Archive for the 'Education' Category

Going Back to School: The College of Charleston at the Gibbes

This Fall, the Gibbes Museum was the host site for the College of Charleston class for Art History/Studio Art (340/335), on Wednesdays from 1:15 to 4:00. Gibbes Fellows and Museum Educators were offered the opportunity to audit the class alongside the college students. I was excited to take advantage of the access to professors Marion Mazzone and John Hull, but knew that “going back to school” would present me with multiple challenges. I felt prepared for the art history content, however the in-gallery drawing assignments were very intimidating. Having never participated in a studio art class, I found the sketching of art works in the museum difficult at first. However, I persevered, and with the help of Professor Hull, I discovered I could actually draw. Through this experience, I developed a new appreciation for composition and all the elements that contribute to a finished work of art.

The Source, 1914, by Edward Middleton Manigault

As a class, we were able to view many art objects from the museums archives, as well as those on display in the galleries. The art-historical insight that Professor Mazzone shared about often unseen works of art in the museum’s collection was extremely enlightening and useful to me as a museum educator. I began to relate to works of art that I had previously passed by in my tours. Of particular interest was The Source, by Edward Middleton Manigault, located in the main hallway on the first floor. I had previously avoided the dark and foreboding scene, but with Professor Mazzone’s help I came to appreciate the artist’s use of color—specifically, the blending of various shade of blues and greens throughout the painting. Manigault’s choice of subject matter reflects back to the classical period of art and the influences of Greek mythology. I realized how lucky we are to have this artist’s work at the Gibbes, because his works are relatively few and highly esteemed.

I am already looking forward to auditing another College of Charleston art class in the future, perhaps to test some of my new found skills.

Annette Wanick, Gibbes museum educator and guest blogger

Learn about other continuing education classes at the Gibbes Museum on our website calendar.

Community Days for Everyone

Cassandra Whiteside creates her own artwork.

Cassandra Whiteside creates her own artwork. Photo by Julia Lynn

As the Associate Curator of Education, Community Days are a highlight of my job. I organize these family-friendly, free days four times a year. But Community Days are not just for families. I love seeing young adults or elderly couples walking through the galleries. It warms my heart to think that by making the day free and accessible, new visitors may walk through our doors. I hear much too often that parents are scared to bring their children to an art museum for fear that they will talk too loud or touch something. My hope is that Community Days help everyone realize museums can be fun for all ages.

A young artist at work in the galleries.

A young artist at work in the galleries.

A volunteer helps with face painting activities.

A volunteer helps with face painting activities.

Our collection is so important to Southern culture and history. We make it a priority to provide opportunities for visitors to enjoy our galleries without a fee. This year we are able to do so with the help of Roper St. Francis Healthcare, and in past years we had the support of the Junior League of Charleston. Both the Junior League and Roper have helped us not only financially, but as importantly, by supplying wonderful volunteers to help me staff these days. For example, the volunteers act as ambassadors for the museum by meeting and greeting visitors and managing the hands-on art activities.

A choir from Blessed Sacrament School sings carols in the Rotunda gallery.

A choir from Blessed Sacrament School sings carols in the Rotunda gallery.

I strive to have music or dance performances at each event. In the past we have had groups such as local church and school choirs, a Charleston Academy of Music student, a local ballet troupe, and even an up-and-coming teen rock band! Roper physician Dr. Johnny Weeks will perform at this Saturday’s event. Yes, doctors are multi-talented and enjoy the arts, too!

The 3 Dudes on the front steps of the Gibbes.

The 3 Dudes perform on the front steps of the museum.

I like to think that Community Day visitors will return for more artistic inspiration down the road. Maybe they will become members, bring a friend the next time, or just reflect on an artwork that brings back good memories. We are Charleston’s only visual art museum. We belong to this community and it is my job to make our galleries accessible to everyone… at least four times a year!

A family explores the galleries together.

A family explores the galleries together.

I hope you will join us for an upcoming Community Day on December 10, February 25, or April 21, from 10am – 1pm.

Rebecca Sailor, Associate Curator of Education, Gibbes Museum of Art

Making Time for Art

The watercolor studio

Instructor Mary Lou Bloise (center) shares information with students.

