The National Art Education Association (NAEA) recently announced the results of the Impact of Art Museum Programs on Student Research Initiative, a collaboration between the NAEA Museum Education Division and the American Art Museum Directors. On Saturday, October 13, the Detroit Institute of Arts hosted a day-long symposium that explored the findings of this important study that was supported by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. I was one of a handful of  Canadian attendees amongst a group of 150 art gallery educators from across the United States. (Detroit is closer to Toronto than most large Canadian cities!)

The day began with an overview of the project by Project Director Emily Holtrop (Director of Learning and Interpretation, Cincinnati Art Museum), highlighting the conversations between 2010-2013 that led to the study, the planning stage, and the focused three years of the study from 2015-2018 which included the pilot program, data collection, and data analysis and dissemination. This introduction was important context to demonstrate the foundational work necessary for a project of this scale. Director Stephanie Downey and Managing Director Amanda Krantz of RK&A, the research firm that conducted the research, described the study’s methodology and shared key findings.

The research design included three study groups – Treatment A received a single-visit facilitated by a trained museum representative (volunteer docent or staff) in which students view and experience original works of art; Treatment B received a single-visit program in a school classroom facilitated by a trained museum representative (volunteer docent or staff) in which students view reproductions of works of art; Control received neither an art museum or classroom program. By comparing each group, the following conclusions were made:

  • Students ask more complex questions about works of art.
  • Students are more accepting of multiple interpretations of a work of art.
  • Students are more likely to think about art in terms of a work’s material properties.
  • Students experience great emotive recall of the program.

While the conversations throughout the day acknowledged that these findings are not surprising, there was a consensus that having empirical data to support anecdotal evidence is an important development in our field, providing resources to make the case for the importance of school visits programs within our institutions and the learning community at large. Three museum directors (including Salvador Salort-Pons, President, Director and CEO of the DIA) were invited to share the implications of the study from their perspective in a follow up panel discussion.

The afternoon was spent in small groups in the galleries. DIA educators facilitated tours in the galleries, applying a range of interpretive strategies as a model for the gallery interactions that were observed as part of the research study. We used the same observation tool developed by RK&A to measure the facilitators teaching behaviors that supported critical thinking, creative thinking, sensorial/affective responses, human connections, and academic connections. The final breakout session allowed participants to discuss in small groups how the NAEA might build on this study and its findings, and how each of us planning to implement the findings in our own work.

It was a full day, with much to think about. I was grateful for the opportunity to spend some time exploring the DIA galleries (in particular to see the Diego Rivera murals), as well as the networking opportunities with American colleagues. The symposium was timely as a recent shift in my job responsibilities has allowed me to refocus attention on our school visits program. I am grateful to the Textile Museum of Canada for their support for me to attend this symposium.

You can read more about the research study here. The website includes all study reports – summary report and discussion, technical report and appendix – as well as links to video from the symposium at the DIA. I look forward to discussions with my CAGE colleagues about the implications of this study on our work in Canada.

Susan Fohr, Education Programs Coordinator, Textile Museum of Canada