Welcome back!

Welcome back to a new year and a new semester! Hopefully you are rested and rejuvenated from the break, if you are a student.

We would just like to take this time to ask you to think of us this semester – if you have a great idea for a post, we would love to hear it! We would also like to post any papers you wrote in previous semesters, or new ones you write for the upcoming semester. We are happy to help edit or bounce around ideas.

If  you have an idea or piece of writing to share, please email us at tufts.museum.blog@gmail.com

Good luck this semester!

Colleen & Jess

Tour Review: The Art of Europe Wing at the Museum of Fine Arts

Today we bring you an article by Christina Errico, currently a Tufts student in the Museum Education Master’s program. Here, Christina analyzes a tour at the MFA for the Tufts course Teaching and Learning in the Museum.

In November, I took a docent-led tour of the Art of Europe wing at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The tour was aimed at providing the participants with a broad range of examples of European art, from medieval to early 20th century. While the experience was not wholly unsuccessful, there were two major issues with the tour. There was a clear lack of engagement between the tour guide and the visitors and, because of that, the tour did not necessarily live up to the MFA’s “ultimate aim” of their mission statement: to “encourage inquiry and to heighten public understanding and appreciation of the visual world.”

The first thing I noticed about my tour was that, because we were never asked about ourselves, we were (presumably unintentionally) being told that although we were not important, what was important was our guide asserting her authority by telling us how long she had worked there and how much she knew about the art. By the way our guide described the works of art and the fact that she never welcomed questions, the tour felt as if it was made for people who already knew about European art or at least had a very strong interest in it. This may have felt exclusionary for some people, and in fact one visitor dropped off the tour a few stops in. Our tour guide also walked quickly between works of art that sometimes spanned long and confusing stretches of the museum without once looking back to make sure that her tour was keeping up with her or even that we were all with her when she began speaking about the next piece. Because our guide did not take into consideration all the different aspects of our experiences and because we as learners were not finding new ideas or constructing knowledge on our own, I would argue that making any meaning at all out of this experience would have been very difficult. And while the MFA’s mission statement states that “the Museum’s ultimate aim is to encourage inquiry and to heighten public understanding and appreciation of the visual world,” I believe that because she never checked in with us to see how her efforts were paying off, it would be hard to tell whether she was successful.

While reflecting on my tour experience at the MFA, I thought of the Visitor’s Bill of Rights written by Judy Rand, director of Rand and Associates. There appeared to me to be a few rights that could have been addressed more clearly to yield an improved experience. The first was the right to feel welcomed. Our tour guide could have made us feel more welcome asking us at the very least who we were, but more importantly by engaging in dialogue with us along the way and also making sure that we were keeping up with her physically and intellectually as well. The second right was the right to communication. Communication is a key part of learning and meaning making in museums, so our guide could have made us more comfortable by making sure that we understood what she was saying and why it was relevant, as well as welcoming questions from the start of the tour. The third right the right to choice and control. A certain amount of control could have been ceded to us by our tour guide engaging us with more open-ended questions to facilitate an organic discussion between us.

Although I do not think I learned as much as I could have through the didactic model of teaching, it does work for some learners and I did not walk away having learned nothing from the Art of Europe tour at the MFA. If I was to summarize all of my thoughts, I would do so by quoting Rika Burnham, who at one time was in a very similar situation as our tour guide while conducting one of her run-of-the-mill tours at the Met. Burnham realized that, because visitors were not able to engage with the art through the didactic style of teaching she had employed, she needed to “stop lecturing and begin listening” to her visitors while at the same creating a safe space for them to “question, search, challenge, be moved by, and ultimately bring the work into the context of their own lives without being intimidated or made to feel inadequate.”

Weekly Jobs Roundup

Here’s our weekly roundup of new jobs. As always, they go up immediately on their own page. Happy hunting!

I Am an Anthropologist

In addition to being a student at Tufts, I also work at an archaeology/anthropology museum working with school programs. One of our most popular programs for elementary school students begins with me telling them that we will all be anthropologists during the program, examining artifacts to discover how people live.

Last week, I was teaching this program when a student asked me during an aside if I was an anthropologist. I hesitated; my training is in education and history. I have not specifically studied anthropology, as other staff in the museum have (and still do). I was unsure how to answer her question, and ended up fumbling my way through an explanation of being a teacher first and a social scientist second. This exchange took probably thirty seconds, and I don’t think the student gave it a second thought. But it has been on my mind ever since it happened. I’ve had many discussions about the fact that kids often have trouble accepting the fact that anyone, including themselves, can be considered a scientist without the training that they associate with science. Originally, I pushed that argument to the side, recognizing its importance but also thinking the idea was obvious. But clearly, putting this idea that anyone can be a scientist into practice is much more complex.

Museums work hard to show visitors that they can be scientists (or historians, or mathematicians, or any other skills sets that museums help visitors practice in their everyday life). Yet I balked when answering that question about myself. I thought, “Well, sure, I can be considered an amateur social scientist, but at what point can I call myself an anthropologist? I haven’t had the in depth training that others in the museum have.”

How is being an anthropologist different than being a scientist, in the context of every day life? Yes, the training is vital to being a professional anthropologist, but if I am telling the students that we can all be anthropologists at an amateur level (both during and after the program), why can’t I also consider myself to be one? What message am I sending when I hesitate in confidently saying, “Yes, I am an anthropologist just like you!”?

After a lot of thought about this interaction, I realize that I have experienced what I assumed I already knew (but only theoretically): change has to first come from the museum itself. If we don’t treat ourselves the same way that we expect visitors to treat themselves, we are not being authentic – essentially, we are negating our own claim. If I, as the leader of the program and the public face of the museum in that moment, cannot see myself as an anthropologist, how can I expect the students to believe that they can be anthropologists?

Weekly Jobs Roundup

Here’s our weekly roundup of new jobs. As always, they go up immediately on their own page. Happy hunting!