I saw an announcement in the Post and Courier about a watercolor class at the studio of Mary Lou Bloise offered by the Gibbes Museum of Art. The notice intrigued me. I hadn’t had much experience with watercolor except for a brief six-week period on a cruise ship, offered as an enrichment program while at sea. I enjoyed the experience and upon my return to Charleston, I rushed to purchase art paper, watercolors, brushes, and books. I even bought a DVD with watercolor instructions, but as time passed, I never opened my supplies. My enthusiasm for this art medium had been replaced with day-to-day busyness and my art supplies sat on a shelf. I decided to sign up for the classes offered by the Gibbes. I was excited to reunite with my old friend watercolor! The day before the first class I drove to the location to be certain I knew exactly where it was and how long it would take me to get there. I took my art supplies off the shelf, placed them in a canvas bag, and I was ready to start.

When I arrived for the first class, I was greeted by the warm, smiling, friendly face of the instructor Mary Lou Bloise. Her inviting demeanor made me feel at home. The space was set up as an artist’s studio and her love of art infused the room. There were five students in the group and Mary Lou gently guided us. My earlier watercolor experience came back to me, although it was very elementary, and I was open and willing to learn more.

The first lesson was about brush strokes. We were instructed only to use the primary colors. As I began to fill my page with red, yellow, and blue streaks and various sized lines, Mary Lou offered suggestions on how to hold the brush, the amount of water to use, and how to control the color pigment. As I examined my finished page of rainbow colored stripes, lines, and streaks, I felt reconnected with my long lost friend – water coloring! That rainbow effect was my promise of future creations, which lay within my mind and hand.

Apple Study

An apple study in watercolor.

Arriving for the second class, I saw apples in the center of the worktable. It was at this point I realized we were going to actually paint an object! I was thrilled! But before I could take brush to paper, our instructor gave a brief explanation of how to look for various colors and shadows on the apples. I carefully examined my chosen apple discovering amazing different shades of red, yellow, and a hint of green now and then. Mary Lou also pointed out how the light affected the objects. I will never view a fruit or vegetable in the same manner after discovering just how many colors are present in a “red” apple.

It took me three attempts to achieve the correct shape of my apple. The first try looked more like a red pumpkin but on the third attempt, I was pleased with the shape and coloring of my creation. At break time the group examined and chatted about each other’s work. It was interesting to see how others used different color intensity. I must admit, their apple stems were superior to mine!

Papaya with flower.

Jeannette's painting of a papaya with an orange flower.

To prepare for our next class, the group was asked to bring in a vegetable or fruit to use as a subject to paint. I chose to bring a papaya cut in half. The instructor placed complementary colored flowers beside my papaya. The lesson focused on composition and painting colors in relation to each other. I enjoyed manipulating the shape of the papaya as I painted. I discovered that if I made a mistake, I could correct it or go in a different direction. I call this a happy accident because I actually ended up with a better product than I had originally conceived.

Sadly, the last lesson day arrived quickly. Our instructor told the class to take out our T-squares and use a pencil to place lines at the edge of our paper to accommodate for the overhang of a mat if it was framed. Mary Lou had arranged a cobalt blue vase holding a purple flower, placed on a slab of marble. I felt totally comfortable as I began painting strokes to create the vase. It came together well, as did the stem and purple flower. I completed my painting by adding the gray and pink veined marble on which the vase rested.

Jeannette's painting of a still life with blue vase and purple flower

Jeannette's painting of the still life with blue vase and purple flower.

I enjoyed the classes very much, and I have a newfound appreciation for the accomplished artist. It takes a lot of practice to refine brush strokes and time to achieve the desired color by using the right amount of water for the desired hue. I look at things differently now, noticing the varied colors and shading. I think my watercolor work shall achieve satisfaction and not perfection—it is simpler and more enjoyable that way.

Jeannette prepping her paper before beginning her composition.

Jeannette Sink, watercolor student and guest blogger

A second session of Basic Watercolor with Artist Mary Lou Bloise begins next Tuesday, October 18. Contact Rebecca Sailor at rsailor@gibbesmuseum.org if you would like to register.

