The Essential Question that guided our projects’ focus was:
Why do people value artworks, and select them for presentation/why do artists follow/break from traditions?
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. By asking participants to respond through various lenses, the tour can develop an appreciation that may have been absent if it were only about understanding what they are experiencing. 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. Quiet Eye does not suggest something about the artwork to be so contemplated, but the Zimoun exhibit with its rooms full of noise did prove a challenge. The overwhelming experiential nature of the exhibit gave tremendous space for visitors to explore. Then with time to process move toward discussions.
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 premise for a series like bookmaking 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. For the Zimoun exhibit this meant an extended introduction on the sidewalk prior to entering the gallery. The combination of sound and perpetual motion changed the approach. A docent was stationed in each room to supervise and engage with immediate reactions. Only after there was plenty of time to see and hear everything were classes brought together for group conversation with a couple of the dominant pieces turned off. From participant comments and a set of ideas around the work, the docent guided conversation draws out from these 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.” Since Zimoun was unlike anything most had ever experienced going from “WOW!” to a deeper appreciation for what’s happening takes some effort. And only one student said, “It’s just cardboard boxes.”
The fall session of ASAP used a series formula to give focus, structure, and space to incorporate media and technique. “Let’s Get Booking!” It 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. Drawing, papermaking, simple printing techniques, as well as sewn and folded book structures create challenge and build basics like hand-eye coordination. This continued with “Keep On Booking” and “Celebrating Winter.” 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.
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.
We continue to operate without a person whose primary focus is educational outreach. With organizational and ICA funds we are able to support an artist to teach weekly classes for K-5. This provides important in-depth instruction for youngsters and income into our arts community. We make improvements and create consistency in one area, something happens to destabilize elsewhere. We were headed into challenging times regardless, but throw in a pandemic, and notions of trying to move toward better performance toward our goals become struggles to survive. At the same time, we continue to work on new projects and ways of distributing arts materials to communities in need. Toward the end of the FY we started a partnership with the Moscow Arts Commission on the MACtivities Toolkit. The first edition of 50 free boxes containing supplies, lesson plans and an art history moment have gone out into the community.
It is an interesting time. New modes like the ToolKit and zoom delivery create options and opportunities. At the same time, neither replaces, nor can match the depth of impact from first-person experiences with significant works of contemporary art. And yet, as we try to get back on a footing for such experiences, the Prichard is doing so with a 75% reduction in its long-term identified funding. Similar to content delivery, new sources and structures are being contemplated, but as of this writing much uncertainty remains. The optimism of new ideas and a better vision is trying to work in an environment of constricting resources and tremendous caution.