Editorial Family Learning Karen Raney
It is a curious fact that museum and gallery education tends to cater separately for adults and children. One of the ideas aired in this issue of the journal is that provision conceived jointly for adults and children can lead to enduring creative and critical enrichment for both. The articles contain literature surveys as well as accounts of large and small-scale research which over time will contribute to our knowledge in this area. Given the unfixed nature of kinship, ‘family’ learning is often cast as ‘intergenerational’ learning, that is, involving both children and adults. The adults might be parents, carers, grandparents or other individuals whose relationship to the child is domestic rather than professional. It is notable that half of the articles in this volume describe projects whose centres of gravity lie outside art institutions. Most art projects make connections to gallery culture at some point. However, the way families function outside the gallery will provide essential insights into how learning might happen within it.
The volume opens with three accounts of research based in the UK, the US and Austria. Using examples from projects at Tate Modern, Emily Pringle links up creative learning, family learning and gallery-based pedagogy. In all three, participants are active, taking part in sensory and intellectual activities to which play and risk-taking are central. Pringle cautions that the claims made for such approaches are yet to be fully supported, as there is a dearth of long-term research. Researching family learning is not easy. Families go to museums and galleries for a multitude of reasons, many unrelated to the objects or artworks they contain. If their interactions with a gallery tend to be ‘informal, sporadic and shortterm’, so do monitoring methods like exit interviews or questionnaires. This can make it hard to verify why families visit, how they behave, and what learning may or may not take place there. Adams, Luke and Ancelet describe a large scale government-backed project in the US studying
interactive family spaces in art museums. They start off with a summary of research in this area, followed by implications for practice and further research. The authors conceive of learning outcomes under the headings of RelationshipBuilding, Knowledge and Skills, and Attitudes and Perceptions. Understanding is scant as to the kinds of families who use interactive spaces, how the spaces link to the rest of the museum, and most importantly, the nature of the connections which are fostered there. The role of ‘fun’ is something the authors single out for scrutiny. Is fun an outcome of a visitor experience or merely a feeling about it? Is fun as a goal too frivolous, confusing art with entertainment? Anecdotal evidence suggests that in some countries emphasis is placed on family enjoyment, in others on learning. Here the authors propose that fun, excitement, relaxation and enjoyment are important to a family’s visit in that ‘if a learning experience is associated with feelings of happiness and wellbeing then that learning is more likely to be remembered, repeated, and / or expanded upon.’
different socioeconomic areas in Vienna will work with a team of anthropologists, artists, mediators, curators, and designers, using the Austrian Museum of Folk Life and Folk Art as a contact zone, or ‘laboratory’. The research intends to call the nature of ‘objects’ themselves into question, as everyday things like mobile phones, and transitory things like money and food, come into its purview. The hope is that by looking at the way families ‘do objects’ and the way museums ‘do objects’ the researchers might be led to ‘common foundations of two of the core institutions of modernity.’ The aim is not merely to tweak what is on offer to visitors, but to ‘perform the museum’ in a to-ing and fro-ing between home, neighbourhood and museum environments.
Doing Kinship has a museum base, but the starting point for working with the museum is outside of its walls. The next three articles move decisively away from the gallery. Anna Harding writes about the ‘slack space’ phenomenon in the UK, where recession-hit empty shops are being taken over by artists, curators and arts organisations for creative and educational use. A final question from the American study asks how She gives the recent and historical context of this the learning that takes place in the gallery might kind of sanctioned squatting, with examples from relate to a family’s larger agenda and values. An around the UK, and considers the advantages of interdisciplinary project begun in Austria, ‘Doing engaging families with art in places which are Kinship,’ may well shed light on this question. Its familiar, nearby, informal and lacking in assumed aim is to investigate the role of pictures and objects codes of behaviour. Turner Contemporary in in the formation and production of kinship, both at Margate has, in fact, been using empty shop front home and in the museum. Participants from two
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space for years as part of their strategy to embed this major new gallery in its community. Their ‘Generate’ programme ‘offers a model for families interacting, being creative and playing together.’ Play is the cornerstone of Febrik’s work with longterm refugee camps in the Middle East. Joumana al Jabri points out that play in these communities is not confined to designated areas, but is continually improvised by children throughout the camps. Through the creative misuse of the architectural elements around them – window ledges, washing lines, alleyways – children create a ‘hidden topography of play.’ After studying what goes on spontaneously, Febrik then designs structures that can be inserted into the environment to encourage play and creative sharing of the space by adults and children. Could this model be adapted for working with families in museums and galleries? Could we locate ‘hidden topographies’ – of play, of learning, of navigating space – and develop interventions accordingly? Some researchers seem to be thinking along these lines. Adams et al observed the routes families take to get to interactive spaces, noticing that, in the plan of the museum, these pathways are usually an uninspiring curatorial afterthought. ‘What if those areas were specifically designed to delight, to intrigue, to foster curiosity in those families who are headed for the interactive gallery? Might that help families make connections between the interactive space and the rest of the museum?’
