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Arts Integration and Innovation in Museum Education

by Madeline McGraw

When I arrived in Juneau and looked over the 2016 conference schedule, I was delighted to see that there would be a session that focused on museum education and the arts. I attended the conference with my museum’s program coordinator, and I was excited that we could attend this session together and find new ways of combining education, collections, and programming. As a collections-focused individual, I’ve never really paid too much attention to programming. As an introvert, I also don’t spend a lot of my own time utilizing museum programs either.  However, as I now work in a small museum with an even smaller staff, programming is an issue that is constantly on my mind.

The session, which was presented by Faith Revell of the Valdez Museum, gave me quite a bit to think about. We started with a refresher course on Visual Thinking Strategies, or VTS. VTS can be thought of as a way of creating visual literacy in students of any age group, from small children to adults.  The teacher, acting as facilitator, allows students to observe a picture before asking three questions: “what is going on in this picture?” “What do you see that makes you say that?” “What more can you find?” The student comments are linked together by the facilitator, and it is emphasized that there are no right or wrong answers. This process allows students to build confidence in themselves and their capabilities.

I had previously seen VTS used in art museums with paintings, but I found myself wondering how I could use it in my own history-based museum. Faith answered this issue with a group Visual Thinking Strategies session in which we discussed an historical photo.


Photo by Madeline McGraw

She stressed that even if students ask what is “really” going on in the photo, we should not answer them because the goal of VTS is to create a space where there are no right or wrong answers. Leaving them with questions will also encourage students to research the image themselves after the session has ended. Because my museum has a large collection of historical photographs, many of which are rarely seen by the public, I am very excited about working with my program coordinator to utilize VTS in this way in the future.

We ended the session with an activity in which we found partners and drew line-drawing portraits of each other. Because we had already spent a lot of time looking closely at images looking for important details, all of our drawings turned out wonderfully! It was a great way to get to know each other better, and to inject some creativity into a busy day of conference sessions.  


Photo by Madeline McGraw.

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