Category Archives: Ideas

Podcasts from the museum

I’m not sure how into podcasts you are, so at the risk of assuming too much or too little, I want to share something with you.

I got into podcasts during grad school, when I had an hour long transit trip to and from campus each day. I was studying in the US, and although I scoffed at the introductory workshops for international students when they warned of culture shock, I was fully and completely in its throes. So I picked one that I had heard years before on the radio, and remembered that I liked, because I hoped it would help me relate to my new home. It was called: This American Life.

Each episode shares stories around a theme, usually from a journalist or other interesting person, told in narrative and conversational form. Often they’re surprising, heartwarming, shocking, or funny, in some combination. My favorite though, is all of those and of course, it’s got a museum theme.

I’ve been holding off on writing this blog post, because I wasn’t sure how to share this one show with you, without spoiling the episode. While doing a bit of research, I learned just how many museum based podcasts there are… SOO MANY. There’s just a whole lot, and at the risk of stereotyping museums, a fair number of them are boring. I thought if I share some that I’m pretty sure aren’t boring it might be helpful. Plus, with a list I can tell you about This American Life without writing about the story, so you can hear it for yourself. So, here’s a few humble recommendations:

1. This American Life’s “The Feather Heist.” This episode provides a starting off point for a lot of interesting thinking to me. Some of my favorite themes to think with include the “value” of collections and to whom, security in museums and our obligations to collections in relation to our budgets, and the global impacts of fashion (which museums are definitely implicated in, although my wardrobe is not good evidence of this).

2. Everything is Alive‘s “Connor, Painting”. This show is a really interesting way to think about objects. The premise is a talk show in which the host interviews objects, who tell their life story. It’s a perfect fit for the “empathy” theme that directs our work in Open Minds, and it’s super fun to listen to. Just a warning:  there is some sexual innuendo in this episode. Although the magic trick of sexualizing a painting is pretty hilariously bizarre, it might not make sense for young ears.

3. NHM LA Talks by Natural History Family of Museums Los Angeles County. This podcast has too many good episodes to name. Today I listened to one called “Mostly Dead is Slightly Alive” which turned out to be about zombies, neuroscience, and history. The series explores a variety of topics from across the sciences, with perspectives from academics, museum folk, and a whole bunch of plain old fascinating people. This podcast also has an episode about the subject of the feather heist, so you could cross-reference.

4. Working’s How does a Museum Specialist Work? This podcast from Slate explores “what people do all day at their jobs” It has so many interesting episodes for young minds, (umm… but also some episodes that are NSFW, so… use with discretion), including a whole pile of museum related episodes about working as an art auctioneer, an archaeologist, a librarian, a set of jobs at MoMA, and a few jobs from the museum world’s unruly cousins: aquariums. This episode is about Mary Elliott, a curator with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, the newest Smithsonian institution on the National Mall. I’ll be honest, this podcast has a bit of a slow burn for me, but even just the idea of it opens some interesting thoughts.

5.  Intangible Alberta by the Royal Alberta Museum. This homegrown podcast is pretty new, and only has a few episodes. I listened to one called Ghosts in the Vault, which  probably isn’t great for nervous folks. But, ghosts are sort of friends of museums, and their presence is often a source of wonder for kids. There’s some interesting space in this episode to think about how stories are constructed, and respect for people and belongings.

Bonus:  You’re Wrong About‘s Yoko Ono Broke Up the Beatles: This podcast uses NSFW language, but I threw this episode in here because their whole ethos is looking deeper and allowing things to be as complicated as they really are + Contemporary Calgary has a YOKO exhibit coming up this spring!

All of these podcasts are free either directly from the web, or from a variety of podcasting apps, but send me a message if you have any trouble finding them. Oh, and if you’ve heard some good ones, let me know!

 

Putting things in Order

I’ve been re-reading Foucault’s The Order of Things (in the hopes that I’ll understand more of it the more times I read it – which I’ve usually found to be true, among the many, many philosophers whose work I struggle to understand), and came across something great. I remember, the first time I read it, I had so many feelings – but the biggest one was wonder.