The Impact of Art: Peace and Healing after the 9/11 Attacks

Porter-Gaud School Student Mural

Ten years ago, I was the Lower School art teacher at Porter-Gaud School when our country was attacked on September 11, 2001. My first class period that day was free so I had stopped by our middle school history teacher’s classroom to ask him about that night’s football game. The teacher was reading the day’s announcements while the news was being shown on TV. I saw a plane crash into one of the Twin Towers and could not believe what I was watching—I thought that maybe there was a movie being shown. I brought the teacher’s attention to what I was seeing and everyone grew quiet. We quickly knew something unimaginable was happening in New York City.

I hurried back to my classroom and tried to call my husband. He was supposed to be in New York that day for a meeting in one of the Twin Towers, but the meeting had been changed at the last minute, and he was on his way to Philadelphia. When I finally heard from him, he told me that all of Philadelphia had been shut down, and people were told to go home. There was fear that Philadelphia would also be attacked.

Porter-Gaud School Students at Work

Soon, it was time for my first class of the day to arrive. Some of the children had heard what happened, while some of the little ones had no idea. I tried to teach class as usual, but it was obvious then and in the days that followed, that our lives had been changed forever. The children were drawing pictures of planes crashing into the Twin Towers and of fires. I wanted to turn this tragedy into a positive learning experience by having the children concentrate on what was so amazing about our country. We decided to create a mural to send to the people of New York City, and started brainstorming about our beautiful America and how we could express our feelings through our drawings. We talked about our National Anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance, patriotism, freedom, the bald eagle, and the American flag. We discussed how our country was coming together to help the people of New York and how everyone was showing their patriotism by flying the American flag. With all of this information the children started their drawings. The images were amazing. They drew pictures of firemen, policemen, other emergency workers, and even the rescue dogs. I knew from some of these drawings that they had seen the news. Pictures of children standing together saying the pledge of allegiance to the flag with their hands over their hearts were so wonderful. These images show the sense of unity our country experienced after 9/11 as seen by my students.

Porter-Gaud School Student Mural, Pledge of Allegiance detail

Working together, the students picked their favorite pictures to be transferred onto a large canvas. I enlarged their drawings onto the canvas and added hearts all along the border to finish the design. Once the drawing was complete, we were ready to paint. The children had a wonderful time working on the mural together and the final work shows the colorful, symbolic imagery they so beautifully created. Letters written by some of the fourth graders were added onto the hearts as a final touch. When the mural was complete and dry, I put grommets across the top so it could be easily hung. I mailed our tribute off to Mayor Giuliani’s office in New York City, and even though I did not know what happened to the mural, we felt good that we had sent our thoughts and prayers to the people of New York.

Porter-Gaud School Student Mural, heart detail

Several years later I was living in New York City when I received an email from Adina Langer at the 9/11 Memorial Museum wanting to know if I knew anything about a mural from Porter-Gaud School. Of course I said yes! Ms. Langer said that our mural had hung in Pier 94 where the victims’ families had come for help. After the center was closed, the mural was rolled up and placed in a closet. An electrician found the mural and gave it to the 9/11 Memorial Museum. Ms. Langer was happy to find out how our mural was created and has kept me posted on the progress of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.

Porter-Gaud School Student Mural, Twin Tower detail

This past spring, I received another email about our mural. This time I learned that a book was being published about the artwork sent to New York after 9/11, which included our mural. The book is called “Art for Heart” and all of the proceeds will go to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. It is so wonderful that our gift of love, prayers, and support that we sent to lift the spirits of the people of New York is going to live on and be accessible to so many.

Today, my husband and I are back in Charleston, and I have also returned to Porter-Gaud School. The children who were the first and second graders ten years ago are now juniors and seniors. It is wonderful being back home!

Laura Orvin, Administrative Assistant to the Head of School at Porter-Gaud and guest blogger

Editors Note: As we begin National Arts in Education Week, this story of how an art project was used to engage students in a discussion about real-world events is especially poignant. The Gibbes Museum works with Tri-County schools to provide in-school and on-site opportunities for students and teachers to make art and learn about the history of art through our collection. We are grateful to the teachers, museum educators and artists who share their expertise and talents with our youth.

A version of this story was reported in the Post & Courier on August 30, 2011.

