Welcome to Off the Wall. We’ve skimmed the news around the museum, and want to share the highlights with you.
This week, we turn the keyboard over to the FJJMA’s Director of Education, Melissa Ski!
Partnering for 21st Century Skills
University art museums are uniquely poised for interdisciplinary collaboration. A wealth of resources, including knowledgeable faculty and innovative initiatives, are already implicit in the campus community. The task of university museum educators is to identify partnerships that push our practice further and ultimately reward our visitors with unexpected and meaningful connections to our collections.
In the fall of 2016, the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art debuted ArtEDGE, a pilot program serving 7th and 8th grade public school students, a previously un-targeted audience at the museum. The inspiration for the program also informed its name, which questions how art operates at the “edge” of other fields. In this iteration, technology was the primary focus, with input from the Helmerich Collaborative Learning Center at the University of Oklahoma’s Bizzell Library. Working with their Emerging Technology Coordinator, one object from the museum’s collection was selected, virtually scanned, and 3D printed as the centerpiece for examination.
Five groups of ten students from Norman’s middle schools participated in the program. Each group started its day on campus by viewing the original object in the gallery: a Tang-era horse that is often featured in “highlight” tours at the museum. Instead of being part of a larger tour, however, the horse became the focal point for discussion, drawing, and writing exercises. The first hour of the visit was dedicated to “close looking,” or direct observation of the horse.
During their time in the gallery, students were introduced to a university sculpture professor who took an active role in expanding the discussion to imaginative practice. Where else might they imagine this horse outside of the museum? How can we relate a 700-year-old art object to our everyday lives? Primed with this dialogue, the students moved to the EDGE lab, an experimental maker space in the university library.
A virtual model of the Tang horse, previously scanned into a virtual computer station using Oculus Rift, allowed the kids to interact with the object in an entirely new way. Attention was called to the capacity of manipulating the horse in digital space, something that would be otherwise impossible in the museum’s galleries. The students also were given 3D printed horses and encouraged to make connections back to the original object. How did technology play a role in the creation of the museum’s Tang horse? How has our perspective of the relationship between art and technology changed since then?
In the final portion of the program, the students were invited to the sculpture studio at the School of Visual Arts, where they were challenged to put previous experiences and ideas to work as a team. The art professor facilitated a collaborative process to combine individual ideas with group goals using simple, familiar materials like cardstock, clay, and hot glue. Their task was to create an environment for the printed horses that fit to the specifications of a museum pedestal, with only two hours on the clock.
The groups were immediately absorbed in the project and worked quickly and respectfully to trade ideas and resolve design conflicts. Stories and insights from the gallery and EDGE lab came to life as the students created a new, shared context for the horses. Each of the five projects established original, imaginative worlds, including an art supply store, a circus, and an epic battle. At the end of each session, the students were surprised with the exciting news that their projects would be displayed in the museum’s education gallery.
The success of ArtEDGE was evident in feedback from the students and teachers throughout the sessions, but also apparent in the evaluation forms that were returned at the conclusion of the program. The excitement of being on campus inspired several students to talk about returning to the university as college freshmen. The teachers were impressed by the combination of curriculum ties and 21st century skills, including critical thinking and problem solving. Yet perhaps most importantly, this new audience of 7th and 8th graders saw art and the museum in an entirely new way, as a space for innovation, community, and exchange.
Planning for the Future
Plans are already in motion for ArtEDGE 2.0, which will feature the museum’s architecture and center around design thinking. The goal for the program going forward is to consistently push for new connections between the collection and respective disciplines on campus. While many programs (and educators) can fall into a repetitive comfort zone, ArtEDGE demands a constant renegotiation of outcomes, partnerships, and ideas as a reflection of the rapidly changing world around us. Rather than seeing this as an intimidating responsibility, university museum educators should embrace both the challenges and joys of equipping future generations with crucial technological and visual literacy skills. And of course, inspiring a love of museums doesn’t hurt either.