Engaging ALL Audiences

In the art world, education not only means understanding the historical value of art, but also skills like critical thought, discussion, and even imagination and creativity. In my internship experiences that have led me to this position today, I have learned a lot about arts education and the value that is has in establishing well-rounded individuals who are engaged in their community. Art Education ties my two interests together: art and engaging the community. We typically think of young children and school-aged groups when considering both general and arts education – but I’m sure that we are all aware that learning happens throughout one’s life and that it is important to maintain it.

Here, I will briefly discuss different age groups and the value of their education in the arts while also touching on some challenges that each demographic presents.

 

Early Childhood (ages 0-5): This age group is very important to connect with and not often recognized. Working with young children is a tough task and requires much manpower, but the benefits of exposing this age group to new settings, artistic representations (color, shapes, three dimensionality), and social interaction prepare children for learning in school. Not to mention such activities make a museum a place of familiarity, comfort, and security – things necessary for later involvement with the museum!

Youth (6-12): Youth involvement in the arts is probably the most common among education programming at museums, as it is made easier with partnerships with schools. And it is a very very valuable time in a child’s life to make connections to culture and creativity. The activities that engage students with art help develop skills necessary in the 21st century include critical thinking and problem solving, creativity and innovation, and communication and collaboration, among others. The challenge presented here is the decreased funding for the arts in schools: schools no longer have the money to send students to museums. Museums, therefore, are making the efforts to reach out to schools and train teachers on how to incorporate arts into the classroom.

Families: Working with families is very important because it encourages the strengthening of familial bonds within the community. It is important for children and adults, from the same family or not, to interact in a fun and beneficial way; it helps develop refined social skills and creates a place where parents and children can have fun together. Activities geared toward families are moments that individuals can take home with them and reflect on later. This continued engagement is a way to bring consistency to cultural awareness and family bonding.

Teens: This is the group I feel is most important to connect with when it comes to art. Teenagers have a special relationship self-expression, a primary concept in art, especially modern and contemporary. Art institutions can easily harness that energy and put it to good use, helping teens develop professional skills and encourage their youthful creativity at the same time. The challenge with this age group is connecting with them in a “cool” and nonacademic way. Teenagers, I have learned, often want to be responsible for their own choices, a characteristic that needs to be respected if a program is to connect with them.

Young Adults: I feel very connected to this group as well, as I am a young adult myself. Connecting with the young adult population within a community engages a demographic that is often caught up with work and adjusting to the real world to take serious interest in cultural activities. However, engaging this age group is not only an important part of a culturally aware community, but it interests the world’s next leaders in the importance of art education and museums, and therefore, ensures the future success of the arts. Plus, just because we are “adults” now doesn’t mean that we don’t like to make art!

Older Adults: This age group is an interesting one. Many retired individuals establish hobbies, some of which include visiting or volunteering at art museums. We often see higher numbers of attendance and membership from this age group. But beyond cultural involvement, exposing older adults to the arts is beneficial for sustaining activity of the mind. Many programs are being developed around the world that provide space for individuals suffering from dementia and their caregivers to interact with one another and the art before them. The Museum of Modern Art in New York has conducted a pioneering research initiative on this type of programming and its benefits. While these programs are incredibly valuable, these programs are run with a “therapy-like” quality to them and therefore require a higher amount of resources and energy.

 

What I’m getting at with this post, and what I’m learning in my position at the Mint Museum, is that there are a wide variety of audiences that we should reach out to – for the benefit of the museum, for the benefit of the individuals, and for the benefit of the community. But I am also learning that these things take resources that are not always available. No one wants to choose between groups of people to help, but ultimately it can come down to that. Hopefully that choice is only temporary and that eventually, museums can help everyone.

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