What I Did this Summer—Becca Goes to Camp

I’ve been volunteering with curator Sara Arnold for a couple of years, and I’ve been able to work on a variety of interesting projects. I have helped document the Alfred Hutty print inventory, update catalogue records for publication on the museum’s website, research French miniature painters in America for the In Search of Julien Hudson exhibit, write information sheets for docent training, along with many other tasks around the curatorial department. When Sara asked if I would be interested in working with the summer art camp, I readily agreed and looked forward to seeing kids express their creativity and learn more about the fabulous collection at the Gibbes. The campers certainly didn’t disappoint.

Campers create artist palettes.   Creating a miniature portrait.

Above: Campers created artist palettes and miniature portraits.

The first session was all about portraiture, and my favorite project was creating miniature “paintings.” While visiting the galleries, the campers were amazed to see the miniature portrait collection, and were even more surprised to learn that artists used single-hair brushes to complete such small masterpieces. We used Shrinky Dinks paper and markers (a much easier tool!) to draw small portraits, and after they “cooked” they were tiny! The second session focused on Charleston artists, and we were fortunate to have local painter Tate Nation visit our class and talk about his inspiration and process.

Tate Nation visits with campers.
Above: Tate Nation visited with campers.

The last session covered the unique features of Charleston architecture, and each camper created a maquette of a Charleston single house, complete with piazzas (or porches) and a landscaped garden. Even during these hectic mornings—gluing shingles, cutting out windows, and designing yards—I could not help but think about how this magical city has intrigued artists for years, and how fortunate it is that we have preserved our history for future generations to enjoy. I was reminded of my time looking at Alfred Hutty’s Charleston prints—I could recognize the scenes he depicted because many of those buildings and gates are still here.

Adding a red metal roof.   Designing a Charleston Single House.

Above: Campers designed Charleston Single Houses.

Becca Hiester, Volunteer, Gibbes Museum of Art

It’s a Small World After All

This past April, my husband Bob and I enjoyed a stopover in Prague, Czech Republic, prior to boarding our Viking River Cruise along the Danube. In the hotel lobby introductions were being made among the passengers and we met Nancy and Tom from Connecticut, who asked where we lived. When we announced we lived in Charleston, they became quite animated and told us how much they loved visiting our fair city and that they had been several times. They visited the Gibbes Museum of Art during their last visit in October 2010, and recalled touring an exhibit entitled Face Lift with “the most wonderful docent!”

Mrs. Johnson (Estelle), 1972

I told them that I worked as a docent at the Gibbes, and agreed that Face Lift was a really excellent exhibition. At that moment Nancy looked at me and said, “I think you were our docent!!!” Oh my gosh, my goodness, how startling!!! In the middle of Prague, the Gibbes had made a connection for us. Nancy jumped up and gave me a great big hug. When I asked her if I made her pose, hand on hip with a great deal of ‘tude in front of the portrait of Mrs. Estelle Johnson, she shrieked “Yes, you did!” And that is how we became friends and laughed together for the rest of the trip—agreeing that yes indeed, it is a small world.

—Susan Wallen, Gibbes Museum Docent

Susan Wallen

Susan Wallen is a docent at the Gibbes Museum of Art.

Docent-led tours are offered free with admission at the Gibbes Museum of Art every Friday at 2:30pm.

A version of this story was published in Charleston Currents on May 26, 2011.

Rural Mural Unveilings in McClellanville, SC

Mayor Joseph RIley with student artists

Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley stands with student artists in front of a mosaic mural.

On Thursday, May 26th, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, Awendaw Mayor Sam Robinson, and McClellanville Mayor Rutledge Leland helped to unveil two murals created as part of the Rural Murals project at Lincoln Middle-High School. The event started at the Middle-High School and ended at the Arts Center with a steel drum band and a student art exhibition. Generous comments were made by all three Mayors and Dr. Commodore, the middle-high school principal. Our school and community could not ask for better advocates for the arts in education.

