By Foundations for Foundations
We are delighted to share with you three insights into very different Education Programmes from across the globe. Museo Picasso Málaga in Spain, the Rupert Museum in South Africa and the PHI Foundation in Canada.
Educational action is one of the pillars on which our work is founded. We have a commitment to making art accessible to publics of all ages and backgrounds by offering a universal programme that can be used with any type of visitor (adults, schoolchildren, families, those in socially vulnerable situations, etc.).
We do this in the form of activities, projects and programmes that incorporate the voice of visitors alongside those of teachers, curators, and historians. Over 300,000 people have benefited in this way from the museum’s educational programme.
Below are six examples with links to our programme activities:
Rupert Museum, Stellenbosch, South Africa
We have no entry fee and our events are mainly free of charge allowing access to everyone. The purpose of this was to draw on our local community and make the museum a regular spot to visit. No doubt the broader South African community and international visitors would find themselves keen to know where the locals go, hence free entry seemed a natural place to start.
Here at the Rupert Museum, we are a small museum and team and yet we have an active public programme that centres on interdisciplinary learning experiences which are a vital part of our broader mandate.
We want to offer public programming for both young and old that uses our museum space, our exhibitions and indigenous garden as a kick-off point. Before Lockdown we offered weekly items such as Senior Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday curator-led-walkabouts and lunch-hour yoga on Thursdays. Our Museum Saturdays on the last Saturday of every month had a day-long programme with talks, walkabouts, wine-tastings, workshops for children and adults as well as specials in our café and live music.
Our public programming for children has featured holiday and afterschool art workshops as well as activities on our aforementioned Museum Saturdays. Afterschool art workshops have been particularly successful. We partnered with local community centres to reach children from our poorer communities who don’t have art as a subject at school and might otherwise not have visited the museum.
PHI Foundation, Montreal, Canada
Each year, our Education Department welcomes thousands of participants from elementary, high school, college, and university levels, as well as diverse community groups and the general public. We offer art workshops, events, pedagogical tools, special projects, collaborations, and group visits. Our education programme is offered free of charge.
A major guiding principle that informs all of the PHI Foundation’s initiatives and its Education Department, is to be of service to all our diverse audience, which means nurturing a culture of care, inclusion, empathy, and freedom by giving access to contemporary art. This means challenging this idea that contemporary art is inaccessible and that it has no tie to our daily life. This also means creating welcoming spaces where conversations about contemporary art can be open, spontaneous, and convivial, and where all visitors can be free to feel, to express and challenge themselves, and to develop their critical thinking.
Photo credit: Marc-Olivier Bécotte
To serve all of these values, we have been developing a pedagogical approach rooted in movement and dialogue, which informs all our activities and initiatives. Access to contemporary art being vital to us, we aim to open it up and expand it by taking into account the various dimensions of the phenomenon of movement: intellectual, emotional, affective, and physical.
Looking at the approaches taken by each organisation during the pandemic
During lockdown we saw how the museum managed to remain connected with a large number of the regular users of our educational programmes, via remote channels such as online activities, social media and bulk emailing, and by offering activities adapted to different types of public (workshops for people in socially vulnerable situations, workbooks for families, training sessions for university students, etc.).
Furthermore, after the lockdown, the museum demonstrated its ability to adapt to a new situation by offering educational activities in safe spaces and in strict compliance with health regulations (open-air activities, very limited capacity, etc.). These have been well received by the public.
The pandemic raises a large question mark over the digital future of museums and their potential to act in the culturally complex environment in which we find ourselves today. On the one hand, it is an institution committed to continuing to teach. However, we must not forget to develop business strategies and respond to the requests we receives for popular entertainment.
The current situation has led us to plan educational projects in the future that can be adapted to different scenarios (face-to-face/virtual; limited capacity/larger capacity, etc.). Moreover, there is a need to strengthen our ties with segments of the local community that still feel they are distanced from art and museums.
With the recent renovation and reopening in 2019, the museum looked to create a more approachable and more interactive space. The growing interest in the museum saw visitor numbers triple with activity peaking before lockdown. We needed to continue to engage with this audience, many of whom had elected to form part of our membership database, as well as look at ways of growing our audience. A natural step was to keep the museum alive in the minds of our visitors through deepening our social media presence. This included regular posts on our current exhibitions and features focused on bodies of work in the collection, particular artists, or prominent works. We even joined in the popular recreate challenge, prompting the public to recreate scenes in some of our well-known and loved artworks. As a result, we’ve seen substantial growth in our following.
We’ve learnt that an online presence is key to reaching and growing new audiences. In this spirit, we would like to take more of our public programming to platforms such as Zoom, YouTube and social media. A glaring reality for us is that our community from the outlying townships and farming areas have limited or no online access, due to either the cost of technology or lack infrastructure. To begin to address this issue we transformed our afterschool art workshops programme into a self-guided at-home kit, featuring step-by-step activities and art materials to take the child through techniques and theory resulting in the creation of their very own artwork. As shown below, the art packs are geared to two age groups, 9-12 years and 13-16 years. Again key to contact with the children has been our partnerships with schools, community centres and NGOs.
In the past six months, in the context of the pandemic, we have continued to honour our core values by finding alternative ways of providing access to contemporary art and to our current exhibition RELATIONS: Diaspora and Painting.
We have adapted our existing pedagogical tools to better suit the new context. For instance, we developed a new initiative called the Movements series, which is comprised of five short video vignettes that complement the exhibition. The videos explore four themes linked to the exhibition: painting, diasporic identity, territory and the body. This new offer on our website allows us to engage with our audiences differently and gives a glimpse of the works for those who cannot see them in person.
