“Opening Access: Enabling And Engaging First Time Encounters With Art Institutions”

Here are some highlights from “Opening Access: Enabling And Engaging First Time Encounters With Art Institutions” a talk organized by EDI Global Forum that presented practical art mediation cases and the thought processes behind the motivation to mediate art. It includes many examples of how various museums around the world are trying to reach out to the communities around them, and ask themselves the right questions to make it happen. 

The talk was hosted and moderated by Artistic Director of the Samdani Art Foundation in Bangladesh, Diana Campbell, and Alessandra Drioli, on behalf of EDI Global Forum for Education and Integration and More Greco Foundation. The full talk will soon be available on their platform.

A Digital Platform for Shared Experiences. Alessandra Drioli, of the Morra Greco Foundation, introduced the soon to be launched Digital Platform by EDI Global Forum for Education and Integration. The platform aims to share case studies from all around the world online, as well as organize a global meeting in Naples on June 22, 2022, in the foundation’s historical building.

Education and Integration Global Forum
Detail / Screenshot from Rachel Mader‘s online presentation. Example of Art Mediation Paper Chip chop. “Opening Access: Enabling And Engaging First Time Encounters With Art Institutions”, EDI Global Forum. Courtesy / All rights Rachel Mader.

Art Mediation Tools. Rachel Mader presented her work with Space for Encounters, an art mediation program designed with and for the Kochi-Muziris Biennale and other multidisciplinary groups. She spoke about the importance of wider institutional collaboration to organize audiences to join the workshops, and stressed that art mediation is a dynamic approach that can expand beyond traditional understanding of art mediation. For instance, their group gathered through exercises such as a version of the game colin-maillard. Two people visit an exhibition together, one person is blindfolded, while the other guides them through stairs, other people, as well as describes the artworks. The blindfolded person needs to trust them with their safety but also in terms of their insights regarding the show, sketching what they thought they have seen at the end. Other tools include the use of a paper chip chop, taking inspiration from another children’s game, or a document with small visual details taken from the show, that visitors have to spot in the exhibition and interact with on paper. She also mentioned a simple but radical idea where visitors could take photos of the artworks they didn’t understand, by holding a sign with a lock symbol in front of them, thus creating a candid starting point for exchange. Ultimately these tools can change and be adapted as they are tested with the audience, the initial toolkit published as a folder with detachable cards being only a starting point.

Museum labels written by children. James M. Bradburne and Devorah Block they developed a number of art mediation methods. For instance, they invited children to write labels, which was highly contested by the curators. Bradburne presented two versions of a label about Cezanne’s painting, Five Bathers, one by the curators and one by the children. Their comments is something a curator would never sign off on, says Bradburne, but these perceptions made visitors stop in their track and spend more time with the paintings. Bradburne also mentions a radio station in one of their exhibition, where children interviewed their grandparents; many instances of formally involving regular people’s experiences and perceptions in and around the presentation of shows; a murder mystery within the exhibition; and nighttime visits with a flash light. He also mentioned the use of senses (smell, touch … ), involving people with disabilities and art students, the use of drawing benches for everyone to use, and making visible to the public restoration labs and storage spaces. Also, at the Pinacoteca they use the shop as a site for education and the cafe in the middle of the museum as an exhibition space, with labels written on the menu.

Education and Integration Global Forum
Education and Integration Global Forum
Detail / Screenshot from James M. Bradburne‘s online presentation. Examples of labels written by curators (top) and children (above). “Opening Access: Enabling And Engaging First Time Encounters With Art Institutions”, EDI Global Forum. Courtesy / All rights James M. Bradburne.

Open the Museum to All Stakeholders. According to Bradburne, before the pandemic, the quality of a museum was judged by its number of visitors and the quality of its collection. But these two factors are irrelevant when looking at the value a museum brings to its community. Despite their efforts, most museums fail in being inclusive. “I am not seeing the same people inside the museums as I see in the subway” he shared. All innovation seems to be directed at the white middle class. One way they decided to reach out to the community around them, is to replace tickets by memberships. By buying a membership/ticket you buy the right to be listened too, for instance, during an annual meeting for all the stakeholders that would include discussions about programming. It’s a project that has just started and Bradburne estimates a period of 5 to 10 years to implement it practically, but believes it’s the right direction in order to achieve a systemic change of governance. It’s about insuring the inclusion of certain stakeholder groups that never have a seat at the table.

Art Mediators Agility. Ruxmini Choudhury mentioned that the last edition of the Dhaka Art Summit had 900,000 visitors over 9 days, including 100,000 people once in the same building at the same time.

Art mediators are very important as they drive these people together and make connections between the art and visitors. DAS mediators are made visible, by wearing specific tee-shirts, and guidebooks are available for people who don’t like to engage too much. Choudhury also noted that audiences reacted very well to oral stories, not always directly connected to specific artworks but stories told about history or a local myth, which then visitors connect to the artworks. Art mediators have to be agile, dynamic, and responsive while implementing their tool but also when reviewing them.

Emotions Impress. Tarana Halim shared her experience of direct contact with visitors through art mediation. She noted that it takes a few days for visitors to grow more comfortable approaching art mediators, as word went around. But they also very successfully used sketchbooks for more introvert visitors. Ultimately she notes that the strongest impressions happen when visitors experience an emotion within the exhibition, which can happen in diverse ways.

Transparency. Devorah Block stressed the importance of creating sustainable practices, of encouraging everyone in the museum staff to engage with the audience and understand their strategic role, and spoke about the challenge to implement changes. She also noted that an audience can be reached by levelling their knowledge of how a museum works, mentioning that everything in a space or a museum is subject to an act of interpretation. And that by revealing the chain of decisions and voices behind a display, it allows people to grow confidence for the value of their own.To listen to the whole talk and all its participants, please go to EDI Global Forum for Education and Integration at the More Greco Foundation.

Moderated by Diana Campbell, Artistic Director of the Samdani Art Foundation in Bangladesh and Chief Curator of the Dhaka Art Summit and Alessandra Drioli, frome the Morra Greco Foundation

Speakers included:

Devorah Block, independent consultant and educator, co-founder of Circles Squared.

James M. Bradburne, Director General of the Pinacoteca di Brera and the Biblioteca nazionale Braidense in Milan and co-founder of Circles Squared.

Tarana Halim, Lecturer, Shanto-Mariam University of Creative Technology, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Rachel Mader, Head of Competence Center Art, Design & Public Spheres, University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Lucerne/Bern, Switzerland.

Nilanjana Nandy, Artist and Educator, Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art, Asia Art Archive, College of Art Delhi, NGMA, Delhi, India

Ruxmini Reckvana Q Choudhury, Assistant Curator, Samdani Art Foundation and Dhaka Art Summit, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Art critic and writer.

Comments are closed.