Slow Art Day

April 12th 2014 is Slow Art Day.  A day dedicated to encouraging people to discover art and the joy of looking at art.  The day also emphasizes the idea that people can see and experience art without an expert. 

Art galleries and museums internationally are hosting Slow Art Day events.  Most events are structured to allow participants to look at art slowly, by having people look at five works of art for ten minutes each.  Participants then discuss their experience of looking at art. The simple structure makes it easy for galleries to participate.

Started in 2009 with 16 museums and galleries in North America and Europe Slow Art Day has expended to have over 210 venues on every continent in 2014. The list of this year’s participating venues can be seen here

Locally, the Art Gallery of Algoma will be participating in Slow Art Day with art viewing from 12:00-1:00pm and Slow Food Lunch in the Cafe from 1:00-2:00pm.

Rolling the Dice With Guided Tours

Our group with our tour guide at the Ermatinger Site

Interpretation can make or break a museum visit.  Context, signage, and interpretation strategies are essential to creating a heritage environment which is inviting, educational, and ultimately enjoyable.  Properly trained interpretive staff can infuse a visit with enthusiasm, context, and information that isn’t always accessible to the average visitor.  Untrained or less than great interpretive staff can also make a museum tour seem boring or uninformative.

One of the most surprising guided tour experiences I’ve had recently was at the Ermatinger-Clergue Historic Site in Sault Ste Marie.  I had previously visited this site with a co-worker who had previously worked at the Ermatinger site.  That visit was great, my co-worker talked a lot about the development of the Historic Site and institutional practices at the Site.

My most recent visit was with a larger group of 12 people and we had a formal tour provided by the Site’s curator (who was in period costume for the occasion).  Our guide focused mainly on the history of the area, fur trade politics, and First Nation-Settler relations.  The majority of the group I was visiting with was from out of town and learned a lot about local history from our guide.  I was impressed by how well she geared her discussion and annotates to the interests and learning levels of our group.  The guided tour allowed me to learn more about the site than I had on previous visits and allowed our large group to partake in a shared experience that we could then discuss in a educational context later on.

Deciding to take a guided tour at an institution can be a dice roll between getting a tour leader/interpretive staff member that is knowledgeable or one who seems to dread their job.  Which leads to the question, is participating in guided tours worth the effort?  It depends on what type of museum visitor you are and what type of institution you are visiting.  Some people like to move at their own pace and read every artifact label in sight, making a guided tour too fast paced and broad sweeping for their preferences.

Many guided tours provide collection and institutional overviews.  This can be great if you have limited time, want to learn more about contextual factors that aren’t mentioned in current exhibits, or as a new way of seeing an institution you have visited many times.  Guided tours are also great if you are visiting a museum in a large group, as it allows for a shared learning experience that is sometimes missing from large group visits to museums.

One of the easiest things to do is ask museum staff about the tour prior to taking it.  Ask about tour length, depth, exhibits/spaces covered — does the tour let you into spaces that you can’t see as a solo visitor, and about the staff leading the tour.  Alternatively, a lot more institutions are now posting detailed tour information on their website, making it possible to look into tour options before you arrive at an institution.  I find knowing what type of tour I’m entering into saves me a lot frustration and helps manages my expectations.

What was your best or worst guided tour experience? 

Hands-On: Experiential Learning at Heritage Sites

The idea of experiential learning (the process of learning through doing) is being heavily promoted in education systems right now. Hands on activities, active involvement in learning exercises, and anything other than listening to people talk are all types of experiential learning. 

Living history sites are excellent examples of heritage organizations which utilize experiential learning.  Visitors to living history sites are often engaged in what life was like at a certain time period.  This might include learning a period dance, learning a song, baking bread the ‘old-fashioned way’, helping harvest a heritage garden, spinning wool, or numerous other activities. Living history sites are designed to immerse people in the past and often do so through experiential learning.

How can (and do) heritage organizations other than living history sites engage visitors in types of experiential learning? Art institutions often provide classes which introduce visitors to a particular art form – be it pottery, drawing, or painting.  An example of this is the Whitney Museum of American Art‘s drop in drawing class, which situates participants in a gallery and provides drawing instruction.

An increasing number of museums are also offering experiential learning based educational programs.  At times these programs take on a feel of a living history and allow visitors to learn a historical skill or participate in a period celebration (eg. Christmas in the 1800s).  Museums also utilize educational reproductions to allow hands on experience with collection material. The Norwegian-American Museum‘s curator for a day program is an example of a museum program which fully dedicates itself to experiential learning.

Some archives have also moved to providing a more experiential based outreach programs for schools.  These programs often focus on introducing students to the value of historical photographs and documents.  For example, students can be sent on a source ‘scavenger hunt’ where they search through reproductions of newspaper clippings, photographs, and other material to find particular information. 


Do you have memories of a particularly good (or bad) experiential learning program at a heritage site?

Photo credit: Olds College