Museum Education…Outside of the Museum

By Samantha Schafer, Education Coordinator, Citadelle Art Foundation, TX

My name is Samantha Schafer, and I fell into museum education.  I have a BA in English, a minor in Anthropology, and a Master’s in Library Science.  I started at the Citadelle Art Foundation part-time, helping archive all of their provenance documents.  I have very little formal art training – but I believe that shouldn’t stop me (or anyone) from learning about art.

Samantha Schafer, from the Citadelle Art Museum teaching a class on Spanish art in Texas

Samantha Schafer, from the Citadelle Art Museum teaching a class on Spanish art in Texas

Eventually, I was hired full-time as the education coordinator. One of the first things I did after that was to review school programs from the previous years.  We had a steady flow of elementary-aged students, but after the sixth grade, they stopped coming.

Why?

I contacted several teachers, and the answer was generally the same: time.  The local middle and high schools are on a bell schedule with fifty-minute classes. Once you factor in gathering up the class, walking over, and walking back, that left only thirty minutes (or less) for a museum tour.  So I asked myself, what could we, as a museum, do to make the best use of the teachers’ and students’ time?

The answer was surprisingly simple: we take the museum to the classroom.

Once I had that epiphany, I approached our director with the idea for outreach programming.  I would put together a program that tied an art topic into the teacher’s curriculum and present it in their classroom, with an option for an art activity.  I would use pieces from our current collection, when possible, as examples in the presentation.  The director approved the idea, so then I approached several teachers about possible outreach programs in their classroom.

The Spanish teacher was the most receptive.  Since Spanish is not one of the core subjects requiring standardized testing, she has more freedom in her curriculum planning.  She wanted me to talk about major Spanish and/or Hispanic artists to her class to add to their broader understanding of Spanish culture.  We agreed to a timeframe of a lecture per week for six weeks, to start January 15th and end on February 19th.  Each program would feature a lecture (roughly 20-30 minutes) and an art activity.

Student made Mesoamerican art from classes with the Citadelle Art Museum in Texas

Student made Mesoamerican art from classes with the Citadelle Art Museum in Texas

I wanted to cover a variety of artistic styles and movements with the students. After several days of research, I had a list of possible topics.  Following an email exchange with the teacher, we finalized it to these six lectures:

  • Mesoamerican Art
    • Subject: the Olmec, Aztec and Maya
    • Activity: Mayan glyph drawing
  • The Art of Al-Andalus
    • Subject: Islamic architecture in Spain
    • Activity: Mosaic coloring sheets
  • Masters of Spanish Art
    • Subject: El Greco, Diego Velazquez, and Francisco de Goya
    • Activity: ‘Las Meninas’ worksheet
  • Posada and His Calaveras
    • Subject: José Guadalupe Posada
    • Activity: Calaveras decorating
  • Modern Art
    • Subject: Pablo Picasso and Joan Miro
    • Activity: Modernist collage
  • Frida
    • Subject: Frida Kahlo
    • Activity: Self-portraits

The first week’s presentation went well – until it came time for the art activity.  Using this chart, I had planned to have the students create their own Mayan name glyph.  However, it did not go as smoothly as planned.  The most comment I heard most often from students was ‘but I’m not an artist/I don’t take art!’  These comments gave me an opportunity to achieve one of my main goals.  I made a point to tell the students about my non-art background, and to do the art activity alongside them.  We commiserated over crooked lines or difficult glyphs, and the negativity was replaced with discussion about the glyphs and what they could represent.

Student made Mesoamerican art from classes with the Citadelle Art Museum in Texas

Student made Mesoamerican art from classes with the Citadelle Art Museum in Texas

Each lecture contained historical information, artist biographies, and art terms.  We discussed everything from world religions to literary movements to historical fashion in context of the works we looked at.  I did not discourage ‘off-topic’ questions, because I wanted the students to be thinking about and analyzing what they saw on the screen.

“Portrait of Prince Philip Prospero” by Diego Velazquez used in classes with the Citadelle Art Museum in Texas. One of the most common questions: “Why is he wearing a dress?,” which led to a discussion on gender norms in clothing.

“Portrait of Prince Philip Prospero” by Diego Velazquez used in classes with the Citadelle Art Museum in Texas. One of the most common questions: “Why is he wearing a dress?,” which led to a discussion on gender norms in clothing.

The program was a success – so much that several other teachers invited me into their classrooms, and we are currently expanding the Spanish program in the current school year.  What I think makes the program so successful is my more ‘relaxed’ approach to art.  One of my biggest points in this lecture series was you do not have to have any formal art training to look at, discuss, make, and enjoy art.  Instead of making the students memorize artists and art terms, I focused more on interpretation and discussion of art.  I slide the art terms into our conversations, which can put less pressure on the students to remember them all.  I was excited to hear the Spanish II students mention artists we had talked about previously in the new lectures I presented this year.

In conclusion, I think it’s valuable to look at museum education from an outsider’s perspective.  Use skills from other professions (my librarian-trained research skills, for example) to enhance your programming.  Be willing to think outside the box (or museum).  And most importantly, embrace the learning process! You never know what new insight you’ll gain to an old piece of art.

Bio: Hi! My name is Samantha Schafer.  I grew up in Canadian, one of many small towns that dot the Texas Panhandle.  After years away, getting a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Arkansas, and a Master’s of Science in Library Science from the University of North Texas, I returned to Canadian, which is now the home of a growing cultural district.  I work at the Citadelle Art Museum, a world-class museum that features everything from Rockwell to Mucha, as an education coordinator.  That entails everything from teaching kindergarten students about texture and color to discussing satire and art of lithography with high school students.  I love art nouveau, art puns, and sharing my ‘fun facts,’ as my students call them, with everyone!

Contact Info: Samantha Schafer, Education Coordinator, Citadelle Art Foundation, 520 E Nelson, Canadian, TX 79014, office: 806-323-8899, email: schafer.samantha.g@gmail.com