Simon Taylor’s article turns the spotlight onto the making process itself. Working with professional artists, designers and craftspeople, The Theatre of Making creates family events in public places such as parks, libraries, markets and shopping centres. The events combine live entertainment with craft activities open to all. Taylor makes practical points about funding, quantitative evidence and evaluation, but he puts the success of The Theatre of Making down to its belief in the power of experiential learning, and its insistence on high quality offering to families on a long-term basis. Artists are carefully chosen. Audiences are cultivated before the events. Events are manyheaded affairs, with perhaps a high street presence, linked to an exhibition in a local gallery, linked to artist-led workshops in schools. The Making is an example of a dynamic exchange between galleries and the wider culture in which they sit. The touch-based ‘tacit knowledge’ needed to construct things makes it easier for all ages to learn together. The next two articles move back into the gallery. In ‘The Backwards Day,’ Kaija Kaitavuori and Minna Raitmaa present a project in Helsinki’s national art museum which equipped pre-school children to guide adults through contemporary art exhibitions. This is a project which not only took young children seriously as visitors, but encouraged them to take the lead, ultimately influencing the development of other programmes in the museum.
‘HEART’ is a long-term initiative at Orleans Gallery, UK, to involve very young parents in the life of the gallery. Alexandra Bennett argues that galleries are well placed to cater for this vulnerable and hard to reach group. A twofold approach is taken: the parents develop artwork separately from the children as well as jointly with them. As with most family learning programmes, HEART has to function on different levels. As a young parents group it offers guidance and support such as transport and crèche facilities. As art education, it is aimed both at families and at individuals, to encourage young parents to become more deeply involved in art and the community. Over time, participants have grown bolder in their requests and more ambitious in the challenges they set for themselves. Bennett believes the potential impact on the lives of these parents and their children is ‘huge and transformative.’ Penny Hay and Mary Fawcett write about the action research organisation 5x5x5=creativity. Its aim is to study and nurture creative skills in children from an early age. The theoretical inspiration comes from the Reggio Emilia pre-schools in Northern Italy, but over the years 5x5x5 has evolved its own identity, working with schools, artists and cultural centres. Gradually parents and carers of the children have become more directly involved as observers and collaborators in the research. More recently, attention has shifted to the adults’ own attitudes to art, education and creativity.
engage Cymru’s recent action research project also used the Reggio Emilia framework to forge links between galleries, artists and delivery of the new curriculum for three to five year-olds in Wales. Although an improvement in language, literacy and social skills is evident – and was one of the project’s goals – this was integrated into an approach based on risk, experimentation and play. Play was analysed and employed in its many different functions and forms. This research supports the connection between creative learning, the artistic process and gallery-based pedagogy. engage Cymru has also been working with older people in galleries, as intergenerational learning of all kinds assumes a greater role in engage’s activities.1 The final article shifts attention to interactions between children, their parents and regeneration professionals. Joanne Kenworthy gives an account of ‘Listening to Learn’, a three year action research project at Discover, a children’s centre in Stratford, East London. This is an area undergoing huge changes in the run-up to the 2012 Olympics. The aim of the project was to involve children directly in local planning decisions that will affect them. Four different art forms – drama, photography, film, and visual arts – were used as tools for children between six and ten years of age to explore and communicate their ideas. Not only have architects, designers and planners changed their views about what children are capable of, and about their right to be consulted, but they are
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putting some of the children’s ideas into practice. The addition of water features to a public space near the new International Station was a direct consequence of consultation in Listening to Learn. A number of points can be drawn from these varied projects. Focusing on the learning of adults will support children’s learning. Children are more likely to develop an enduring interest in art and culture if their experiences are embedded in the traditions of their families. Children are well equipped to take the lead with adults. Children have a relaxed attitude to ‘not knowing’, and often have yet to develop fears and inhibitions in relation to art. Working across generations is complex and requires careful planning. In the projects recounted here, artists are carefully chosen to be capable of juggling different roles, gender biases are thought through in advance of a workshop, and pre-school children are thoroughly coached before guiding adults through exhibitions. Outcomes for families such as improved literacy and numeracy, beloved of government funding, are best seen as byproducts of an open, varied, non-threatening, experimental, challenging, playful, enjoyable experience with ideas and objects. Play is a key to learning, for both adults and children.
Dynamic projects set up exchanges between what goes on inside and outside the institution. It seems useful to think of an art institution as an ‘organism’ having complex exchanges with other organisms in its cultural environment.2 These exchanges will be with other organisations, schools, businesses, communities, and of course, families in their multifarious forms. Notes 1 Between 2006 and 2009 engage Cymru worked with seven local authorities in Wales on pilot research projects focusing on galleries and the Foundation Phase. Toolkits and case study reports for all of the projects can be found in the Foundation Phase section of the engage website. A practical toolkit How Red is Red? A Toolkit for Art in the Early Years will be launched in association with Conwy County Council in March 2010. The findings of engage Cymru’s project ‘Galleries engaging with Older People’ will also be finalised at that time. Details of both projects can be found at www.engagecymru.org. 2 See Karen Eslea’s article ‘Developing Turner Contemporary’ in engage 17 (Summer 2005), for an account of the ecosystem model and the complexities of introducing a new ‘organism’ – a large contemporary art gallery – into Margate.