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Future of Education Road-Trip: Some Thoughts and Thanks

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog

Octavia in action

Hi, Nicole here. Sage and I would like to thank all of the museum professionals, students, educators and artists who gave of themselves to support the inaugural Future of Education Road Trip! Thanks, as well, to the institutions that welcomed us so enthusiastically! We learned and experienced so much on our Southeastern tour: snow and ice in Virginia; sunshine in Charleston; lovely, brisk weather and rain in Memphis; sweet tea everywhere; and lots of road signs. One post cannot possibly capture all the gratitude we still feel, nor can it summarize all that we’ve learned from what the South has to teach museums. This post is a first step, really, to sketch out where we went and thank the many people who wished us well, showed us their sites, and lent their time to our inquiry. Sage and I will be blogging throughout the month about what we experienced, what we’ve taken away, and what conversations and work we will continue. You can follow Sage’s reflections at the Future of Education website for more information across the month. We will also be cross-posting here.

Here is a link to the Storify of our tweets from the road trip. We started out in the middle of a blizzard in a rented Jeep Cherokee that we unofficially named Octavia, after 

another intrepid woman of color futurist. As we drove farther South, more snow and ice met us with every mile. We ended up stopping outside Richmond, Virginia after driving a whopping total of 100 miles in two hours. We were unable to connect with the always-generous Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs and her partner Julia Sangodare Wallace, founders of the Mobile Homecoming Project that we used as a primary model for our trip. Nevertheless, they were with us in spirit as we travelled, with Alexis sending us good wishes regularly via email.

Our next stop brought us to the Levine Museum of the New South, where we met with President and CEO, Kathryn Hill and Kamille Bostick, Vice President of Education and Programs. We strode into Charlotte with snow under our feet and salt residue on Octavia (more than once, I slipped on the ice). But on seeing the warmth of the museum’s visitors during its Three Kings’ Day celebration, I was reminded why we took this journey. Kathryn, Kamille, and the entire staff are unafraid to experiment with ways of making their museum reach across community divides and speak to broadening demographics in their region. Their decision to host the Three Kings’ celebration was a direct response to Latinx community members’ suggestions on how to extend the conversations begun in the exhibition, Nuevolution! “Relevancy matters,” Kamille explained, “tell the stories of the people who walk through the door.”
This first museum visit set the tone for our trip and taught us about the power of museums’ being responsive to communities and to change. As we traveled, we met with museum professionals across many different kinds of institutions who overwhelmingly shared the following traits:

  • Commitment to finding different ways of problem-solving
  • Belief in the value of informal and formal assessment
  • Desire to reach children and youth through innovative and participatory projects 
  • Interest in increased community accountability
  • Awareness of the role of the training pipeline in expanding (or limiting) access to museum career possibilities 
Student exhibitions, The Museum School

Marion High School students in South Carolina talked with us about the value of critical thinking and personalized learning. I was struck by how keenly aware they were of social and economic inequality, and by their sharp assessment of how resource allocation shaped their lives. In Atlanta, at the Museum School of Avondale Estates, we met teachers incorporating STEAM education using museums as a model for inquiry. Students develop their own exhibitions and serve as docents to grownup visitors. 

In Charleston, SC, we heard museum professionals from throughout the region reflect on the stakes of historical interpretation. In a city that boasts of being home to the oldest museum in the South (The Charleston Museum), museum workers across multiple functional areas talked passionately about how to incorporate the lives of residents whose histories have traditionally been omitted from the stories the area has told about itself. I also heard museum professionals speak hopefully about the futures they might create together.

Nicole (l) and Sage (r) at the High Museum of Art in ATL

At the New Orleans roundtable, participants taught me just how limited “scalability” is as a frame for museum work. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the museums in that city had to re-think their responsibility to their communities. How could museums create spaces of play, wonder, and learning when they were physically uninhabitable? How do the various conditions under which (some) residents  returned shape audience engagement? What is the museum’s responsibility to visitor engagement when its local visitorship is physically displaced? How will new visions of New Orleans museums help people think about ecology and resource management? All these questions, while having national import, have a distinctly place-based context and demand place-based, community-driven solutions.

Rosa Parks Bus-Boycott-themed transit tour with the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, AL

From this Road Trip as a “laboratory on wheels,” I came to know that museums can offer respite, that they can be places of quiet contemplation and individual study. But I was equally thrilled to witness how museums can also–and often at the same time–be sites for gathering, for community-building. Indeed, museums are more than the sums of their collections, staffs, programs, and exhibitions. They provide opportunities for “being together with others” and teach us to hear the resonances of the past in the visions we craft for our future.

Check the Storify link for a site-by-site view of the Road Trip!

Sage and I extend our deepest gratitude to the individuals and organizations who supported and shared with us on this inaugural trip:

Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs, The Mobilehomecoming Project

Kathryn Hill , CEO

Kamille Bostick, Vice President of Education and Programs.

The Students and Staff of Marion High School (Marion, SC)

Daris Gore, Principal, Marion High School

Iris Stackhouse-Barr, Marion High School

C. Johnson, Marion High School

Andrew R. Stout, Museum Director

Kimberly Washburn, Curator of Education

Nichole Myles, Executive Director

Carl Borick, Director

Stephanie Thomas, Chief of Education

Curtis J. Franks, Curator

Brenda Peart

Porchia A. Moore

Susan Perry,  Executive Director, Southeastern Museums Conference

Atlanta History Center (Atlanta, GA) 

Dr. Calinda Lee, Historian

The students and educators of The Museum School

Katherine Kelbaugh, Principal

Ellie Grebowski, Assistant to the Director of Education

Virginia Shearer, Eleanor McDonald Storza Director of Education

Civil Rights Memorial Staff, Southern Poverty Law Center

Adrienne van der Valk, Deputy Director, Teaching Tolerance at the Southern Poverty Law Center
Ahmad Ward, Vice President of Education and Exhibitions

Sylvea Hollis

Dr. Tondra Loder-Jackson, Associate Professor, Educational Foundations Program

The University of Alabama at Birmingham

Attorney Randall L. Woodfin (Birmingham School Board Member)

Jeff Kollath, Executive Director

Lisa Allen, Director, Group Sales and Events

Terri Freeman, Director 

Noelle Trent, PhD., Director of Interpretation, Collections, and Education

The Margaret Walker Center at Jackson State University (Jackson, MI)

Dr. Robert Luckett, Director

Dr. Rico Chapman, Director

Keith Lamont McMillian, Program Manager

Noel E. Didla, Jackson State University

Dr. Fari Nzinga, Southern University at New Orleans (New Orleans, LA)
Daniel Johnson, Director of Engagement and Learning

Adam Farcus, Hollingsworth Fellow

Kali Akuno, Co-Director

Julia Bland, Executive Director

Amy Kirk Duvoisin, Education Director

Andrea Stricker, Administrative Director
Kimberly Coleman, Outreach Coordinator, Collections Manager

Whitney Plantation (Edgard, LA)

Ashley Rogers, Director of Operations 

Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum
Ian Breckenridge-Jackson, Co-Founder

Ronald W. Lewis, Founder and Curator

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