Lesley Wellman, Hood Foundation Curator of Education at the Hood Museum of Art, was selected by the National Art Education Association (NAEA) as the 2012 National Museum Art Educator of the Year. This award recognizes the exemplary contributions, service, and achievements of one outstanding NAEA member annually at the national level within their division. The award was presented in March at the NAEA national convention in New York.
"I was delighted to learn that Lesley had been honored with this prestigious award," said Michael Taylor, the Director of the Hood Museum of Art. "This recognition by her peers is richly deserved and reflects her high standing in the museum field, as well as her astonishing dedication and achievement as a museum educator."
At the Hood Museum of Art since 1990, Lesley puts best practice first regarding audiences, interpretation, evaluation, and collaboration. An awareness of audience and multiple ways of accessing and learning from objects has long been the cornerstone of the museum's teaching mission. Along with her education colleagues early in the 1990s, Lesley examined a number of alternatives before developing the Hood's Learning to Look method for teaching audiences to interpret art, privileging strategies designed to engage the learner more deeply in object-related critical thinking, research, and interpretation.
Anne Manning, Deputy Director for Education at the Baltimore Museum of Art, offered this reflection on Lesley's work: "At the Hood, Lesley has gracefully positioned the education department and education activities at the center of the Museum's mission. The programs that she and her colleagues create and implement are elegantly designed, supremely well-organized, and accomplish what matters most— connecting visitors with each other and with art in deeply meaningful, often transformative, ways."
Lesley's practice has always attracted support and attention from those who care deeply about museum education. The Hood was one of the few museums that received a ground-breaking Museum Collections Accessibility Initiative grant from the Wallace Foundation in the 1990s, and Lesley has continued to be involved in fundraising, with the result that most of the activities in the education department are funded by individual and foundation-funded endowments.
Lesley served as director-elect and then director of the Museum Division of NAEA from 2007 to 2011. She has always been committed to mentoring her education colleagues at the Hood, and they have continuously presented the museum's work on panels at NAEA conferences on such subjects as family programs, docent and education professional interactions and collaborations, and art and medicine, among others. Lesley's recognition as 2012 National Museum Art Educator of the Year recognizes that the leadership, vision, and talent that she puts into her work at Hood Museum of Art extends to a deep dedication to the field of museum education at the national level.
Responding to news of the award, Lesley commented: "I feel deeply honored to receive this award, particularly because the nomination and evaluation of candidates is done by peers from art museums across the country. This recognition is very meaningful to me. The deepest honor, however, is to get to do work that I love on a daily basis. If I can help create opportunities for museum visitors to engage with and learn about art, and the world of ideas, experiences, and emotions it represents, and if I can help people understand the relevance and value of art in our lives, then I feel that I have provided something of value."
Nominees for this award are evaluated based on their leadership and contributions to NAEA, and to the art and museum education field as a whole; honors or grants received; their history of published work (printed and on the web) and project planning and implementation; and their accomplishments in teaching and program development for various audiences. Letters of support written by colleagues play a pivotal role in the review process, providing testimonials to exemplary teaching and leadership.
When presenting the award at the national convention, Anne Manning, who is the current Director of NAEA's Museum Division, commented about Lesley: "She was a strong and influential voice in shaping NAEA position statements which articulate the association's position on key issues of national importance. During her tenure as director of the division, Lesley was instrumental in launching the Museum Education Research Initiative, an initiative that at its core seeks to articulate the value of art museums to society. During countless conference calls, Lesley helped the working group craft a framework, research questions, and a sensible process for moving the initiative forward and including as many voices as possible. Her ability to articulate big ideas with simplicity, practicality, and often beauty—and to help others to do the same—is just one of her many leadership skills."