In this book Foucault introduces a taxonomy of animals, supposedly from a Chinese encyclopedia, but more likely from the fantastical mind of Jorge Luis Borges (Edward Siad might have something to say about the way this list has been taken up in the west, but we won’t go there). The list is a proposed classification system of animals, that divides them into 14 categories, and it goes like this:

  • Those that belong to the emperor
  • Embalmed ones
  • Those that are trained
  • Suckling pigs
  • Mermaids (or Sirens)
  • Fabulous ones
  • Stray dogs
  • Those that are included in this classification
  • Those that tremble as if they were mad
  • Innumerable ones
  • Those drawn with a very fine camel hair brush
  • Et cetera
  • Those that have just broken the flower vase
  • Those that, at a distance, resemble flies

What I (and maybe Foucault, but again, I’m struggling) think is great about this list, is how it draws our attention to the ways we classify and arrange, and reminds us that many of the things we think are natural, are actually constructions.

For example, inside the museum, historically we classified artifacts according to their materials, and where along the spectrum of progress that artifact belongs. This way of thinking assumed that there were people called “savages” and people called “civilized” and an artifact could tell you where between those two points, a group of people belonged. Many museums have rethought this perspective, and today arrange, display, and classify artifacts according to the cultural group. This sounds a lot more thoughtful, but in practice it’s complex and messy. Who gets to decide that an artifact is indexical of a group of people? If not the museum scholar (anthropologist, archeologist etc.) then maybe the community of origin? But who among them? Most communities don’t have an internal process for describing and categorizing their own culture just waiting for a museum to come ask - and if you don’t believe me, ask a few folks you know what Canadian culture is.

In a museum, the idea of a “scientific” taxonomy is naturalized. You come to a museum for knowledge about the world, so of course the museum “knows” – we’ve already built this idea into our culture. There are devices in the museum that help reify this too, from the architecture of the building (museums are intended to look grand, to make you feel small and the importance of the collection, and it’s state collector, large), to the tiny labels on all the artifacts. These labels are often called tombstones in museum parlance, which is interesting because it implies that the object is dead, and that the key information about it’s life is what it was, who contributed to its meaning, and when it was made. As a scholar recently pointed out to me, reading labels is iterative; you might read hundreds on a single trip to a museum, which is a practice that entrenches their meaning and value. When you read one, you might think “huh, interesting!” But after a day of reading labels that tell you what something is, you walk away trusting the knowledge of the museum more deeply.

While in western culture it’s common to see artifacts as non-living, many of the items in a museum come from communities  that have very different ideas about personhood. Likewise, there are many different ways to describe an artifact. Marnie and I were imagining re-writing labels according to new taxonomies the other day – thinking about what information might be most helpful for understanding something or relating to it. Here’s some of ours:

  • classification based on what was in the artists/makers heart at the time of making
  • classification based on who an item was made for (self-other)
  • classification based on the types of reasons things are made according to the maker
  • classification based on resemblance to a dog… ;)

I’m not trying to suggest that a museum designed and organized based on all artifacts proximity to dogs would be a better way to know the world (although, I would absolutely go to that museum if it existed), but it’s kind of an interesting thought experiment to examine the ways we classify. It’s also important to helping us bring empathy to a museum, because the ways I classify are much different than perhaps the ways other people would. So I’ll leave you with a few questions, just for fun: How would you order the world? How might your ways of seeing, be impacted by the order itself?

The Value of an Idea

This week, you may have seen a banana taped to well… something. These funny yellow interventions have been popping up across walls (both material, and digital), and other surfaces all week. This is because of the one used in Maurizio Cattelan’s piece “Comedian” at Miami’s Art Basel, which sold for $120,000.

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I’ve scrolled through some interesting conversations about this banana, but I generally try to stay away from digital debate, so I hadn’t said too much about it – until the kids started complaining. One of the young folks in my life is an emerging artist, she was super annoyed about the price the work fetched, given the minimal amount of technical skill used by the artist to make it – specifically relative to the amount of work she puts into her art. At that moment… I realized that, finally… all my years of arts based education had prepared me for a real life situation!!! And… what’s more, I thought if any of you were struggling to explain to your art-aware students why a banana taped to a wall means so much to so many people, I could possibly help.