McClellanville Mayor Rutledge Leland, Dr. Yvonne Commodore, principal of Lincoln Middle-High School, Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley, and Awendaw Mayor Sam Robinson

McClellanville Mayor Rutledge Leland, Dr. Yvonne Commodore, principal of Lincoln Middle-High School, Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley, and Awendaw Mayor Sam Robinson

Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley with steel drum band at the Rural Murals unveiling ceremony.

Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley with the steel drum band at the Rural Murals unveiling ceremony.

On May 2nd, 2011, I was honored to receive the Mary Whyte Art Educator Award which recognizes a high school visual art teacher in the Berkeley, Charleston, and Dorchester school districts who has demonstrated superior commitment to their students and to their craft. The recognition and support that have resulted from the Rural Murals Projects have inspired me to continue my work in public art to service both our community and educational institutions. I started the project because I wanted my students to feel a sense of belonging to a larger art community, to examine the artist’s role in society, and to consider a career in art to be a valid and significant contribution to the preservation of our culture. As their teacher, I feel it is my obligation to give students experiences that allow them to develop skills and conceptual understandings so they can compete with students who have access to more elaborate art programs. I also want them to realize that money, or rather the lack thereof, is not a valid excuse not to create. I always tell my students, “Artists are born to create and so we do so with whatever we have on hand, or we find a way to get it. Look back in history… artists reflect society, tell stories, and preserve culture. You must do your part.”

Annie Purvis (center) with artists Mary Whyte and Smith Coleman.

2011 Mary Whyte Award recipient Annie Purvis (center) with artists Mary Whyte and Smith Coleman.

Artists in front of a mosaic mural at the Lincoln Middle-High School.

Artists in front of a mosaic mural at the Lincoln Middle-High School.

With just a dream and vision we embarked on what has become a significant experience for not only my students and me, but also the local and extended arts communities. I pitched the idea to my principal Dr. Yvonne Commodore, got approval from the district, made cold calls, collected materials, created lesson plans, and began learning with my students how to design a mosaic tile mural from our volunteer artist John Mark Gill. Our first mural took about 15 weeks and was unveiled May 16, 2010. Almost immediately we began planning a second mural for the school. In August, Ms. Bernadette Humphrey, director of the McClellanville Arts Center, asked me if we would consider painting an exterior mural on the Arts Center building in the center of town. My first thought was, “a free 600 square foot canvas!”  More importantly though, I knew this project would bridge the school arts program with the community arts. I met with my students and we accepted the challenge. The mural design was created by Aaron Jenkins, Lincoln’s first AP Studio Art student. Together with Jessica Cash, Tichina Simmons, and Quentin McCormick, we attended both the McClellanville Town Council Board and Architectural Review Board meetings to present the designs for approval. The mural was painted by students, with the help and guidance of the volunteer artists.

Student mixing paint

A Lincoln Middle-High School student mixes paint for the McClellanville Arts Center mural.

McClellanville Arts Center Mural

McClellanville Arts Center Mural

This spring, we worked on two landscape murals simultaneously and did not spend a dime. We collected material donations worth almost $70,000—reinforcing the idea that the arts matter to our communities and that to find support all you have to do is ask. Artist volunteers and business partners contributed to the Rural Murals project. Business sponsors Mr. Mark Campbell of Ameri-Tile Mount Pleasant, Mr. Fred Dollop of Bonitz Tile Wando, and Lowes of Mount Pleasant donated all the materials for the murals. My business, Annie Purvis Studios, also sponsored a portion of the project. Mr. John Mark Gill was the lead mosaic tile artist and Mr. Dorian Padilla, LMHS Spanish teacher, and I served as volunteer artists. The Communities In Schools coordinator, Ms. Leondra Stoney, worked with me to publicize the unveiling and invite local officials to the event. Through this project, I believe we demonstrated that if an artist wants to do something there is no limit to what can be achieved. It is my hope that these children, their families, and the community have come to see how significant the arts are in our schools.

Annie Purvis at work on a mosaic mural

Annie Purvis at work on a mosaic mural.

The Rural Murals Project met all six state and national art standards and integrated math, social studies, physical science. Based on artist interviews and on-site job experiences, students produced an authentic writing piece equivalent to senior projects prescribed by High Schools That Work literacy recommendations. We hope to publish the students’ papers along with the images of this project next year, and donate a copy to the McClellanville Library and the Arts Center. More significant to me is that my students know I have great confidence in them. I expect the best and they achieve it, every time!

