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Update on Empowering New Immigrants through Art

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog

This week’s guest post is by Patricia Lannes, director of education at the Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn Harbor, N.Y. Demographic Transformation and the Future of Museums briefly profiles NCMA’s work with new immigrants. Patricia provides an update on NCMA’s recent CALTA pilot institute.

As part of an Institute of Museum and Library Services funded National Leadership Grant, Nassau County Museum of Art (NCMA), in partnership with Queensborough Community College Literacy program, launched the CALTA pilot institute on June 14 at the Nassau County Museum of Art (NCMA), Roslyn Harbor, NY. The CALTA team (NCMA staff and QCC faculty) and a representative from Visual Understanding in Education (VUE) planned the four day pilot institute. Institute participants were selected among NCMA docents, Queensborough Community College (QCC) literacy ESL teachers, professors and professional developers from the City University of New York and other art museums’ teaching artists and students participating in the QCC adult literacy program. This diverse group was meant to represent a sample of the population of all the members that would be directly affected by such an institute. This community of learners came together to share best practices, challenges and future approaches to help develop a model teaching institute that can be replicated nationwide.

Although the program’s overarching goal was to pilot a model teaching institute, its content goals were to coach participants in Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) within the museum galleries, create pre and post visit extensions compatible with the VTS methodology, understand the specific strengths and needs of adult immigrant English language learners and discuss key curriculum design considerations.

After four rigorous days of training and discussions, the CALTA team confirmed some of the institute’s planning principles, discovered some new elements to add and some interesting points regarding docent training in museums. Some of the most salient findings are:

  • Richness added by the inclusion of multiple points of view while discussing works of art and literacy. This was achieved by having ALL attendees participate in small group activities. Their diverse constituencies allowed representation of the voice of different group interests. Participants learned from each other and got a better understanding on best practices and on immigrant communities. 
  • Importance of including adult immigrant English language learners in the process.
  • Realization of importance of creating multiple opportunities for docents to work with small groups of adult ESOL learners and their families.
  • Need to also recruit docents from urban communities who have experience working or living in a diverse community. 
  • Understanding that adult interest in going beyond VTS discussion will require creating extensions for further research on artists and artwork.
  • Criticality of image selection. Students were more vocal and responded passionately to art that addressed multicultural identity issues.

  • Need to revisit assigned readings and practicality of integrating those (and new) readings into the institute.
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Our next steps involve finalizing the structure and content of the model institute and working on the curriculum, which will be centered on the concept of identity.

If your museum has worked successfully with communities of new immigrants, please contact to share your experiences!

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