The role of galleries in art education

When the flush of a new-born sun fell first on Eden’s green and gold,
Our father Adam sat under the Tree and scratched with a stick in the mould;
And the first rude  sketchA rough or unfinished visual composition, usually to assist in the completion of a more elaborate version.  that the world had seen was joy to his mighty heart,
Till the Devil whispered behind the leaves, “It’s pretty, but is it Art?
 - Rudyard Kipling, The Conundrum of the Workshops

Gallery educators play a special role in helping people respond to works of art and to reach a personal understanding of those works. The gallery educator’s ultimate goal is to help people become more knowledgable about art and artists and to help them develop the ability to respond to and gather meaning from images, including works of art.

Within an art gallery the educator works with other professionals such as curators, communications officers, catalogue and brochure designers, and docents, to plan, create and evaluate the programs that the gallery offers to its diverse audiences, audiences that include artists, art professionals, students, small children, families and adults of all ages.

How do you know but ev’ry Bird that cuts the airy way,
is an immense world of delight, clos’d by your senses five?
- William Blake, Songs of Innocence

Gallery educators help us to open up our senses to the works of art around us. They organize lectures, write materials for exhibitions, produce videos, write scripts for audio guides, produce materials for teachers, provide  contentThe subject matter of a work of art and what it suggests about that subject matter. This includes the ways in which that work of art can be plausibly interpreted.  for the gallery’s website and present workshops. The gallery educator’s role, then, is to be a facilitator, helping people to experience and appreciate art.

Jen Budney, an associate  curatorAn individual or group, who conceives an idea for an art exhibition, selects the art works, plans how they will be displayed and writes accompanying supporting materials for the ideas presented. A curator can work freelance or be affiliated with a gallery, and serves as the link between artists and gallery.  at the Mendel Art Gallery (2008), says it not always possible to “get” a work of art the first time you see it. Part of her job is to provide information to help people understand the artwork. The outreach educator for the MacKenzie Art Gallery (2008), Ken Duczek, agrees, adding that by giving people insight into understanding and appreciating art, galleries also help people better understand their world.

The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend. – Henri Bergson

 

Outreach at the MacKenzie Art Gallery

The MacKenzie Art Gallery’s Outreach program had its inception in the 1960s when gallery volunteers responded to requests from nearby communities to see works of art from the Gallery’s permanent collection. By 1971, interest had grown to the point that the MacKenzie established a formal Outreach program to bring art exhibitions and educational programming to rural communities across Saskatchewan.

The MacKenzie’s Outreach program currently visits about 30 Saskatchewan communities each year. Ken Duczek, the MacKenzie’s gallery educator (2008) works with gallery curators to plan and organize the exhibitions that will be taken by gallery staff to the communities. Each summer the curators prepare and send out brochures to schools and communities to inform them of the opportunity to host an art exhibition and to receive local gallery education program activities related to the exhibit in their communities. And every year there is always more demand than the Outreach program can accommodate.

Once the Outreach touring art exhibition schedule is set and the exhibitions determined, preparators and conservators ready the artworks for travel. The works are crated and secured in a specially equipped van. Duczek drives to each location and unloads and installs the works, usually in the school library or a school gymnasium in the smaller communities. The school’s students and their teachers view the travelling exhibition during the day, with adults coming to tour and talk about the exhibit in the evening.

Duczek also prepares an education plan for each exhibition. Activities include discussions about art and the artworks, as well as opportunities for making art. Each year the Outreach program also tries to feature one or two artists who travel to some of the communities to talk about, and perhaps demonstrate, their work. This “Artists with their work” program is particularly popular with students. Over the course of a year the MacKenzie’s Outreach program takes artworks and art education to about 10,000 people in Saskatchewan’s rural communities.

 

Outreach at the Mendel Art Gallery

The Mendel Art Gallery also offers an outreach program, but with a very different focus. The SaskTel Mendel Art Caravan offers art activities for families, held in a tent that travels to community events and local gatherings, particularly in inner-city areas.

The Mendel offers several other programs tailored for specific audiences, including professional programs such as artist and  curatorAn individual or group, who conceives an idea for an art exhibition, selects the art works, plans how they will be displayed and writes accompanying supporting materials for the ideas presented. A curator can work freelance or be affiliated with a gallery, and serves as the link between artists and gallery.  talks, panel discussions, lectures and the ArtistsbyArtists program, which pairs an emerging artist with an established artist for mentoring. The mentoring is followed by an exhibition of both artists’ works. When funding permits the gallery also offers internships for artists.

Laura Kinzel, the gallery programmer at the Mendel (2008), is currently responsible (as of 2008) for coordinating public and professional programs. A sampling of the programs offered include studioXPRESS (a drop-in studio space filled with ideas and art supplies for personal exploration) a family drop-in program of art-making and special events on Sunday afternoons, and ARTforLIFE, where the Mendel creates partnerships with community schools for three-year terms.

