Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Breaking the Cycle of Youth Incarceration: museums and alternative sentencing

Back in August, I shared a blog post describing how the Eastern State Penitentiary is moving “beyond neutrality” to tackle the injustice of mass incarceration. The massive interest in that post (it is, to date, the most highly read post ever published on this blog) encouraged me to search for more examples of museums engaging with criminal justice. In today’s post Ronna Tulgan Ostheimer, director of Adult, School and Community Programs at the Clark Art Institute, tells us how her museum is playing an active role in social justice reform in the Northern Berkshire County.
The rationale underlying the RAISE (Responding to Art Involves Self Expression) program at the Clark Art Institute shares the optimistic assumption of the Center for the Future of Museums – that “museums can change the world”. Our ten-year experience with this alternative sentencing program for kids in trouble with the law proves the validity of this claim and offers a model of how an art museum can make a difference in the lives of people and communities.
RAISE participants are sentenced to our program by the juvenile court system, literally mandated to spend time at the Clark engaging with art. The five-week program is hosted twice a year, meeting once a week for two hours, and involves gallery experiences as well as group discussions and self-awareness exercises. We work with kids, ages 12 – 18, and each program serves 8 – 12 students. RAISE is based on the premise that if art is an expression of human experience and/or imagination then engaging with art offers an opportunity for contemplating the human condition, both our own and others, throughout time and place. The goal of the program is to help kids to develop a more accurate and constructive sense of self (and other) and how they fit into the larger world. RAISE gives kids a chance to get away from the buzz of their everyday lives and gives them a space to think about who they are and who they want to be. 
The participants arrive the first week looking very uncomfortable. After quick introductions, we get right into the galleries and engage with the art. We set it up so the kids will experience the process as something they are good at, something that is interesting, and something that is fun. After the gallery talk, we go back to the boardroom and do a related activity designed to help the kids look at, think about and talk about their “crime” (the reason they were sentenced to the program) from multiple perspectives, as if it were a work of art. We shift the focus from shame to exploring the context and motivation for their behavior as a vehicle for greater self-understanding and ultimately greater self-control.
RAISE Program in the Clark’s boardroom
The second and fourth weeks are devoted to learning the skills of visual analysis and interpretation. Students spend independent time in the galleries as well as participating in group processing activities. We talk seriously and intelligently, trusting and validating the participants’ perspectives. During the third week we focus on portraits, personal presentation and identity, and the idea that “what you see may or may not be what you get.” This session includes a self-portrait drawing lesson taught by a Williams College studio art professor. With her help, all of the kids draw a quality representation of themselves that they can be proud of. For many, this activity is also an introduction to drawing, a new competency; for some, a celebration of a skill that few knew about. 
RAISE student in the galleries.
By the fifth week, the RAISE participants arrive with a very different posture than they held the first week and they can hardly be distinguished from our graduate students. We tend to run the program on Tuesdays and our Tuesday admissions desk volunteer has commented that she would never change her assigned day because it is so satisfying for her to witness the transformation during the five weeks of a RAISE program. At the final session, custodial adults and court and school personnel join the program and the participants act as their guides in the galleries, followed by a reception. At the reception, RAISE staff read letters they’ve written, sharing their observations about the strengths each participant has demonstrated throughout the program. This public celebration is the first time that the participants, their custodial adults and the court personnel have all been together since the time of sentencing. Weve learned to have plenty of tissues available.
The program has been tremendously successful on many levels. In 2011, the Clark contracted with a Williams College psychology professor to conduct a three-year program evaluation. The study includes three methods of evaluation, a pre and post self-analysis measure, post program feedback from participants, custodial adults and court personnel, and an observer rating of participant behavior in the program. This research documented some of the program‘s benefits.  As stated in the the executive summary:
“The subjective experiences of the student participants and their parents were overwhelmingly positive. The students’ own words suggest that they “got” the intended lessons about art and about themselves and their potential. The results from the more objective measures echoed these impressions. Specifically, students’ pre- and post-program self-reported ratings of their opinions about art and their opinions about themselves showed statistically significant increases. The increases were particularly strong for their opinions about art; for many, this was their first exposure to art. Outside observers’ ratings of the students’ behavior during the classes (engagement, participation, socially appropriate behavior, connecting with the art, etc.) also showed large and statistically significant increases from the first to the last session. Individual graphs for each student of changes in these ratings over the five sessions revealed considerable variability among students, and unique profiles for each of the four cohorts. In all, the findings suggest that the RAISE program is working to accomplish its stated goals.”