Let’s start with meaning, this peice isn’t really about a banana. It’s about an idea. This type of work is called conceptual art, which is a practice in which the artist is using the materiality of the piece to draw our attention to an idea. The idea IS the art – the materials just help the artist explain it.

Conceptual art emerged with post-structuralism, which asks us to re-think our relationships to concepts and ideas. The theory goes like this:  some basic structural knowledge is necessary for us to understand any concept be it supposedly simple (like say, a banana) or complex (like say, economics). Banana is just a word, it could mean anything really, but in our culture, we know what a banana is (usually yellow, sometimes brown, fruit, grows in hot climates, etc.), and what it isn’t (a car, a skateboard, a color, a hat). A post-structural approach asks us to be mindful of the structures that allow our common understandings. BECAUSE a banana could be (and has been) a car, a skateboard, a color, and a hat – and many other things. We borrow and use parts of things to build a scaffolding that holds up meaning in our society - if I tell you this link leads to a picture of a banana car, you already have an idea what that looks like because you know what both a banana and a car “are”. Post-structuralists, like conceptual artists, are asking us to think about that “are” – they draw our attention to things that we take for granted, and ask us to examine them.

So what sort of things does a banana taped to a wall make us think more deeply about? What scaffolding is it using? For me, there’s three main reference points of banana in my life: banana as food commodity, banana as comedic foil, & banana as weapon in Donkey Kong. These reference points are of course individual, so there’s as many of them as there are people, but they’re also cultural: there are shared ideas about what bananas are and what they do that many people agree on.

When I’m looking at this work, I wonder if Cattelan is using the complex issues of the global trade of the banana to comment on commercialization in the art world? Conceptual art is, in many ways, a response to the commerciality of other forms of visual art, because it generally eschews collection, display, and aesthetic value (the purchasers of the piece in this case will get a certificate that allows them permission to mount it, using direction and specifications written by the artist). For example, this work had to be taken down before the end of the show, because of fears of damage. Thinking along these lines, leads us to wonder about the banana as perishable. Is Cattelan asking us to think about the ways that art traditions change over time, their depreciation and appreciation, and their relationships with (or apart from, due to conservation) lifecycles?

The banana was also famously used (by comedians), as a sight gag. It would be tossed, and someone would slip. That slip was not usually understated. Most often it’s an epic fall that causes the unfortunate person to land on their bottom – a reframing of their world if you will, to a new horizontal perspective. This reference has such a strong place in collective memory that it has been built into the fabric of contemporary culture through video games. Donkey Kong hasn’t had his own game since around 2014 (for Nintendo DS), but tossing a banana peel to foil your enemy is an classic element of the iconic game Mario Cart. When you toss a banana in game, you cause your opponent to slip up. If done correctly, this causes the player to lose standing, thereby reframing the in-game world. Is Cattelan demanding us to look at art through a reframing, a new viewpoint, as if we had slipped on the peel? Or is he saving us from slipping, because it’s taped to the wall? Is he asking us to see the absurdity in the piece, and apply it to other works as well?

I could go on wondering, and we haven’t even got to the duct tape yet, but I think I’ve made my point… It doesn’t matter exactly what Cattelan wanted to direct our attention to, because we have paid attention to the work, and brought ourselves to it. We’ve used it to explore ideas. Although this work is clearly complex, with many interesting ideas inside, it makes sense to focus in on the role of comedians, who hold up a mirror to society and ask us to laugh at what we see.

I wish we had one at the museum! If we did, I’d ask students what they know about bananas, (or duct tape) and let their responses lead us into interesting rabbit holes, complex ideas, and deeply personal stories. The upshot is, I’m planning to do that with the other art that’s here anyways.