After nine years teaching, I have realized that students in rural schools are at risk because they feel isolated and they require educational programs designed to meet their special needs. Arts education programs can meet learners on an individual level; elevating them, instilling confidence, and promoting self-directed learning. Educators are faced with limited funding for the arts, but can reach out and work within the local and extended arts community to provide opportunities that nurture and develop future artists and art appreciators. In my recent experience, our involvement with volunteers, business partners, and the local community brought out a deep appreciation for my students’ passion and creative expression. This project is exemplar of the arts impact in rural areas  and I witnessed it heal, change perceptions, and teach tolerance and compassion in our community. I am passionate about what we have achieved and I feel honored that I have been able to work with such beautiful and talented individuals along the way. The quote “It takes a village” has never meant more to me than it does right now. I have seen first-hand a village come together and support the young artists of Lincoln Middle-High School and I am so grateful.

—Annie Purvis, Lincoln Middle-High School Art Teacher and 2011 winner of the Mary Whyte Art Educator Award

Students show off the mosaic mural at Lincoln Middle-High School.

Students show off the mosaic mural at Lincoln Middle-High School.

For more information regarding future rural mural plans please contact Annie Purvis at Lincoln Middle-High School via email Annie_Norman@charleston.k12.sc.us or (843) 887-3244. Lincoln Middle-High School Gifted & Talented Student Artists and first year AP Studio Art student artwork is on exhibit at the McClellanville Arts Center.

Experience a Summer of Fun with the Gibbes!

Summer is here and we are excited to welcome back many familiar faces to the Gibbes Summer Art Camp, including our teacher Sally Collins. A long-time Gibbes teaching artist, this is Sally’s second year teaching summer camp. She does an outstanding job with the children, combining hands-on projects with art history. Each week-long session focuses on a theme and this year we will look at “Portraits,” “Charleston Artists Past and Present,” and “Charleston Architecture.” Children will end each week with a mini exhibit of their work for their parents to enjoy. I recently spoke with several parents whose children have enjoyed camp in previous years and wanted to share their comments, as well as some great images of campers having fun.

My son Gray has attended the Gibbes art camp for the last three years. I continue to be thrilled and amazed by the superior art instruction he receives and the quality work that is created. Each year he has produced a beautiful portfolio of work that reflects the skills he gained in painting, drawing and print-making in just one week. The Gibbes art camp provides a lively learning environment that inspires creativity and instills a true love of process. Student access to original works of art within the museum is an added bonus. My son returned from camp each day talking about a different artist or painting from the Gibbes collection and the particular techniques employed. Not confined to the classroom, the camp also offers the opportunity to create art against Charleston’s historic backdrop. My son has always been interested in art; this camp provides a wonderful opportunity for him to measurably improve his abilities. —Zinnia Willits


Our daughter Adriana has enjoyed tremendously the Gibbes Summer Art Camps. She attended all of the sessions last summer and brought back home a diverse portfolio of artwork. As a parent and an educator, I appreciated the quality of the work my child was exposed to and was grateful for the enthusiasm of the instructors. Each day, I looked forward to the new projects Adriana brought home and I know she was proud to share them with us. —Anna Ballinger

I hope to see you this summer. If you are interested in getting more information or registering your child please call or email me at 843-722-2706 ext. 41 or rsailor@gibbesmuseum.org or you can download our registration form on our website.

—Rebecca Sailor, Associate Curator of Education, Gibbes Museum of Art

The Role of Museum Professional Organizations

The museum profession is constantly changing. New standards for collections care, exhibition design, curatorial research, digitization of information, use of social media, educational programming, membership tracking, and every other aspect of museum work are being discussed daily on list-servs, blogs, and at various gatherings of museum professionals. Museum staff need high levels of knowledge and expertise to continue to add value to the communities they serve. Conferences and relevant workshops provide opportunities for peer engagement, expansion of one’s knowledge base, and information that can be put into practice immediately. In South Carolina, one important resource for professional development opportunities is the South Carolina Federation of Museums (SCFM), founded in 1970. Today, SCFM continues to support its mission to serve, represent, advocate, and promote the best interests of South Carolina museums through professional development, public relations, advocacy, and other services.

