by Sandra Ben-Haim, Curator of Education at the Plains Art Museum, Fargo ND
Master’s Thesis, 2006 (Minnesota State University, Moorhead)
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Abstract: Theories of education and research about museum visitors are examined to determine definitions of effective learning and practical applications. Educational philosophy, learning models and environment and program design most appropriate for an art museum setting are identified, as well as planning strategies for the implementation of a multi-generational learning space. A case study of the planning for the FingerPrints Interactive Gallery at the Plains Art Museum is also included.
The above Baby Blues comic strip from 2005 is a poignant reminder to museum educators that we have a mountain of perceptions (and misperceptions) to overcome if we are to succeed in our work. Through innovative educational programming, art museums are striving to increase their audiences and enhance their status as viable places of learning in the community. At the same time, families and schools are also seeking quality experiences that are both educational and entertaining. The art museum tradition of passive learning (e.g. text-heavy and/or lecture format interpretation) does not inspire and engage all learners and, as in the case above, these approaches often alienate would-be visitors. Therefore, to be a relevant resource for learning and a vital presence in the community, art museums must provide learning experiences that are approachable, accessible, and engaging to a diverse audience. The intent of this paper is to examine various theories of education and research about museum visitors to determine definitions of effective learning and practical applications. To this end, I have explored and identified the educational philosophy, learning model, and environment and program design that are most appropriate for the art museum setting. I have also outlined planning strategies for the implementation of a multi-generational learning space, addressed the unique benefits of such a model when situated in the art museum environment, and included a case study of my experience as facilitator of the FingerPrints Interactive Gallery planning process for a learning environment that will be implemented at the Plains Art Museum in Fargo, North Dakota.
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