Although the courts do not keep records of the recidivism rates for kids who have participated in RAISE, Berkshire County Juvenile Court personnel have lauded the program as “…one of the most effective and uplifting programs offered through the Berkshire County Juvenile Probation Department” and “a revelation of emotion, a moment of discovery that is as rewarding as anything I have experienced in my personal or professional life.”

RAISE has also had a positive impact on the Clark as an institution. The program has expanded our profile within the community by serving new audiences in ways we had never before imagined. Many museums in the USA and other countries have learned about the RAISE program at the Clark and are considering or have developed programs of their own for kids involved with the legal system. We are happy to share our experience with others and have developed a curriculum guide that we are glad to share as well. The RAISE program model has helped us realize new ways to make the museum relevant in our community.  Although we will always teach about our collections and exhibitions, RAISE has helped us to think in new ways about how we can meet community needs by teaching with our collection to provide relevant and maybe even transformational education programs.

If you would like to learn more about RAISE, and request a copy of the curriculum guide the Clark Art Institute has so generously offered to share, contact Ronna Tulgan Ostheimer RTULGAN (at) clarkart.edu.


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Flexible pathways to graduation in Vermont energize museum-school partnerships

I gave a shout-out to Vermont museums last September, asking them “wassup” with new legislation in their state giving students the right to personal learning plans. Nina Ridhibhinyo wrote back offering to share how she and her colleagues at ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain are using the opportunities presented by Act 77. I look forward to hearing how other museums are becoming part of the flexible educational pathways offered to Vermont students, and I’m hopeful that other states will adopt similar legislation. This could be a major step towards a future in which museums play a major role in an extended learning landscape.

Here in Vermont the educational landscape is changing fast. The last few years have ushered in new standards in math, language arts, and science; consolidation of small school districts; and state-mandated flexible pathways to graduation (Act 77). Vermont has long been a bellwether of social reform, but Act 77 stands as a particularly remarkable piece of progressive policy with significant impacts for the museum community. Passed in 2013, Act 77 mandates that schools implement personalized learning plans for students that account for individual goals, learning styles, and abilities. These “flexible pathways” require the diversification of student learning opportunities, including receiving school credit for dual-enrollment and community-based experiences. Act 77 provides great opportunity for museums to activate their roles as community partners and to engage secondary school audiences that are often underserved through traditional programs models. At the same time, it poses a potential resource challenge as schools look more and more to informal education to support individual, rather than groups of, students.

ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain
In response to Act 77, our museum, ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, is increasing access to individualized experiences for secondary school students at the museum. This work is funded by a Museums for America: Community Anchors grant (MA-20-15-380) from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and is centered around better supplying, communicating, and supporting personalized learning. However, just like schools, this approach has required us to imagine experiences beyond our standard volunteer and teen explainer tracks. Each student's needs are different depending on her interests and school program. Some would like engage with the museum’s content or experts but cannot be on-site regularly while others require on-site internships several days a week. Therefore, much of our work has been around better scaffolding and documenting flexible student internships and supported independent studies. This has included developing intake interviews that assess students’ skills and interests, creating goals and deliverables pathways, as well as launching a digital portfolio system. The overarching goal is to ensure purposeful learning outcomes and documentation of program impact. These processes have not only allowed us to serve a diversity of new students but to better serve current student volunteers. However, this work is intensive and necessitates that each student works with an educator-mentor to guide her through her experience and does not fit into any existing fee-for-service models. As the field adapts to meet the needs of 21st century learners, we will need to strategize around sustainability of these services.

ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain
In addition to internship-style opportunities, we have also partnered with schools to co-offer personalized learning opportunities in the form of year-end studies. These are multiple week institutes, in which students take a deep dive into specialized topics based on their personal interests. This year, a group of 14 students spent two weeks with us learning about lake science and exhibit fabrication. They then constructed two public, outdoor exhibits with accompanying interpretation. All of this work has been concurrent with developing a shared understanding with schools around Act 77 and its curricular impacts. Toward this end, this summer, we hosted a week-long teacher institute in partnership with a bi-school working group focused on student-centered learning. The institute paired 15 teachers with ECHO educators to unpack Act 77 and integrate it into our respective curriculums. ECHO’s journey to becoming a 21st century museum that meets the needs of individualized learners is forever evolving, but we are thrilled that through Act 77 Vermont schools now share our path.   

Nina Ridhibhinyo is the Director of Programs & Exhibits at the ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain. She has worked in informal science education for over a decade and envisions an America equally enthusiastic and enamored with science as it is with professional football. 

ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Future-Oriented Paleontology at the La Brea Tar Pits

 One of the things I love best about social media is its power to connect me with strangers. When Jon Christensen tweeted, back in November, about a panel exploring extinction and de-extinction to be held at the La Brea Tar Pits, I tweeted back inviting him to blog about the talk for CFM. (Jon’s an adjunct assistant professor at the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability as well as a co-founder of the Laboratory for Environmental Narrative Strategies (LENS) at UCLA.) I was interested in the event because the organizers promised to explore “How museum exhibitions, images and films about them shape science, laws and policies to protect endangered species”—a good fit for CFM’s work documenting how museums can change the world. Also, as a futurist married to an ecologist, I’m fascinated by the ethical and practical controversies surrounding efforts to revive extinct species.

A shaggy woolly mammoth lurked forlornly in the background behind us, as I moderated a panel discussion at the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum recently with Stewart Brand, an advocate for “de-extinction” of the woolly mammoth and other species, Ursula K. Heise, author of the new book Imagining Extinction: The Cultural Meanings of Endangered Species, and Emily Lindsey, the dynamic new assistant curator and excavation site director at La Brea, which is part of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Panelists discuss extinction and de-extinction under the
jaundiced gaze of a woolly mammoth at the La Brea Tar Pits
and Museum in Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of Evelyn Wendel. 

It’d be hard to imagine a better setting for talking about extinction, endangered species, climate change, and our hopes and fears for the future. We were also surrounded by skeletons of extinct saber-toothed cats, dire wolves, and giant ground sloths, all found in the tar pits. These specimens from the past seemed to crowd around the audience for a lively discussion about the future of this very place and the planet in the face of tremendous changes in climate and ecosystems.

As Lindsey pointed out, the tar pits are an archive of global change from the last Ice Age to the present, a period in which dramatic changes in climate and human influences on the landscape and species intersected. And the La Brea Tar Pits don’t just document the demise of the charismatic megafauna that capture most of the attention in the museum, but also have yielded millions of specimens of more than 600 other species of vertebrates, insects, and plants that have lived here over the past 50,000 years, many of which have adapted and survived into the present.

The challenge for the museum is how to make that amazing archive, which is still being unearthed daily in ongoing excavations, and the stories it tells relevant to today’s urgent conversations about climate change and the possibility that we’re living through the sixth mass extinction on Earth, this one caused by us. The panel was part of the museum’s efforts to experiment and explore the role it can play in the future, and it was co-sponsored by UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, where Heise and I are on the faculty.

And who better to kickstart such a conversation than Stewart Brand? Founder of the Whole Earth Catalog and the Long Now Foundation, Brand is an advocate for expanding our thinking to ten-thousand-year timeframes, for the future as well as the past. Brand presented his fantastic-sounding, but utterly serious, and scientifically possible scenario for recreating a woolly mammoth using cutting-edge gene editing techniques. The plan is to take DNA recovered from mammoth specimens in Siberia and place it into elephant embryos, tinkering with combinations until we create a reasonable facsimile of a woolly mammoth that can play a role in “rewilding” appropriate habitat in the far north. The same gene technologies could be used to turn a band-tailed pigeon into a passenger pigeon, he said.