We have also created an expanded audio guide that is available to the general public and can accompany students as well visiting the exhibition on their own. Our colleague Victoria Carrasco, Gallery Management and Adjunct Curator – Public Programs, developed a new initiative for visitors at the gallery that respected social distancing: Live Mediation. Since educators are not able to facilitate group visits within the exhibition as of yet, members of the Visitor Experience team jumped on board and were available to answer questions and give information about the works by phone and via chat. Our art workshop, which is usually offered in conjunction with our guided tours, has been adapted so that small groups of adults or children can take part after visiting the exhibition during weekends.
Finally, we launched digital initiatives to help foster dialogues about diasporic thinking. We have organized a Book Club focusing on diasporic fiction, where we engaged with a multitude of perspectives present in our current show and discussed them with participants based in Montreal and elsewhere. We scheduled two to three meetings for each of the four chosen novels, which allowed for more in-depth conversations. We have also adapted our bi-yearly event Dissections, which is usually presented in our gallery spaces, into a hybrid model, where people can join online while someone is teaching from our gallery. This time around, participants are invited to join artist Nico Williams in a series of beading workshops where they will reflect on Indigenous and diasporic experiences, and collaborate in the creation of a collective artwork.
We also presented The Ethos of the Foundation, a series of live events and content showcasing our notion of care and service, our holistic approach to presentation practices in contemporary art and the research and philosophy of different members of our team.
Our current exhibition, RELATIONS: Diaspora and Painting, was initially scheduled to open in late April. It was opened to the public on July 8, and through the reopening of our galleries, we have had the opportunity to experiment, adapt quickly, and think outside the box. The changing context of the pandemic became a driving force for us to grow as a team, to better collaborate, make space for difficult conversations, and learn from each other.
As we created new pedagogical tools, online events and expanded our digital offer, we also furthered our reflections around care: for each other, our audiences, our collaborators, and our work. We have also engaged in active conversations about how to make our content and spaces even more relevant and accessible.
We are in the process of collaborating with teachers and community groups about the best ways to serve their particular needs. More specifically, we are currently developing post-visit “on-line” presentations for college and university students, as well as “on-line” presentations and mobile art workshops for elementary and high school students. These will be offered all through the fall period of RELATIONS. In a spirit of openness, we are creating space for more horizontal collaborations that are deeply impacting our ways of working and that we wish to carry forward.
Looking to the future
Looking forward we will focus our programmes on the charismatic figure of Pablo Picasso and to analyze the impact and contemporary validity of his discoveries in art. To try to play a larger role as a connective link between different sensibilities. We also aim to enhance the educational programme linked to Pablo Picasso by adapting it to the current social and sanitary situation, with a digitization project for the internal management of the museum as well as for its physical and virtual visitors, educational spaces within the museum that enable visitors to discover the artist’s work in a practical way, and other actions that go beyond the museum walls in our endeavour to bring art to everyone.
Our exhibitions, walkabouts, talks, and workshops will no doubt continue to have an online life through webinars, virtual tours, and the like. Giving free, high-speed Wi-Fi access will allow our museum and particularly our little library to be an active working space for research and play. With the launch of our new website, we’re working to include an art index of the collection, making it an accessible tool for school-goers and researches of all ages. We will strive to be a node of learning through the enjoyment of art and to find new ways to impact our community, beyond the walls of our museum.
In the coming year, we are committed to pursuing our reflections about learning from and with our team members and collaborators at the Foundation. We plan to create platforms where we can include an even broader diversity of perspectives in the content that we produce. This means reaching out even further to increase our partnerships with universities, colleges, schools, and other cultural institutions.
This means also to think deeply about how we can expand our notion of accessibility by collaborating with audiences and potential partners who are not currently taking part in the Foundation’s educational programming, or feel like our offer is not for them. The pandemic, as well as ongoing fights for justice and equality in Canada, have reinforced the importance of naming and recognizing our blind spots, decentering our practice, and of developing programmes that foster critical thinking and nurture community engagement. It has also revealed that museum programming needs to think beyond physical presence in galleries: by creating online initiatives, by programming things that come directly to our audiences.
During the six months of the pandemic, we have learned to adapt quickly and innovate by creating new initiatives, tools, events, and at the same time, we also learned to be reflexive together. This means for us, amongst other things, taking the time to conduct research on the reception of contemporary art and to find spaces and platforms to share our findings with an international network of museum and art educators, academics, and artists in the field.
An example of this is our research project Experimenting Interpretation: Gestures, Movements, Dialogue conducted by Pohanna Pyne Feinberg, artist, educator and professor at Dawson College, and Marie-Hélène Lemaire, head of education at the PHI Foundation, since 2018. In the spirit of accessibility and service, this project aimed at multiplying the possible approaches that participants can employ when interpreting artworks during a group visit by experimenting with sensory learning, gestures and movements. In addition, our desire is to open up the space of the Education Department for other types of research and special reflexive projects about the various audiences of art. This will allow us to better serve our diverse publics, actual and potential, and the myriad of ways they experience art, learn about it and communicate about and through it. This is also linked for us to a real commitment to making the PHI Foundation a place of freedom and inclusion.
The PHI Foundation article was written by Marie-Hélène Lemaire, Head of Education, in collaboration with her colleagues Tanha Gomes, Educator and Project Manager, and Daniel Fiset, Adjunct Curator — Engagement.
We would like to thank Museo Picasso Málaga, the Rupert Museum and the PHI Foundation for sharing their outstanding programmes with us all. We hope that this content has resonated with you and sparked new ways of thinking. Our goal is to create a synergy between Art Foundations and this we can only achieve with your tremendous engagement and support, for which we are extremely grateful.