Image: Disaster Training for Museum Collections

Participants encounter wet art at the 2008 SCFM workshop, Disaster Training for Museum Collections.

For the past year I have served as Chair of the SCFM Professional Development Committee (PDC). Each year, this Committee plans the Federation’s annual conference. I worked with a group of eight individuals from museums and historic sites across the state to organize the two-day event. As many people know, volunteer committee work can be interesting, challenging and rewarding. An assortment of people who do not know each other well are expected to quickly figure out their strengths, weaknesses, and working styles to accomplish big goals. The PDC Committee met four times over the course of the year to plan the conference. Efficiency, open communication and the ability to adapt were essential during the planning process. I learned so much about leadership, group dynamics, and how to delegate instead of micro-manage. While there are aspects of committee work in my position at the Gibbes, event planning was new territory for me. I took every opportunity to ask questions and learn from others even though I was technically in charge.

The conference occurred in March in Columbia, South Carolina and offered an array of educational sessions, workshops, tours and networking events around the theme, Museums Matter. A session called Group Think: The South Carolina Experiment was a new addition to the 2011 conference. The idea came from the American Association of Museum’s Center for the Future of Museums (CFM), an organization that facilitates creative discussions and events to assist museums in “transcending traditional boundaries to serve society in new ways.” One of CFM’s projects is called Voices of the Future, an international, interdisciplinary discussion about the future of museums and society in which a series of questions are posed and the answers shared via YouTube.

We decided to try this type of informal discussion that allowed participants to interact while considering the future of the profession. We had close to fifty people attend the session. Participants were grouped by their positions (curators, educators, development and membership coordinators, administrators, etc.) and asked to consider three questions about the future of museums. The resulting discussions were lively and interesting. Educators were particularly animated while curators had quiet, thoughtful conversations. Registrars were (of course) very organized with their answers and administrators focused on broad themes that will impact all future museums. Below are the questions and a recap of the answers that resulted from Group Think.

Image: Group Think Workshop

South Carolina Museum Professionals discuss the future of museums during the Group Think session.


#1. What are the most important trends in society that will shape museums in the next 25 years?

All groups noted that technology was a major trend which will shape the future of museums. Educators also highlighted the lack of public financing and teacher accountability/student achievement as factors that will impact their role in museums. Administrators focused on nostalgia as a future trend. Curators discussed the effect of a global economy, social networking, and a museum’s ability to offer different points of access to its holdings as influential factors. The marketing group talked about technology and advertising opportunities, and registrars highlighted environmental awareness as a trend that will continue to effect museums and collections.

#2. What is the role of virtual vs. real in museums of today and of the future?

Participants recognized that virtual experiences should continue to be used as a means to generate interest in viewing the real thing (painting, artifact, specimen, etc.). Educators noted that online activities are useful tools for supplementing museum experiences while administrators pointed out that they do exclude some demographics. Curators discussed how the virtual experiences allow broad access to museum collections and noted diverse delivery methods are also beneficial. Marketing professionals felt that local history should be used to make connections in a larger context. Registrars focused on how virtual access to original artifacts might evolve in the future.

#3. What is the future of the economics of running and supporting a museum?

Partnerships were a common theme during this discussion. Those seated at the education table stressed alternative revenue streams such as facility rentals but noted the possible impacts on a museum’s programs and mission. Administrators discussed the need to diversify funding and reduce dependence on government support and grants. Curators talked about grass roots advocacy and strategies to actively demonstrate a museum’s value to the community it serves. Marketers highlighted the need to cultivate 20–40 year olds (“grow” future donors) and position museums as a gathering place with consistent, appealing programming. Registrars focused on the need for a clear, organized plan for any project that requires additional funds.

To close the session, the entire group discussed what had been learned. Attendees agreed that the current cultural majority will change over the next twenty-five years. Museums should continue to monitor and acknowledge the changes and adapt accordingly. It was also noted that young professionals will be essential to providing input and bridging the gap between past museum philosophies and expectations of future audiences. Overall, those that attended Group Think found the experience beneficial and asked for future opportunities, virtual or real, to continue these discussions. The afternoon provided food for thought on how we can be more effective in our jobs, improve our institutions, strengthen the field and communicate the value of our museum in the future.