Lindsey was skeptical. There have been such enormous changes in the habitat that these species depended on, she said, that it’s hard to imagine them thriving as wild populations. Instead of trying to recreate lost species, we might be better off using the lessons of the past to figure out how living species can navigate a landscape that is being transformed by humans and climate change.

Regardless of whether “de-extinction” ever succeeds, said Heise, it’s a fascinating narrative twist, the obverse of the gloom and doom narratives of loss that dominate the ways we generally talk about endangered species. Brand’s vision is a hopeful and creative one, she said, and it holds out promise that we might redeem ourselves in some ways from the environmental damages wrought by humans.

Museums, along with books, films, other media, and arts, have all played enormous roles in shaping what Heise calls the “cultural imagination,” which is in many ways just as important as the actual science of endangered species and extinction. And museums, as well as other cultural institutions, can play important roles in imaginatively refashioning the ways we think about conservation, too.

The Natural History Museum’s Urban Nature Research Center and citizen science projects are helping to change the way Los Angeles is seen, from the wasteland it is imagined to be in popular culture to the biodiversity hotspot it is in fact.

The Natural History Museum has an official statement on evolution, and it is now researching a statement on climate change. Several other natural history museums have already issued such statements.

Arguably more important than an official statement—which, to be sure, can help the museum work out its position—is the work of opening up the museum for conversations about living on a changing planet. Research has shown again and again that hammering people with facts and positions does little or nothing to change minds, let alone open hearts.

On the other hand, providing a window into the work of science at the La Brea Tar Pits—part of the museum’s mission is to “inspire wonder and discovery”—and at the same time, a place to explore the stories we tell about our role in this changing world—might just be the ticket the museum needs to deliver on the promise of the third part of its mission: inspiring “responsibility” for our “natural and cultural worlds.”

You can listen to a recording of “Extinction! Fear and Hope at the La Brea Tar Pits” at nhm.org/lectures.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Wordless Wednesday: Call Me By My Name

@MigrationUK #MassMigration #Greece #Calais @linnytayls
Follow the link in the photo caption to the associated story. You can find more glimpses of the future (and links) on CFM's Pinterest Boards.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Access and Equity in Museum Internships: A Case Study

In the US in 2015, 17.5 percent of persons with a disability were employed--compared to a 65 percent employment rate for people without a disability: a troubling statistic that should influence our discussions of museum labor and museum internships. This week on the Blog, Holly M. Crawford, education specialist at the El Segundo Museum of Art (ESMoA) shares how her museum, and others, are helping create employment pathways for people with disabilities. I hope you have other such stories to share--please chime in using the comments section, below.

ESMoA had been open less than a year in September 2013 when Chelsea Hogan and I met with Ed Lynch, founder and Executive Director of Mychal’s Learning Place, to brainstorm ways our two organizations could work together. Established in 2002, Mychal’s provides opportunities for children and adults with developmental disabilities to build self-esteem and independence. Ed was describing Mychal’s Path to Independence Program (P2I), a new program designed to equip Mychal’s adult students with the tools and support to live independently when Chelsea suggested we could have an internship for Mychal’s students at ESMoA. By October we had started the pilot internship with two students from Mychal’s P2I. 

Leading Students in the Gallery, Photo Credit: Adam Kissick

For four amazing years ESMoA and Mychal’s Learning Place in Hawthorne, CA have collaborated on the Mychal’s/ESMoA Internship Program.  Each year Mychal’s and ESMoA nominate two interns from P2I to participate in a seven-month-long internship that runs from October - May overlapping with ESMoA’s School Visits program. This internship gives participants exposure to the inner-workings of our art laboratory, as interns work closely with the ESMoA team. Interns receive a weekly agenda outlining their roles and responsibilities at ESMoA which include but are not limited to greeting students, organizing art materials, and conducting research about artwork currently on view for ESMoA Experiences.  Additionally, interns tour arts and cultural institutions in and around Los Angeles and learn about Visual Thinking Strategies to facilitate gallery discussions with school groups about an artwork. 