P.S. Earlier in this post I made a joke here about my educational background, and it’s an easy joke to make, low hanging fruit really – but in actual fact, I  believe that university training, especially in the arts, is a really valuable skillset that has prepared me to navigate the complexities of life (both professional and personal) in important ways. I’m a huge advocate of educational opportunities that speak to the needs of the whole person, which I feel like art approaches better than a lot of other disciplines.

P.P.S. You should know that David Datuna (another conceptual artist) ate the banana as a performance piece, and brilliantly described it as putting a question mark, after Cattelan’s question mark. Also, Cattelan has worked in with duct tape before.

P.P.P.S. $120,000 may be a lot for a banana (we could keep talking about the comoditiy trade and global poervty here) but it’s not a lot for a contemporary piece from an important artist like Cattelan who had another work recently blow up in pop culture. Many works sold for millions at Art Basel Miami this year.

Unsettling the Future – Imagining!

I went to a really interesting conference this fall hosted by the University of Alberta. The presenters were Indigenous scholars working in “research-creation” – or to put it another way, the products of their academic work is not just publications, it could be art, films, video games, anything they could imagine as a good way to share a message. I felt this was an important conference to attend, because a lot of art, and working with artifacts, is about imagining and finding new ways to share messages.

All the folks at the conference had one thing in common, they were trying to unsettle settler-colonial presence. It was the first time I had been confronted with real, intentional, active work to diminish my privilege in favor of a new paradigm for this land. I imagined that I might feel ashamed or uncomfortable in this gathering, as a white settler person myself, but actually it was really inspiring.

Sometimes I feel like intentions of Reconciliation are often sort of unspoken. We’ve more or less agreed that as a nation, we’ll try to recognize the horror that colonization caused to Indigenous people… but the discussion of this harm being ongoing, or reparations, or of the changes that this recognition could encourage is sort of absent. There is a growing chorus in the Indigenous community of discontent with reconciliation – could this be because none of us are sure of its goals or intent?

This conference made clear to me some of the goals Indigenous folks have for this land and their space (and mine) on it. The most encouraging thing I came away with – is that their intent feels like it would make this place better for us all. Far from imagining a world where settler people are relegated to some contemporary-reserve-like-retributive-space, the future these folks aspired to was one in which our relationships to each other and the world around us  are central to the ways we interact together: thus all our decisions are made based on our needs to support and sustain each other. If this sounds a bit utopic, fair… so I’ll include some highlights from their work that are bounded in reality. Hope you enjoy!

Jason Edward Lewis… co-wrote this really interesting essay, and also does really fascinating work with game design and arts based technology.

Mandee McDonald… is engaging in research that she envisioned that would allow her do spend as much time as possible doing her favorite thing in the world – tanning hides with her friends. Her work explores how embodied experience is rewarding and meaningful, and worth pursuing.

Elaine D. Alexie… makes beautiful jewelry, and has an inspiring life story. She presented on museum research and material culture.

Open Mind – Outsider Art

For those of you coming to the museum this spring we’ve got an interesting exhibit on deck. It’s a photography show, the art of Vivian Maier. I’m not well versed enough in photography to be able to speak to this work in a more meaningful way than Glenbow has already used… here’s what our team has to say about it:

“Vivian Maier’s life has proven to be one of the most enduring and fascinating art world narratives of the last decade. The story of this Chicago-based nanny who pursued photography in her spare time inspired an Oscar-nominated documentary film and several books. Through her furtive pastime, Maier eventually amassed more than 2,000 rolls of film, 3,000 prints and more than 120,000 negatives, which she shared with virtually no one in her lifetime.”

I’ll admit, I’m not particularly interested in the content of this show (she says before it opens, then usually falls in love). BUT… I am absolutely fascinated with the legal and ethical complexities of outsider art - particularly pieces where the maker has died.

For me, Maier’s work implies an important question – what is art?