While my year as PDC Chair is coming to a close, I will continue to be actively involved with the South Carolina Federation of Museums and other professional museum groups. I have organized a workshop called Leadership Training for Museums Professionals which will be held in Charleston this week (May 11) and I am looking forward to presenting a session at the 2011 American Association of Museums Annual Meeting in Houston. Later this year, I will also be present a session at the Southeastern Museums Conference in Greenville, SC. The Gibbes Museum of Art has been extremely supportive of my involvement in professional organizations and I hope to continue to represent the Gibbes, Charleston, and the South Carolina at museum conferences at the state, regional, and national levels.

Zinnia Willits, Director of Collections Administration, Gibbes Museum of Art

Montessori Day School Makes Monthly Visits to the Gibbes

Elise Detterbeck and students

The Montessori Day School is taking advantage of our guided school tours in a unique way. This group of students, ages six to twelve years old, is working with Museum Educator Elise Detterbeck in the galleries once a month during the school year. Rebecca Sailor, Associate Curator of Education, has had the opportunity to observe the students as they interact with and learn from Elise. After the school’s most recent visit, Rebecca talked with Elise about the curriculum. Their conversation is below.

Rebecca Sailor: There are so many approaches when working with kids in the galleries. What have you focused on with the Montessori School group?
Elise Detterbeck: I have chosen to organize the visits by looking at different genres of painting each visit. During their first visit, in October, we explored portraits (both miniature and full size), and talked about traditional versus modern (pose, attributes, props) and how they reflect the culture of the time in which they are painted. The Face Lift exhibition provided a great resource for exploring this theme.

In November, we focused on landscapes, once again starting with traditional and ending with modern. This time we talked about composition (background, foreground, midground and the horizon line), texture, point of view (bird’s eye, worm’s eye, Dutch angle, straight-on), as well as style (realistic, impressionistic, abstract), and subject matter.

This last visit, we talked about genre pictures (pictures that tell a story). This style of painting allowed us to revisit and review what we had discussed in visits one and two, since many genre scenes have the same elements as portraits and landscapes. In addition to the discussion, I gave the children a writing project based on one of our paintings.

As for the last three visits, I am discussing plans with the teachers. These children are extremely bright, really enthusiastic, and full of energy. What a joy! I’m thinking we should do some kind of hands-on activity with them to really cement what we’ve learned. One idea is to have them create an activity book starting with December’s writing activity, which they can add to each visit. I do want to encourage them to experiment with their own styles of drawing. They draw outside while waiting to come into the museum, so I think they would enjoy it.
Elise Detterbeck and students

Rebecca Sailor: What do you hope to accomplish with this class?
Elise Detterbeck: This is a wonderful opportunity to introduce students to the art of looking. My first question is always “What do you see?” These kids are so into it that they don’t even wait for me to ask the question anymore. My ultimate goal is to teach them how to look at a work of art and be able to understand it on multiple levels. For example, what is the creator trying to express, and how does the work reflect the artist and his or her view of the world? I also want the students to explore the possibilities of what the piece means to themselves, and how it relates to their own world view.

Rebecca Sailor: What do you feel are the benefits of monthly visits?
Elise Detterbeck: I worked in Chicago at the Terra Museum and we had some schools that came three times in a school year, but every month is even better. Multiple visits, with a small group like this, are so good because you can lay the foundation and then build on it, thus adding more and more each time you see them. And the joy of this Montessori group is that they remember so much between visits.

Rebecca Sailor: As their leader, what do you envision being your favorite part?
Elise Detterbeck: My favorite part is definitely the “ah-ha!” moment, when they use the looking strategies to figure out a work of art. They see things I’ve never seen, even after working with a piece so many times.

Rebecca Sailor: Is there anything else you want to say about your experience with the Montessori School?
Elise Detterbeck: I think my challenge is going to be to make each visit unique in its own way, and valuable to each student. That is why I want them to create something themselves, which will personalize the experience for every individual.

Rebecca Sailor, Associate Curator of Education, Gibbes Museum of Art

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