The internship program complements Mychal’s P2I goals: Mychal’s students are challenged and empowered at ESMoA. They are part of a supportive team and learn skills to help them find gainful employment. As a program mentor, my appreciation for different learning styles has broadened as a result of working with our interns. One memorable intern with a diagnosis of Down syndrome would sometimes arrive for work feeling lethargic. As we worked with him to develop an energy-building routine, I noticed that our classes also tended to get tired or antsy during studio-to-gallery transitions during their visit. Our intern thought stretching would be a great way to help students transition between these two activities and help ground them for focused discussion. Because of his insight, I now build time into my lesson for a stretching exercise.

Interns Visiting Watts Towers
I have also observed that student visitors tend to be more patient and attentive during gallery discussions led by Mychal’s interns. As educators, we often say that our programs build empathy, and watching students engage with Mychal’s interns is empathy in action. 

This summer ESMoA was awarded a SPARKS! Ignition Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to fund the creation of ESMoA Academy, a free e-learning platform where we have developed our featured course: Spreading the SPARK of Creativity , a flexible blueprint intended for museum educators who are interested in developing an internship program that serves special needs populations. Delivered in concise video tutorials and supplemental materials, after completing this online course, participants will be better able to:
  • Implement successful strategies for creating internship opportunities for adults with developmental delays. 
  • Create a sustainable partnership model with a non-museum organization. 
  • Advocate for access and resources for adults with disabilities seeking employment in cultural institutions.                                                                    
We are in the final editing stages with the website and anticipate a release date in early December 2016. Users will be able to follow the program in real time as video lessons become available each month through May 2017.
Team Teaching in the Gallery at ESMoA
This year we are also celebrating the fact that we are finally able to pay our Mychal’s/ESMoA interns. Previous iterations of the internship have been ‘experience only.’  Working with ESMoA’s Executive Board, we were able to secure a generous donation from the SKECHERS Foundation for stipends for our 2016-2017 interns. Since researching funding streams, I have learned about the Ticket to Work program, a federal program that helps individuals with disabilities achieve their employment goals and found opportunities through the California Arts Council and University of California system.
When we first started the internship program four years ago, it seemed like it was the first of its kind. This past summer, however, I was excited to learn (via the NY-based Museum Access Consortium) about Lincoln Center’s inclusive hiring initiative, Access Ambassador Initiative.  And my colleague Cecile Puretz (Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco) told me about an exciting project between AccessSFUSD and the California Academy of Sciences. As these learning opportunities grow in numbers and recognition, museums are on the forefront of a learning revolution.

Holly M. Crawford is an artist, educator and arts advocate based in Los Angeles. She is also a 2016 - 2017 ACTIVATE Cultural Policy Fellow. Holly has been an Education Specialist at the El Segundo Museum of Art (ESMoA) since 2013 and designs and facilitates programming for school, family, and adult audiences. As coordinator of the Mychal's/ESMoA Internship Program, Holly provides museum internship opportunities to adults with developmental disabilities.  Follow her on twitter at @artlab21 and @CallMeHawford. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Painting in Blue

I became interested in Amy Herman’s work for several reasons. She harnesses the power of art to teach empathy, helping people in positions of power—be it medicine or law enforcement—relate more compassionately to the people they serve. Her programs also demonstrate yet another way museums can create financially sustainable services that advance the mission and improve society. The US spends about $15B each year to train doctors, and over $100B per year to train and maintain police forces. Shouldn’t museums, drawing a direct line from their resources to improved outcomes for these and other critical social needs, be included in that support? Today on the Blog, Amy tells us about the origins of the “Art of Perception.” 

From across the room crowded with cubicles, monitors, and more armed individuals than I had ever seen in one place, a tall, intimidating FBI agent yelled, “Hey, there’s Amy Herman. She showed me my first Vermeer and I’ll never forget it. That light. I’ll just never forget it.” It’s working, I thought. It’s really working.

That was 12 years ago, long before I understood the powerful alchemy between art and law enforcement. Since then, the thin blue line—the institutional emblem of police forces worldwide—has appeared in museums everywhere.