While she was alive, most of Maier’s photographs were undeveloped. Not much is known about her, but there are a few important details that can help us approach thinking about her work. It seems that she was not well resourced. Shortly before she passed away, she was depending on the help of the now-grown children she once looked after, for financial support. Those who she worked for also suggest that she was an extreme collector, sometimes in possession of stacks and stacks of newspapers (I’m not sure how to take this, doesn’t it make her sound like an archetypical hoarder? Almost too perfectly so). Likewise, her previous employers and their networks give conflicting accounts of her personality – some indicate she was like a “real life Mary Poppins” while others say she was frightening and abusive. The case I’m trying to make here is that she was vulnerable in complex ways, and I wonder if her photographs should be considered “art” or an expression of her struggles. To put it another way, I wonder about her intention.

What does it mean to make art? Is it a universal human expression? Or a western construct with particular modalities and frameworks? Does the maker’s intention matter?

Another person who has been made into an outsider artist posthumously is Henry Darger. His vulnerability was much less opaque, raised in an institution, escaped at sixteen, living on the verge of abject poverty, and attending Catholic mass up to five times daily, Darger clearly lived with hardship. Upon his death, his landlords discovered his work: 15 145 page volumes of a piece entitled The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What Is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, along with hundreds of illustrations in watercolor collage. They had his entire apartment preserved, and unbeknownst to him, Darger has become one of America’s most important outsider artists.

Darger’s life in particular gives me pause – what right have we to his work? Neither he, not Maier seemed to have intention to share their productivity with the world. Was this because they didn’t have access to art world connections? Because they were too impoverished to spare resources towards promotion? Because they lacked self-confidence that their work would be valued or understood? Or because they weren’t making art, they were in fact making something else. What if that something else was deeply personal? What if they never intended to share it (indeed, they clearly didn’t).

I have debated and discussed the ethical concerns I have with this type of outsider art in a sort of green eggs and ham style for many years now, and not come to many solid conclusions.  Much greater minds than mine have puzzled over the financial questions of this work, which adds still more layers of complexity to consideration. In the case of Meier, possession of the negative isn’t the same as holding copyright, and courts have long discussed who owns the rights to share and sell her work.

One thing I do know: I and many others have gotten a lot of enjoyment from outsider art (perhaps not to the degree that John Maloof, the primary dealer of Maier’s works who purchased them at auction for a pittance, does). Both of them have inspired several films. Darger’s work is set to music by the band Vivian Girls, named for his central protagonists, and can be seen in video games, comic books, literature, and poetry. In the spring, I imagine many Calgarians will benefit from Maier’s work as well, maybe finding beauty, inspiration, or self reflection in the photographs.

As I’m looking, I’ll wonder whether our enjoyment is justification for what I think, is probably, a kind of theft. She didn’t share this with the world, it was taken, without her permission, and shared. But I’ll also wonder whether the dead should have more rights than the living, and whether maybe she would have shared it if she had the chance.

You might be wondering if it’s appropriate of me to be asking these questions, considering my place at the museum. I think asking questions like this about art makes our experiences with it more rich. I think we owe it to our mission as museums to ask important questions, and to engage ourselves fully and complexly while we look. To enjoy, and to ask ourselves about our enjoyment, what allows us to experience it? What privileges, what paradigms, what laws, what actions… So far from dreading the arrival of this new exhibit which stirs complex feelings in me  - I can’t wait till it’s here.

 

“Honoring who we are” is rooted in honesty

I recently read an article about a project at the Brooklyn Museum where folks who have been charged with a minor offense can avoid jail or court appearance by participating in an art empathy program.

I’m not sure what the program entails, but looking at the art they use, I can begin to imagine. In the museum, we often talk about how artifacts & art tell stories. We love to tell the ones that show the beauty of humanity, and the thoughtfulness and care that an artist puts in to their work.

But those artifacts often tell hard stories too. Sad ones about challenging personal experiences, or about the systemic hardships that whole groups of people face. We wouldn’t have such beautiful Yoruba works in the west Africa gallery without the history of the Atlantic Slave Trade. The beauty of the rocks and minerals stand in contrast to the dark scars on the land that mining causes. Our Indigenous collections hold legacies of theft and genocide.

Each of these stories are complex, when we use the word story it’s a convenient shorthand, but if you’re thinking of children’s stories that’s not what I mean. In these stories, there are no neat categories, no “good characters” and “bad characters” – although there are plenty of humans, more than humans, and other beings too.  In the modern world with so many demands on our time and attention it feels (to me at least) that binary thinking provides some easy answers to challenging questions. Yet this is the kind of thinking that leads to seeing “ourselves” and “the other” everywhere we look. It’s the kind of thinking that encourages judgement instead of compassion. It’s the kind of thinking that doesn’t allow time to really consider all the stories.

If we want to really understand, we need to take honest looks at the stories in these artifacts, and sometimes that requires a lot of courage. We might discover things about our past, or even our present that make us uncomfortable. We may see reflections of our legacy that we don’t recognize ourselves within. We might have to grapple with new ways of thinking about things we thought we knew. All of this is hard work.

This is the kind of work that it seems to me this program at the Brooklyn Museum is doing: having a close look at a work, and reflecting on what it says about society, our world, and ourselves. Their work shows that this type of engagement can be really productive – and by extension, that museums that help us think in new ways can be really productive. When I’m working in the museum, I’m always working at this. To try and help guests and students see the stories that are there with a compassion that helps us all exist in kinder ways. Sometimes this means working through some challenging ideas, but I believe as long as we’re working on them together, we’ll get somewhere new, and hopefully better.

When you come to the museum, expect honesty, and bring your courage (too). It’ll be beautiful, it’ll be surprising, it’ll be hard, but it’ll be worth it.

 

Does the fire draw us?

 

In 2012 I attended the Cree8 Success conference in Edmonton; it was a symposium of arts based learning for working with Indigenous communities, and it was a pretty amazing experience.

One of the most memorable presentations was given by the late Richard Wagamese. You might know that name because one of his novels (which was a Canada reads selection in 2013)  was recently adapted into a film.  When we walked into his room, an otherwise normal hotel conference space, we found it transformed by one small object. Normally at a conference, we walk in and sort of act nonchalant while trying to figure out a good spot in the middle ground between engaged but aloof enough not to look like a keener… just me? Maybe. But in this room, there was a small round light with a fan inside, made to look like a fire. The lights were dim, and we all just walked right up to the circle, and leaned in.

It turns out, the gathering power of fire is a topic that Wagamese has explored before. I recently read Dream Wheels, and there were thoughts about fire and the power it has over us in that story as well.

At Museum School we feel that sometimes we get the chance to try things out with teachers; tools, techniques, supplies, styles… things that may be different or new for teachers, that they can take back if they work well, or leave as a memory if they don’t. Sometimes we have teachers say that something we’ve introduced to them won’t work so hot for their current class, but would have been amazing for their class two years ago… sometimes its the other way around. We like to be a place for experimentation – a place to try new ideas, take risks, and explore.

So… here we go on our next experiment. We want to find out how our own little simulated fire might work in our classroom. We’ll be watching to see if students watch it like a real fire. Does it function like a visual fidget device? Or is it a distraction? We’ll let you know what we observe, and we’d love to hear from you after your week too… does the fire draw us?

fite picture

 

 

Learning Gender

Last year, one of the very thoughtful Museum School parent volunteers let us know that some of our ways of speaking about gender were a bit… *historic* (sorry!) We really took that message to heart, and started exploring some of the ways that we talk about people and the roles we assign them, both today (in our teaching practice) and historically (in our teaching content).

As part of this learning journey we asked for some help – the Calgary Centre for Sexuality offers workshops for professional communities to understand gender and sexuality, and some of the ways that these topics are unknowingly (or knowingly) integrated into our work with story. The whole educator team at Glenbow joined in to learn more, and we also had some of the other Campus Calgary & Open Minds sites and team with us as well.

