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ADOPT A GALLERY
About ten years ago I was a principal/5-8 teacher of a small school
in KC/KS. There was a small gallery within 20 minutes walking
distance of our school. (It was actually a little over a mile but we also
had a fitness walking curriculum, so that was no sweat.)
I had met with the owner before the school year began to explore the
possiblity of bringing my class (15 students) to the gallery each time
he changed the major exhibit. He was a little skeptical, but open to
the idea. I believe we went about five or six times. The shows included
Pre-Columbian artifacts,weaving, abstract painting, drawings and prints.
Prior to each visit, we would engage in related research and
discussion in class. This research usually examined aspects of the
theme, medium, and historical precedents, as appropriate. This
generated lists of questions we might like to ask or have clarified.
Each visit began with browsing followed by general remarks and a
"narrative tour" of the works by the owner. Then came the questions,
followed by some more browsing, this time with sketching in
preparation for the production of derivative work or explorations.
Some of our discussions with the owner stemmed from our study of
economics and sociology in social studies: What is the role of a
gallery vs a museum in society (show & sell vs show & tell)?
Prices...how they are determined and what causes them to fluctuate?
Expression vs income. Craftsmanship. What's the business side of
running a gallery? Gallery etiquette.
One time we were able to meet the artist (a painter) and hear him discuss his own
work. Another time we we treated to the ginger ale punch left from the
previous days opening. (That was a bigtime hit!)
In the days following our visits, we would work on pieces or simply
engage in materials/technique explorations insipred by the
experience. Everyone would identify the piece they liked the best
and why. This led to some great opportunities to engage in criticism.
Sometimes clear patterns or polarities of preference would surface
then we would discuss them. When appropriate, we would critique
the artist's body of work (as we had viewed it) as a whole.
Designated people also wrote thank you notes on behalf of the class.
Overall, the experiment was a great success. Student's looked forward
to the visits and got involved. The owner became a believer and on
several occasions commented on the maturity of the students and
the perceptive questions they asked.
Once he called a couple of weeks ahead of the upcoming show we
were planning to view to let me knowit would have several nudes in,
in case I wanted to cancel. I said I didn't want to and instead
prepared them by structuring their research to examine the portrayal
of the figure over time. Thoughtfilled modeling and clear expectations of mature behavior went
a long way!
Some of the students started taking their parents to the gallery after
we'd been there. The parents, some of whom had never
been to a gallery, were amazed at how much and the kinds of things
there children had to say about the pieces.
What are some of the variables/conditions necessary
for the successful implementation of a program like this?
One is relationships: with the gallery owner, parents, and your students
(remember, I was the administration, so add that one on too) You have
to believe you can do this and that it is valuable. You need to be able
to see, explore, exploit and articulate the interdisciplinary potentials
of the experience.
Another is time. You need control of your time with your students.
Time for serious pre-visit study and preparations and post-visit
debriefings and studio-based explorations. The idea would be most
easily done with a self-contained multiage class and be most
difficult to accomplish with a departmentalized specialist.
Explore the adaptive possibilities in your situations.
Small schools have unique potentials!
Mark Joyce joycem Concordia College Ann Arbor, MI