Often, I must repeat what I do for a living. You teach police about art? Not exactly. I teach them to improve their observation and communication skills by learning to analyze works of art. Paintings, sculptures, and photographs have proven to be transformative tools in professional training programs for authorities in law enforcement, intelligence, and counterterrorism. Agencies from around the country and around the world are turning to museum collections to bolster their efforts to combat crime, terrorism, and unrest in our increasingly threatened and complex world.

In our country’s fractured cultural and political landscape, police officers’ roles have never been under greater scrutiny – and never have I had more respect for the men and women who keep our country, towns, homes, and schools safe. I wholeheartedly commit to use my own training as an art historian to help them make the excruciatingly difficult judgment calls and decisions that so often define their public service.

 In 2001, as Head of Education at The Frick Collection, I instituted a program for medical students, The Art of Perception. Based on a model program at the Yale Center for British Art, the course took medical students from the clinical setting into an art museum to teach them to analyze works of art—big picture and small details—and articulate their observations. When they returned to the hospital, they would, we reasoned, be better observers of their patients. (You can find an assessment of the program in Bardes, Gillers, and Herman, “Learning to Look: Developing Clinical Observational Skills in an Art Museum, Medical Education, vol 35,no.12, pp.1157-1161.) Humanities in medical training has a strong historical precedent and this program underscored the value of critical thinking and visual analysis in the disciplines of both medicine and art history.

As we discussed the program over dinner a few years later, a friend suggested that I expand the application of this approach to other professionals for whom astute observation and perception skills were paramount.

Such as, I inquired?

Cops, he replied. They need great skills of observation and inference, don’t they?
That conversation led me to call the New York City Police Department the following morning. Transferred seven times, I finally reached a deputy commissioner who understood immediately the connection I articulated, and he agreed to come to the Frick to see what it was I was describing. Six months later, every newly promoted captain in the NYPD visited The Frick Collection to take The Art of Perception. I was elated with the new audiences, new insights, and a highly tailored program that was resonating with law enforcement professionals, many of whom had never set foot in a museum.

Although the Frick Collection might seem intimidating to first-time visitors, the police officers were engaged and eager learners. They embraced the works of Titian, Vermeer, and Bellini as their own, and saw the connections between examining works of art and improving their own observation and communication skills in a litany of professional scenarios—investigating crime scenes, questioning witnesses, writing reports, and testifying under oath, among others. While a group of officers viewed El Greco’s Purification of the Temple, I asked: If you could question any individual in the painting to get the backstory about what had just occurred, who would it be?” One officer responded, “I would collar the guy in the pink robe. He seems to be causing all the trouble.” The guy in the pink robe is Jesus Christ.

NYC police officers with Amy Herman at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
from an article in Smithsonian Magazine, October 2009 (Amy Toensing)

Not one to underestimate the power of art, I knew the program could expand to include additional concepts and broader audiences. By word of mouth, news of this training spread across the country, and increasingly I was asked to tailor the program for different agencies, focusing on such topics as surveillance, human trafficking, prosecution, the judiciary, and intelligence gathering. Over time, participants included the FBI, the Defense Department, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security. I have led The Art of Perception in over 20 different museums and the number of participating institutions and law enforcement agencies continues to grow.

I also use these programs to address the critical need to cultivate empathy in law enforcement personnel and the communities they serve, in order to help improve the quality of interactions between them. To this end, I began to use more provocative works of art—photographs by Diane Arbus, paintings by Lucian Freud, and a selection of works by contemporary artists—to address issues of bias, prejudice, relationships, and race. Analysis of selected works of art became the entrĂ©e to substantive – and sometimes difficult – conversations about perceived threats and cultural distinctions, with an emphasis on behaviors grounded in assumptions, biases, and inferences. Proof that the technique works was evident in a comment from a surveillance agent, who told me at the end of a recent session: “You really opened my eyes. The problem is, I didn’t know they were closed.”

Museums can use their collections to improve the skills of police and intelligence community professionals and also to address longstanding cultural barriers. One police department at a time, those barriers are being dismantled via audience engagement that is helping to heal our fractured communities.

You can read more about the Art of Perception and Amy's work "Visual Intelligence: Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life," published this past spring.