audiences on the local, national, and international levels.

To conclude my thoughts on museum education administration, I would like to encourage any readers who would like to share their impressions of education strategies at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, or any museum, to do so in the comments.  One of the best strategies for improving education methods, is, after all, listening to feedback from the audience themselves.

Patrick Gora, Curatorial Intern

Feature Photo: Georgia O’Keeffe, Black Lines, 1916, watercolor on paper

                         ©Georgia O’Keeffe Museum