For many years now, I have attended the National Art Education Association annual conference, and for the same many years, I have attended the Museum Division pre-conference—a day-long event for art educators who teach from original works of art. These days, I am usually one of the more senior people attending—but not only because I am getting older. The conference is often about teaching in the galleries, where many art museum educators begin their career, and as they advance to department leaders and even museum directors, they attend other conferences that help them manage their new challenges. This year’s focus was on leadership, so a good number of other seasoned folks were in attendance. While still outnumbered, there was a decent mix of people spanning as many as 50 years, providing a rich exchange of conversation, and for me, reflection.
Attending such a focused conference provides a great opportunity to reflect on past years and changes that I have witnessed in the niche field of art museum education. I have always felt a kinship with art museum educators; they are so passionate about their work (I am, too), they truly love what original works of art can do for people (the Cycladic sculpture at right is responsible for my very first deeply significant experience with a work of art when I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art when I was 16), their stamina for intensely exploring ideas is commendable (and I am sometimes responsible for forcing the issue), and they seem to value intentionality (and I do, too). In fact, during the pre-conference I heard the word “intentional” a lot—it seemed like everyone was talking about being intentional, which of course, delighted me.
In the preconference alone, I feel like I heard “intentional” or “intentionality” at least twice an hour—a whopping 16 times on that day alone, and because I attended museum division sessions, I heard it many times more throughout the larger conference. So why were so many people talking about intentionality? I’d like to think that my conference presentations over the last decade are starting to sink in (I have been discussing intentionality in every which way I can), but I suspect the somewhat recent issue of the Journal of Museum Education is mostly responsible—as it was titled, “Intentionality and the Twenty-First-Century Museum.” I absolutely sense a shift taking place. I think educators are starting to realize that often they try to do too much. I realize sometime they are required to do too much—by their supervisors—but at least now, they are replying with a voice of reason as to why they may need to stop and take stock of what they are doing and why they are doing it. They want their work to be purposeful and they want each and every action to support that purpose.
Simultaneously, they are also realizing that they just can’t continue doing more and more. In order to manage their workloads (and we all know so many educators’ workloads are over the top), they are rethinking what they do and why they are doing it and this is where intentionality gains respect and momentum. As with so many endeavors, the first step is recognizing that something needs to change. I am so grateful to have experienced so many consecutive museum division pre-conferences; otherwise, I might not have witnessed this sea change. Intentionality is hard, as our last post so noted. I take a little bit of comfort in thinking that maybe RK&A can help by continuing to work with museums that want to become more intentional in their practice. Maybe our blogging will help, or this article that I wrote in 2007. I hope so—the future is looking brighter, thanks to art museum educators’ passion for wanting their work to make a difference!