Seminar XII - Jang Eun Cho
Post Museum: Art Museum Education for Participation and Expansion
Ye Ji Hong (DCW 2021)
For this seminar, we invited Jang Eun Cho, a curator at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea(MMCA), to talk about the current status and future prospects of art museum education in Korea. In earlier periods, the education mostly took the form of traditional lectures and activity worksheets, and there were no separate spaces provided for museum education. However, there have been more recent efforts to allocate space within the museum for educational purposes, and to develop educational programs that focus on the viewers’ participation. If we take the art museum as something beyond a simple physical space, and as being a certain “platform” in which hierarchies and power differentials are at work, these changes suggest that among the various activities that take place within the museum, education has taken on a more prominent aspect. Meanwhile, in the process of deploying programs for the viewership, the trend is now to speak in terms of “participation” rather than “experiences to try out.” This signifies a mindset that has moved beyond considering the viewership as subjects to be taught and edified in a one-way manner, and now works from the perspective of the citizens/beneficiaries who participate in the educational programs. With this in mind, MMCA has been paying close attention to the changes in viewers’ expectations and public attitudes, continuing to work toward structures of communication in which it is easy for participants to connect with “the art museum as social space.” According to Cho, viewers are interested in receiving ample commentary on exhibitions and well-made explanatory materials about museum holdings. Art museum education aims to meet these needs, with the threefold goals of making ‘connections’ between the art scene and the scene of public education, furthering ‘social infusion’ among various constituents of our society, and creating a structure of ‘relational expansion’ in which the public resources of the museum can be redistributed for the greater good.
In particular, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a steep increase in online viewership, some fundamental changes have been proposed to deal with the new situation. At a time in which the physical space of the museum is becoming decontextualized, and in which we are seeing changes in the very meaning of viewing an art object in real life, the time has come to redefine museum education itself. Cho strongly advocated for a consistent approach to art museum education based on digital philosophies and strategies, rather than letting the online and offline experiences remain piecemeal and separate, especially since today’s art museum education is best regarded as “a series of activities that construct and design the experience of the museum in its totality.” Referring to the activities at Tate or MoMA, Cho argued that rather than thinking of new mediums as replacing old ones, old and new mediums should be considered together in complementary and mutually reinforcing ways, on the basis of an overarching thematic. It is only under such a sense of direction that the values found in each medium can be fundamentally rethought, she said.
Reviewing the educational trajectory of MMCA based on the abovementioned problematics, one finds that the museum approaches diverse pools of participants in tailored ways, under the general principle that equal opportunities for education should be provided to all. Educational programming is divided into sectors for adults, professionals, youths/teachers, and children/families, and takes into account the best ways to increase cultural accessibility by taking into account differences in terms of class, ethnicity, and disability. In terms of space and location, MMCA is testing out ways to move beyond the lecture room to take participants through the building’s hallways to bring them closer to art works in the gallery space during the education process, improving delivery and overall effectiveness. In terms of content, educational materials such as the MMCA Exhibition Guide (MEG) and initiatives such as “Discuss the Exhibition” provide educational opportunities that are directly relevant to individual works or exhibitions and encourage the active participation of citizens. Meanwhile, MMCA also runs the nation’s only art museum for children, hoping to provide children with opportunities to interact directly with art objects of high quality from an early age. There is a tendency to share only replicas with children, citing issues of safety and conservation, but Cho suggested that if we consider culture and art to be “experiential assets,” the long-term educational effects of allowing children to interact personally with actual high-end art objects far exceed the possible concerns. In these ways, MMCA conducts educational programs based on its holdings with minimal physical and affective constraints, and also makes efforts to build a “museum without a roof” on the basis of a nature-friendly, ecological outlook. Particularly at the Gwacheon branch, MMCA makes use of the affordances of its open-air sculpture park for children’s programs such as an adventure-type outdoor family tour, and also has reworked outdoor spaces to develop projects such as the MMCA Artistic Playground with artists Do-hee Kim and Ju-hyeon Kim and landscaper Jae-hyeok Choi.
Finally, we discussed the practical aspects of developing educational programs, and the skills and abilities required of an educator. An educator who works at an art museum has opportunities to write in analytical modes, in addition to administrative work. In order to write strong project proposals, one must avoid ambiguous expressions, and clearly present the target population to be educated, the aims of the program, and the directions it will take. In particular, theoretical underpinnings and objective metrics should be presented on the basis of strict segmentation, along with a comparative analysis that presents novel payoffs based on feedback on existing programs. In addition, the program in question should be discussed in terms of its relationship with other initiatives, exhibitions, and policies, and must be based solidly in an accurate understanding of the exhibitions and works involved. With all of these elements in mind, the role of the educator which is distinct from that of a curator, is to provide explanations for historical context and terminology that may not be directly mentioned in the exhibition, and to draw out possible connections to school curricula and general educational objectives. To this end, Cho made the suggestions following: 1) keep an open mind; 2) make efforts to bring wider social concerns into the museum; 3) communicate and collaborate actively with external professionals; 4) craft storytelling with the tangible and intangible assets of the museum; 5) foster higher levels of accuracy, professionalism, and empathetic abilities in interpreting exhibitions and works; 6) develop and organize activities with an expansive outlook, taking into account the greater variety of the populations to be engaged. In addition, her suggestions for the best practices for collaborations between curators and educators included respecting each other’s roles, sharing opinions with serious rigor, and dismantling boundaries between the respective domains through direct and indirect experiences. All things considered, it can be concluded that the necessary attitude for both curators and educators is to think in an integrated manner about the role of art museum education in a swiftly changing age and to remain open and eager to communicate with professionals across various fields.