The Essential Question that guided our projects’ focus was:
Why do people value artworks, and select them for presentation? ASAP: Why do artists follow and break rules?
Our docents lead tours based on the concept of the guided conversation and looking with a ‘quite eye,’ as espoused by noted arts educator Annie Storr. This form of engagement emphasizes slowing down and working to limit both one’s preconceived notions, along with suspending the “got it and move on” mentality. This develops a space in the viewer where their individual and group contemplation and consideration of the artwork is inherently deeper. The docents guide the conversation between sensory, emotional, and intellectual/cognitive responses. By asking participants to respond through various lenses, the tour can develop an appreciate that may have been absent if it were only about understanding what they are experiencing. This establishes a greater sense of value for the creative process and the many levels to approach artwork. It also encourages the ambiguity that exists between the different sensory responses and our inability to always express what we sense or emotionally recognize, but cannot verbalize cognitively. For an installation like Gerri Sayler’s “Dark Matter” this proved particularly effective.
For ASAP, much of the activities were built around examples to establish artistic traditions, but then with plenty of room for participants to innovate and go in their own direction. A simple, relatable premise like the 10-class series “Rock, Paper, Scissors” gave amble opportunity to investigate materials, dimensions and basic art and design concepts with brief introductions to artists, beginning a knowledge of artistic histories and traditions then individually exploring expressive ideas.
At the conclusion of the project, students responded to questions related to the identified Standards:
School tours are built on a set of principles: slow down, look/listen/(touch/smell), and respond experientially, emotionally, and then cognitively. Most are tuned to “Get it. Move on.” Or don’t and move on. We use Exercises for the Quiet Eye strategies to absorb and respond more deeply. The docent guided conversation draws out from initial responses. Touching on other modes of experiencing emotively etc., getting them to listen to each other, brings the group to “There’s always more to get.” If you take the time. Seeing a columnar cloud of individual black aluminum mesh starts one place. Bring in the title “Crowcophany” and then add in Sayler’s story about crows. Then have the students ‘crow.’ Talking at each step, adding layers of meaning and even sound to an artist’s interpretation of a memory builds richness into the appreciation and learning experience. We don’t have ‘before and after’ to demonstrate this, but docents repeatedly commented on how students really enjoyed and came to a greater understanding of this and other works through the process.
For ASAP, we have had different formulas for how to make it easy to register, affordable, and consistent. Drop in models were easy but lacked consistency. As we moved to segments of classes attendance consistency improved. A series like “Rock, Paper, Scissors” captured imagination as well as providing the conceptual framework to move through a series of ideas and artistic strategies. Though the new core standards are focused on larger concepts of artistic practice, the change in our approach allowed us to achieve those standards and clearly lay out a set of core competencies, moving between media and 2D-3D-4D ideas. Later in the Spring 2019 we had “What’s My Line?” Each session was aligned with a particular artist and their approach to line. A little art history is part of every class as well. Some elements from one class session would hold over to the next. Gaining better consistency in attendance created a more active and engaged “critical mass” of students, creating a better learning environment all around.
Because of the hour-long, generally only once-a-year visits by classes, it’s harder to capture the idea of growth. But as we have adopted more of the Quiet Eye and Guided Conversation techniques, we are seeing an evolution in the nature of the engagement with students. It’s still a balance between lingering too long and loosing attention against reaching deeper consideration, but by the end of the project we were achieving the balance within the normal spectrum of age appropriate attention spans.
This year’s projects were affected by the change in the cost share calculation. Though we received less funds than previously, not having access to salaries for match, actually meant we had to spend more cash. This is counter to the typical approach of being conservative with expenses to insure funds are available for the entire year. We should have been spending more, sooner and at a faster rate. That just doesn’t match the engrained approach to the year. We are a staff of two. Add in the transition from one assistant director on end-time for the last few months of 2018 and the slow pace of hiring a new assistant director with educational outreach oversight, and it did make for a challenging year. That said, by the final few months of the year we were definitely finishing stronger and feeling better about core operations as well as overall scope and vision for our outreach programs. We still have the aspirational goal of adding a third person to the team, as we had a few years ago. As is, we are permanently stretched thin. We are not really in a situation where we can say “we can’t do that.” Knowing how things should work from when we did have more personnel, almost makes it worse. We know what works best but we do not necessarily have that organizational capacity to make that happen. We are figuring out systems that make what we have work better. Improving on documentation is what we’re focused on doing better. Recommendations: K-12 outreach has many parts. Some are relatively static, others are incredibly unstable. The ability to build and maintain moment among all the different currents is very difficult. Being prepared and flexible to deal with those variables is the single most important skill.