“We also connect with schools,” says Kinzel, “through special initiatives such as an ongoing art-for-social-justice program that has included documenting the stories of young immigrants, slam poetry for social expression of moral intelligences, eco-art, and a project to dissect media messages aimed at youth culture.”

The Mendel also offers school tours and hands-on workshops for Pre-kindergarten to Grade 12 students. Some of the students who have attended these tours and workshops likely have had their work displayed during the annual School Art show at the Mendel, which has been running for more than 30 years.

School Art is a partnership of the Mendel with the Catholic and public school boards in Saskatoon. “We have moved from a time long ago,” Kinzel says, “when teachers came in and just hung things, to a more formal approach in line with how other professional shows are selected and installed at the Mendel.”

Participating schools send a minimum of six artworks by students to a selection panel made up of three representatives, one from the Mendel and one from each of the school boards. Each year about 200 works are selected from among all of the works submitted.

“Each jury outlines its own selection criteria,” Kinzel explains, “which usually includes a strong personal voice or vision, a feeling that the maker was truly involved in the process, an interesting and competent use of materials, and an understanding of the  elements of artThe basic components used by the artist when producing works of art. Those elements are colour, value, line/implied line, shape, form, texture, and space. The elements of art are among the literal qualities found in any artwork. (Artlex.com)  and principles of design.”

Each participant receives a personal letter and invitation to the School Art exhibition, and a poster promoting it. Schools also receive posters. More than 1,000 students and family members attend the Sunday afternoon reception when the show begins.

“School Art is certainly one of our most popular shows each year,” says Kinzel. “While it is arguably the most labour-intensive undertaking for the majority of our staff, it is well worth it. We also welcome [a great] number of school and special interest guided tour groups during this show, which runs between April and June. School Art complements all the other exhibitions we feature in a year, providing the balance [among] historical, contemporary, local, national and international artists.”

Ken Duczek - Introduction as MacKenzie Art Gallery Outreach Program Coordinator
Ken Duczek - The MacKenzie School and Youth Program
Ken Duczek - The MacKenzie Outreach Program
Ken Duczek - Why the Outreach Program is Important
Things To Think About
  • We use visual aids all the time to help us express our thoughts in words. For example, try describing a spiral staircase to someone without using your hands.

  • Pick a work of art from the ARTSask website and put your thoughts and feelings about the work into words. Begin by describing your initial reaction to the work, and then write down the process your mind goes through as you try to gain a deeper understanding of what the artist was trying to say.

  • Have you ever had someone trying to explain something to you, and suddenly you understood? Did you say something like “Now I’ve got it” or “I see what you mean” or “Now I see the picture.” How do you think this process in your mind relates to looking at works of art?

  • Why is art education important? Dan Ring, the curator at the Mendel Art Gallery (2008), believes that having some fine arts training and developing an interest in visual art and visual communication can help equip people for this evolving, modern world.

    There is also a growing movement today led by Richard Florida, a university professor, who argues that being open to creativity and supporting creative people working in knowledge-intensive industries are important to the social, economic and cultural life of cities.

    Read about Richard Florida’s ideas of the “creative class” and decide whether you agree with him.  To find out more about Richard Florida’s creative class, go to:

 

Advanced Activity

Consider the arts as a body of knowledge and a door to all learning

Online Activity

Tree of gallery knowledge and learning word game

  • Click on a word in the list at the bottom of the activity window.

  • Drag the word to the slot next to the word category you think the word best belongs to.

  • Use the gallery websites for reference if you like (Mendel Art Gallery, MacKenzie Art Gallery), but know that there are really no wrong answers!

 

Studio Activity

A day in the life of a gallery educator or tour guide

  • Select one of the gallery jobs associated with gallery education. (See the Online Activity in this section for some ideas for choices.)

  • See what you can find about their jobs on-line at:

  • Construct a schedule showing how you think their day would be organized. To do this:

    • Ask others how school bookings are made.

    • Think about or use any gallery tour experiences you have had.

    • Use brochures from galleries to find the information you want.

    • Contact gallery resource centres for information, or call or e-mail the education department of your local gallery.

  • Illustrate your writing with sketches.

 

Create an art tour

References

Edwards, Betty. ‘Your Brain: The Right and Left of it.’  in The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, New York:  Penguin Putnam Inc., 1999.

Jones, Mary Mahon.  Introduction to Gallery Education,  MacKenzie Art Gallery, Regina, Saskatchewan, 1992.

Kinzel, Laura.  Personal correspondence with the author.  July 10, 2008

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning