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Event Recap: Teaching Museums in the Twenty-First Century: Moving Our Practice Forward

Hood Quarterly, summer 2013
Juliette Bianco, Assistant Director

The Hood Museum of Art hosted a major conference for collegeand university-based museum professionals, April 11–13, in the Hanover Inn’s new Minary Conference Center. Despite coinciding with the winter’s final snowfall, the conference attracted two hundred colleagues from twenty-nine states and four countries to explore new models for facilitating collaborative discourse with original works of art and material culture, and to assess the special challenges and opportunities this discourse presents for the future. Inspired by the planning process devoted to the renovation and expansion of the Hood Museum of Art by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, the conference served as a springboard for discovering new approaches to our practice, new designs for the spaces we teach and exhibit in, and new possibilities for deeper engagement with our audiences through programs and the integration of technology. The conference’s format—a combination of panel sessions, break-out discussion groups, tours, and informal gatherings—encouraged museum directors, administrators, educators, curators, and students to listen and learn from each other over the three days.

The conference’s structure was designed to model the collaborative engagement that we hope will continue to define the Hood Museum of Art’s connection with all of our visitors as we look to the future!

What we discovered will inform our application of existing best practices as we undertake the Hood Museum of Art’s most significant change since it opened in 1985. For example, it is clear that the impact of the design of the physical environment as we seek to shape thinking and support collaborative learning cannot be overestimated. The campus museum’s galleries and classrooms are holistic, networked learning environments, and those institutions that encourage “multichanneled” discourse, both literally and figuratively, will remain most relevant to the learning interests of increasingly global-minded citizens. As a teaching museum, then, the Hood is uniquely situated to support a culture in which all museum visitors, enabled by the meaningful integration of technology, are both consumers and creators of knowledge, in dialogue with art objects of cultural and historic value.

The conference raised exciting and palpable possibilities for the future, and it raised important guiding questions as well: What is the ideal museum learning environment and how do we create it? How can we design new classrooms and galleries to support experiential learning, collaborative dialogue, and interactive teaching with objects? How can we create an engaging environment for our programs? What role does technology play in this environment? What knowledge and skills are important for the ideal teaching museum professional, and how do we cultivate them in our practice?

We look forward to continuing to talk with students, our colleagues, and all museum visitors as we explore further what we learned from this conference and begin to design the Hood Museum of Art for the twenty-first century.

Hood Museum