Friday, August 29, 2008

“Education” is boring?

In this week’s City Beat cover story we are introduced to a few local art education coordinators. Each tells of the challenges of introducing the arts and growing diverse audiences for our various art institutions. These challenges are well known and have been discussed so often they almost seem cliché. But it is true; the arts seem to be inaccessible. Most art administrators respond to this concern with innovative educational programming.

But not Cincinnati Art Museum’s Emily Holtrop. When asked about why her title was switched from Curator of Education to Curator of Learning and Interpretation, she said “education” is boring. Actually, what she claimed was people (which people, I don’t know) hear the word education and it’s boring. So she, presumably with the approval of the museum director, Aaron Betsky, changed the title. This is yet another reaction to the tired claim against a perceived stuffiness. Instead of making art more accessible through education, Holtrop simply removes “education.”

But it is not just a mere changing of her title. She goes on to say, “I’m not so concerned about whether we’re educating people….” I thought Holtrop was the art administrator responsible for supporting local school teachers and their curriculum. This means, our teachers who do care about educating their students are left to rely on someone who admits no concern for the same. Holtrop seems proud to claim “we took out ‘education’ and now we learn from you how you want to learn from the museum.” She should have learned how to learn while she herself was in school.

Holtrop and the art museum need to recognize that patrons young and old visit the museum to learn, not to teach. Teaching is a core mission of most museums and Holtrop has effectively removed education as a part of hers.


Anonymous said...

I just recently came across your blog about my comment in CityBeat about education being boring.

Unfortunately what they did not include or you did not percieve was not that I was not concerned with educating people (because I very much am) but that I was more concerned about how people wanted to learn at the Art Museum.

What I said was that the Art Museum is the community's Art Museum and that we need to learn from our visitors how they would like to interact with our collection. I said that it was more important to understand how they would like to learn and not so much about what I could teach them, because I could teach them lots of things, but if they are not interested, then we have lost a visitor.

Through visitor surveys, intercepts and many one-on-one conversations we are coming to understand the types of programs our visitors would like to participate in at the Art Museum.

So yes, the visitors are teaching us on what they want, who else could? I am not going to assume that every visitor wants an art history lesson when they come to the Art Museum and will program accordingly.

Do I passionately believe in Education, absolutely, however, do I also believe that unless museums open their doors to all visitors and their needs that we will be just another temple instead of a forum or contemplative community center, absolutely.