We’re all going to have to keep working on and thinking about gender until we create safer spaces for all students to learn in (there are just mountains of evidence to suggest that safety is integral to productive learning environments). This will require strategic large scale change, as well as personal choices. Sometimes we don’t feel like we have the power to really do some of the things that are necessary for change, (in our life, in our work, maybe in the world at large…I’ll try to come back to this idea in an upcoming blog post) but there are a few small things that each of us can do… Here’s some ideas for first steps…

  1. The Centre for Sexuality folks suggested that children become aware of gender around ages 3-4. This reminds us that when we’re working with students, they’re already aware of gender and interacting with it as a concept in many ways. We don’t need to be afraid that they’re too young for us to talk about gender, because children are already aware that they are living in a gendered world.
  2. Although we constantly make assumptions all day long (it’s a human survival tool, related to our beliefs and experiences), we can be thoughtful about the times we make assumptions, and the times we take a minute to ask for information instead. Creating a climate where asking is welcomed can begin with you. As an educator, sometimes I only have a minute to get students all the “housekeeping” info they need, but I always make time to introduce myself and tell the students what I want them to call me. It only takes a minute to let students know what pronouns I prefer to be called, and to let them know I’m interested to know their name and pronouns too.
  3. Another housekeeping thing that I always make time for is to share the location of our bathrooms. Our site doesn’t have any gender neutral bathrooms but I can let students know that it’s okay to use the bathroom they feel most comfortable in, or the one that matches their identity. This may go over a lot of students’ heads, but for students who are transgendered, it identifies me as an understanding adult, and our space as a safer one.
  4. Creating a safer space is about a lot more than just bathrooms though. We’ve started talking to other folks who work on the floor of our organization about all of us learning to be part of creating a safer space. We’ve also initiated some plans for signs (letting visitors know we’re working to be safer), and some discussions about other things we could do in our respective departments.
  5. When we talk about gender, we often do it kind of… sideways. Like, we’re not sitting down and saying “okay class, now we’re going to talk about gender!” rather, we’re talking about important content, and gender is part of that.  It comes up when I talk about cultural performance in West Africa, when I speak about Warrior history, and when I’m telling stories about our Mavericks. It comes up all the time, but I don’t think of it all the time. So that’s another thing to work on, just being thoughtful about the gendered expectations that exist in our stories and discussions. I believe that awareness will lead to better things.

 

Our facilitator for the workshop asked us how we feel about the word “guys” to refer to groups, and some folks said it was fine, but others felt that it could be interpreted as offensive. As an experiment, I counted the number of times I was referred to a part of a “guys” last week. In one day alone, it was 17 times. That really surprised me…(maybe give it a try yourself and see if it leads to any interesting thoughts or feelings?)

In that vein, one challenge that comes up a lot for us, is how to refer to a group of students without calling them “boys and girls” so here’s a list of ones we came up with:

  • Friends
  • Students
  •  Learners
  • Explorers
  •  Scholars
  • Empathizers
  • Scientists
  • Creative minds
  • Mathematicians
  • Artists
  • Problem Solvers
  • Creative Thinkers

Hopefully this is heading in a more helpful, kind, and considerate direction. Let us know your thoughts.

Places for Understanding Who We Are

In early march, we had a (n actually, not so rare) bit of serendipity at Museum School. As John Ware School was preparing to use the Museum as a place to investigate the connections between citizenship and identity, Glenbow had just opened a contemporary exhibit about artist’s experience of place! The gallery’s pieces, including ‘s Jim Me Yoon’s Regard (which in itself is a reflection of Jim Me Yoon’s moving Group of Sixty Seven), Kimowan Metchewais’ Cold Lake Venus, and Maxwell Bates’ Tourists in Victoria, provided rich opportunities for us to examine national culture, what it means to be Canadian, and how place and identity are related.

If that wasn’t enough, by pure chance, the Glenbow Museum was also selected as a site to host a Citizenship Ceremony on the last day of John Ware student’s visit!

There were a few strokes of luck here, firstly, that everyone at ICC was so very accommodating when we told them we wanted to bring 30 extra people, and their journals, to their ceremony. Secondly, that the students were exactly the special people that they were, because the ceremony was both long and incredibly important; these students fully embraced the need for them to witness, and not detract from the moment for the new Canadians. Thirdly, that their teacher is exactly who she is, because from the moment that we knew we had this amazing opportunity she embraced it, providing scaffolding for the students to understand the ceremony and connecting it to their learning.

