Lucas Livingston (Director of Senior Programming), Karin Jacobson (Docent Program Coordinator), and Georgina Valverde (artist and Teacher Programs Coordinator) were the educators/leaders of my group tours at The Art Institute of Chicago. I was interested in learning more about what programs are offered and who their targeted audience is. All of the established programs are specifically tailored for particular demographics: children, students, public school teachers, people who have disabilities, and seniors. It is not my position to negate these programs and what they do, however, what about the unrepresented individuals who do not fall into any of these categories? What programs exist specifically for Black men? Where would that demographic fit into the system or these programs? This is one group of people who require ‘Art’ just as much as the next person, but, as we know, their door into the museum, is often only the door in which they are standing guard.
My discussion with Karin Jacobson was particularly relevant. She is the Director of the docent program at AIC. During my training as a docent at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art in Charlotte, NC, I remember the feeling of an overwhelming responsibility: having to always know or find an appropriate answer to any question a viewer might ask, acting as the knowledge liaison between viewer and artist, speaking of the artist’s intentions and goals without having the opportunity to converse with the maker, and the difficulty of premeditating, cultivating and molding the evolution of a dialogue.
Having that experience provided a behind-the-scenes moment for me, and now that I am so far removed from it, I see the docent process very differently. On one hand, I trust the non-threatening, sincere, older white female docent and, although I do not quite identify with her, I understand and respect her authority. I can’t figure out if it is because of the culmination of those adjectives (non-threatening, sincere, older, white and female) or if I, as a viewer, feel like i have no reason to question the validity of her statements. I accept her words as truth.
On the other hand, I feel like I can see the calculated manipulation through the enthusiastic, scripted dialogue of the friendly, older woman. It’s almost as if I’ve become aware that this language is not her own, but rather a script someone else instructed her to follow.
I was very interested to hear what Karin had to say about the TEAM program. This idea of ‘Lifelong Learning’ is something that I have heard from most of our other guests, and has been referenced in a few of the must-read art blogs. I agree that molding young, malleable minds is a necessary priority. Children are our future and it is our responsibility to encourage and educate them. Being able to think critically about information, ‘reading’ symbols and images, and being able to interpret meaning, sets the groundwork for a structurally sound foundation. Visual literacy teaches important skills for young minds that will be advantageous throughout their entire life.
In addition, I do not agree with the idea that education and knowledge stop at a certain age. Minds are like muscles and it is important to exercise them. However, ‘Lifelong’ implies birth, death, and the entire space between. Programs like TEAM and Road Scholar are very specific about their targeted audience but do not apply to all demographics. What programs exist for adults who haven’t been to the museum since their 3rd grade class visited but would like to come again before their 65th birthday? If we are talking about constructivist learning, shouldn’t it be a priority to build upon the student’s foundation and open it up for future learning opportunities? I understand the difficulty of these questions, but they are important and worth examining.
First, is it the museum’s responsibility to provide these educational programs? Whose responsibility is it? Arguably, if we’re going to use language like ‘Lifelong Learning’, yes, it should effect students of all ages, throughout their lifetime; not just the beginning and end. Secondly, there are a number of organizations that have programs specifically tailored to this ‘middle-life’ demographic, ages 16-55. Why does the AIC not provide as much support for those forgotten? Why not collaborate with some of these organizations to make something new?