When the museum opened its gates for last month’s ARTafterDARK, teacher liaison Jenny Engle headed for the European and American Art galleries and stood watch. If all went to plan, a group of teaching professionals would find their way to the gallery for “Teachers Take on the Galleries,” a new activity for ARTafterDARK-loving educators to discuss art, practice viewing strategies, and create networks.
“This was the second time we tried this, and we wanted to start out really casual,” Engle said. “No big advertising really; we just wanted to see who turned up.” Engle’s idea for the activity emerged from a recent trip to New Orleans for an annual conference of the National Education Association, where she heard other museum education specialists share their methods for teacher engagement.
“We wanted to capture teachers with something we already had, and we already have ?art, so it was a no-brainer. I assumed there would be teachers among the thousands of people who show up.” In May and June the activity drew together spontaneous cohorts of six educators—ranging from elementary school teachers to a special effects makeup instructor.
So while the wig-wearing masses (the theme was Wig Out) were dancing shoulder to shoulder in Luce Pavilion on June 26, Engle was urging six teachers to slow down and consider Morris Louis’s large abstract painting Turning in the quiet gallery—as the museum does on the annual Slow Art Day.
“It was interesting to see a small group of people looking at the work of art for five minutes, and talking about it,” Engle said. “One teacher said, ‘You know, this is my favorite painting to hate in the museum. I love coming here and bringing my students to look at it because I feel like it’s not finished.’ But another teacher made it very personal. He thought of it like cliffs, specifically on Moloka‘i, at Kalaupapa, from an experience he had hiking up and down the switchbacks. Whereas another teacher said it reminded her of three drums because she is a taiko drummer.”
In May, the focus was on the murals Eugene Savage painted for Matson (pictured above). Engle plans to keep moving the activity around the museum, giving teachers the chance to free-associate, try out ideas on each other, in essence, to think like their students.
“I feel like it could be valuable,” Engle said, “something as simple as giving yourself time to look.”