Afterwards, the students expressed how surprised they were to see the diversity of the new Canadians, who were of varying ages from very young to senior, and who were from countries across the globe. They also told us how moved they were to watch the expressions of the new Canadians as pride, happiness, and even tears lit across their faces. They were impressed by the seriousness and formality of the event, and noted that when you are living in a culture, it’s hard to identify what makes is unique; but that this was a  Canadian ritual, proof of our distinct culture.

There were several special guests who presided over the ceremony, member of parliament for Calgary Center Kent Herr, Chair of the Glenbow Board of Directors Irfhan A. Rawji, respected Blackfoot Elder Clarence Wolfleg, and author and philosopher John Ralston Saul. We noted the different ways each one welcomed the newcomers based on their own culture and identity, with campaign style speeches, warm personal connections, prayer, and advice.

The highlight for me, was when we finished the week with a sharing circle, sitting under the contemplative eyes of Yoon, and her mother in the Regard works. The portraits told us that there were many meanings to the place we were sitting, and reminded us to be thoughtful about be the people we are, and the place we live.

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This post was made for the Campus Calgary Open Minds Blog then re-posed here. Head on over there to check out all the interesting things happening at sites around the city!

Strategies for bringing your ELL student to Museum School

One thing some of you asked for this year, was help supporting your ELL students document their learning, and be successful at Glenbow. We’ve been working with a few concepts for a while, testing some new ones out, and asking our colleagues, and here’s what we’ve learned…

Keep us in the loop

If you are working with ELL students, give us a heads up. We can work together to come up with some goals for that student, and some tools we can use throughout the week. We have incredible access to visuals that we can use with a bit of extra planning.

Practice thinking routines

Everyone should have a thinking routine or two that they’re comfortable with before they come. You may make some accommodations to the primary ones you use for your ELL students. Having a rubric or visual guide for your thinking routine definitely helps uptake for ELL learners (make your own, or download one).

 Bring your regular routines here

If you have regular routines around things like starting your day, changing focus, lunch and snacks, or going outside, use them here too. You may not be able to bring all your routines, but if you use a special chime, or chart, or tool – feel free to bring them here.  If you have a particular way of getting students attention, let us know and we’ll use yours. We have ways we do things at Museum School, but we’re always willing to adapt and use ways that best suit your class.

 “Teach Hub” recommends learning to Stop & Think… (the following is from their website)

Teach the “Stop and Think” strategy to help students evaluate their own learning. If you observe a student having difficulty in class, ask them to stop their work and think about the following questions: What am I struggling with? What can I do differently? What questions do I have? Who can help me answer those questions?

I think the crux here is, making an environment in your classroom where students know they can and should ask for help if they’re struggling. This is a tough one for sure (isn’t it “neat” how kids deflect when they’re struggling?), so if anyone has strategies for making this work in their classroom, I’d love to learn more.

 Do some practice sketching

Have students work with object sketching before you come. Your object doesn’t have to be something exotic (although exotic is easier to find that we think sometimes -  my young folks have asked more than once how those “big CD thingies” work, and I dust off the record player for their amazement). It’s just helpful if everyone knows that when you ask them to sketch, you’re asking them to notice detail, take time, and capture the object.

 Prepare everyone to use labels

Adding simple labels might also be a good beginning step for ELL learners, and it’s worthwhile for everyone to start something like a “word bank” in your classroom. Before a word goes up on the wall, make sure everyone knows what it means (“rough” is accompanied by feeling several rough objects etc.) If the gap between the ELL student and the other students is really big, have everyone make presentations for each word. Ask them to imagine teaching their word to someone who doesn’t know what it means. This activity can also be a reminder that part of your year long inquiry is “slow learning” – really taking the time to explore ideas and concepts.

Do you have some strategies for supporting ELL students that have worked well for you? We’d love to hear about your work in this area too!