Charting a Path for the Future of Museum Education

Photo by Scott Sayre

In December 2012 a group of 22 international museum education leaders journeyed Austin, Texas, to discuss the future direction of museum education. This first-of-its kind Museum Education Summit, sponsored and supported by the Marcus Institute for Digital Education in the Arts (MIDEA), was an opportunity to both identify opportunities and address challenges that would help advance the field in the foreseeable future.  Co-chaired by MIDEA’s Executive Director Dr. Larry Johnson and Museum-Ed President and Chair of the Board Dr. Kris Wetterlund, the Summit fostered two days of deep and productive discussions.

Five key themes emerged from the conversations — themes that can help focus and guide the field of museum education through the next decade and beyond. These ideas included: growing the field; increasing collaboration among and between educators; stimulating new thinking, approaches, and experimentation; expanding research efforts within the community, and documenting the history and evolution of museum education. Fruits from this meeting are beginning to grow as each Summit participant has returned to their home institutions to identify how they can catalyze change within this sector. Summit attendee Anne Manning, Museum Education Division Director of the National Art Education Association (NAEA), has already reported back to her constituents through a full-page description of the proceedings in the February edition of NAEA News. An excerpt of the NAEA newsletter article and a link to the official communiqué is below.

Photo by Scott Sayre

Excerpt from National Art Education Association News Vol. 55, No. 1, by Anne Manning, published February 2013

In December, I had the pleasure of attending a Museum Education Summit held in Austin, Texas and organized by the Edward and Betty Marcus Institute for Digital Education in the Arts (MIDEA) and Museum-Ed. The purpose of the gathering was to convene representatives from organizations that serve art museum educators and to explore the future of museum education. Present were:

• Peggy Burchenal, representing the recently launched Educator-in Residence Program at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. (
• Christine Castle representing the Museum Education Monitor (MEM), which tracks and records research and resources in museum education worldwide.
• Larry Johnson, Alex Freeman, and Rachel Varon of MIDEA, which provides timely, succinct and practical knowledge about emerging technologies that museums can use to advance their missions ( and the New Media Consortium, an international community of experts in educational technology.
• Nicole Nugent representing Canadian Art Gallery Educators (CAGE), an association of educators from art galleries and museums across Canada.
• Susan and Richard Marcus, and M’Lou Bancroft of the Marcus Foundation, which works with Texas art museums and art educators to advance visual arts education.
• Max Marmor of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation which makes grants and offers professional development fellowships for art museum educators, among others.
• Melinda Mayer representing the Museum Education program at the University of Texas at Austin, a leading MA program for future museum educators.
• Jill Orr representing the Journal of Museum Education, the premier publication promoting and reporting on theory, training, and practice in museum education.
• Nathan Ritchie representing EdCom, American Alliance of Museums, which advances the purpose of museums as places of lifelong learning, serves as an advocate for diverse audiences and educators, and promotes professional standards and excellence in the practice of museum education.
• Margherita Sani representing The Learning Museum Project (LEM), European Union, a network of museums and cultural heritage organizations.
• Jane Sillis representing engage, an association that promotes access to, understanding and enjoyment of the visual arts in the UK and in 17 countries.
• Kris Wetterlund and Scott Sayre representing Museum-Ed, which providing tools and resources by and for the museum education community.

Each organization represented at the Summit is unique and serves a particular role within the broader museum education ecosystem. Yet, despite the differences, these organizations share a deep commitment to art museum education and supporting research, professional development, and practice.

Throughout the Summit we explored we explored the following questions:
• How is the role of the art museum educator changing, and what does that imply for organizations that support museum education and museum educators?
• Where are there overlaps in what we are doing and where are there gaps?
• How can we coordinate our efforts to address the unmet needs of art museum educators?
• What communication channels can we establish among our organizations so that we can work in concert to support our common goals?

The group spent some time discussing “wicked problems,” a term used to describe problems whose solutions are often not known until they are finally solved, the kinds of challenges that require creative solutions and approaches. Some of the topics that emerged include serving K-12 students and teachers in a changing educational and political climate; clarifying the value of art museums to communities; the challenge of informal learning within the structured environment of the museum. What wicked problems do you face in your work?

The group examined our profession’s core needs — a peer-reviewed publication, a research agenda, professional networks, professional development, advocacy tools, and a documented history. I was struck by how closely the needs of the group aligned with NAEA’s strategic goals of advocacy, community, research and knowledge, learning, and organizational vibrancy. How can the NAEA Museum Education Division play a leadership role in advancing these goals?

After assessing the challenges and needs, the discussion turned to opportunities and future possibilities. One suggestion was to form a consortium of art museum education organizations that could network to share information and resources, and address field-wide challenges. There was also interest in a dynamic, interactive online repository that would allow greater access to research in art museum education. What opportunities do you see on the horizon for the art museum education field at large?

I left Austin feeling energized and inspired by the conversation and the possibilities for advancing our work as museum educators, in our communities and world-wide. Like all gatherings of this type, we recognized that there were many organizations not represented that should be included in future conversations. The attendees pledged to stay connected and to communicate with our members and other stakeholder so together we can move these ideas forward. Stay tuned!

End of Excerpt

> Download the Official Museum Education Summit Communiqué from the NMC


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