Oberlin Blogs

Month at the Museum

February 21, 2014

Margaret Saunders ’16

It may be a little late for a Winter Term recap, but with the snowy weather finally letting up I feel as if Winter Term has really ended! This January was my first Winter Term on campus, and when I wasn't trooping through the snow I spent my time at the Allen Memorial Art Museum taking the Practicum in Museum Education course.

Taught by AMAM's Curator of Education, Jason Trimmer, the Practicum in Museum Education course has a long history in the Oberlin Winter Term tradition. During the course, a select group of college students are taught how to be museum docents and lead guided tours of the Allen using a method called Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS).

VTS challenges us to think about art as an active experience, and is not delivered as a lecture drilled in with endless facts. In VTS, museum visitors are given the chance to relate their own thoughts and feelings about the artwork and come together as a group to discover new interpretations about a piece.

A usual VTS tour goes like this: a group is given a short amount to observe a piece in silence. They are given this time to examine the piece thoroughly and form their initial thoughts. Then, the tour guide will act as a moderator and hear everyone's thoughts on the work, pointing out bridging thoughts and arguments and connecting different pieces of information. Acting as a whole, both the group and the moderator learn more about how we see and interpret art--and for those who do want facts, they are provided at the end of the session.

During the Practicum in Museum Education course, my class had interviews with most of the AMAM staff in addition to VTS practice. We went behind-the-scenes with preparators Michael Reynolds and Kendall Christian, registrar Lucille Stiger, and security officer Christine Super. We learned about the different functions of the museum curatorial staff with curators Denise Birkhofer, Andaleeb Banta, and Liliana Milkova. We also toured the Detroit Institute of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Intermuseum Conservation Association to witness how modern museums put all that we've learned into practice.

The Cleveland Museum of Art Atrium



Diego Rivera Hall at the Detroit Institute of Art



Willard-Newell Gallery in the Allen Memorial Art Museum (source)

Though this class was practically tailor-made for me (an Art History major with museum-oriented career goals), there was plenty of variety among the students in my class. Some were English majors, some were from the Conservatory, some had Visual Arts backgrounds, and some had never taken an Art History class at all. Jason and the AMAM staff welcomed us all, and our different academic backgrounds made for a stronger and more interesting class. Overall, the Practicum in Museum Education course comes highly recommended by me, and I encourage you to apply next Winter Term!

If you'd like to get to know the Allen more intimately without taking a Winter Term course, be sure to visit our First Thursday events and weekly Sunday Object Talks, given by my classmates! You can also follow the AMAM through Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Vimeo, or their website.

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