Decentralizing Art Museums: Henry’s Museum Guide Internship Boosts Active Community Engagement | Arts and culture

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Photo of the class at the Photographic Center NW during a visit to the show, Examine the American Dream (not pictured: Michelle Ma). Courtesy of Berette Macaulay, Museum Guide Program Manager, Henry Art Gallery.


For contemporary artists to disrupt the narratives that dominate museum spaces – which are rooted in colonialism, racism and patriarchy – their ideas must be communicated to the general public. This is where museum education and interpretation come in.

In the fall of 2020, the ART 496 museum guide program, a one-year paid internship at the Henry Art Gallery promising 60 hours of work per quarter, began its pilot year of exploring the power of community practices.

Berette Macaulay – artist, curator, writer and graduate in cultural studies from UW MA – leads a cohort of eight students from a wide range of humanities specializations who will engage in three consecutive semesters of training to lead interactive tours for Henry’s current and upcoming exhibitions.

Combining both theoretical and technical aspects of study, the three-part program enables trainees to learn and discuss contemporary art in an active, fun and socially conscious manner. The weekly meetings cover topics ranging from the policy of archiving and display to the art of accessible public speaking, as well as community intervention in the museum and the strategy of scripting a visit centered on the museum. visitor.

“The learning style is so decentralized and it was much more open to discussion and intimacy between the different interns,” said Em Dickson, second year art history student and English major.

Operating in what Macaulay calls “salon-style learning,” the course brings together students with different knowledge and backgrounds in a space of genuine and generous intellectual exchange on issues in the art world, with little to no mediation by instructors.

“It feels like there is room for mistakes, for discomfort and to deal with that discomfort,” said Rosa Lasley, a third year student in Film Studies and the Comparative History of Ideas. “There is such a culture of ‘let’s work through it’. ”

Even though the classes were held virtually, the space made available for the student agency compensates for Zoom’s fatigue and allows interns to care about each other, while having reciprocal and responsible conversations in a busy world. ‘uncertainties.

“Basically, this [program] is structured from the instinct, the heart, the intentions of social justice within an institution, ”said Macaulay.

Museum education and public programs are conceptualized around the idea of ​​making history in collaboration with communities, rather than being limited to them. Inviting the voices of the community into an institutional space is an active resistance against the fabrication of often unchallenged myths.

One of the training goals for the Winter Quarter, according to Macaulay, is to “create tours that ensure the public is centralized on what they are learning.” Through exercises like Pecha Kucha – a form of visual storytelling and presentation that uses twenty 20 second slides – and by designing mock tours, trainees can become familiar with changing communication strategies that cater to a multitude of different demographics.

“A big part of this internship which I think has been the most beneficial for me, personally, is just learning to use the language as not only an effective communication tool, but also a meaningful conversation tool,” Cassidy Correia, a senior specializing in international studies, said.

Other students praised how the museum guide program shaped their college experience in terms of major, course choice, and career path. For Dickson and Lasley, who both aspire to work in a museum setting, this program offers them a wonderful insight into how museums work inside.

“Something really cool that we’ve started to be able to do this quarter is go to General Henry staff meetings,” said Lasley. “So I feel like there is more sense of community with the people I work with. ”

However, the professional skill set and cohort that students develop through this internship are not limited to the art field.

“Having the space really helped me find my voice and my voice at UW to find out who I am,” said Correia, who hopes to someday work in an area related to human rights. man.

Contact writer Fiona Ye at [email protected] Twitter: @Campfiion

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