More museum adventures in New York City
On our last day in Washington DC we squeezed in one last discussion meeting with Jeff Meade from the National Postal Museum (one of the Smithsonian group) which is located right next to the famous Union Station. The opportunity to discuss and experience the Mobile Ed Lab was too wonderful to pass up. This is a professional development workshop for teachers which provide them with digital skills to support their programs, build connections with other teachers and engage effectively with students.
The bus trip to New York City (NYC) was smooth and gave us a chance to see the countryside. We arrived at our hotel on Saturday evening with the mission to see as many museums as we could in the remaining four days of our trip. This included a tour of the United Nations and a visit to the Empire State Building. Over the next two days discussions were scheduled with two of the Smithsonian museums located in NYC - Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum and American Indian Museum Heye Center.
The Cooper-Hewitt is located in the Carnegie Mansion and is currently closed for renovations. This has provided the education team with the opportunity to focus on outreach programs for students and teachers. We also met an Australian teacher on secondment as part of a fellowship program with the Queensland Government.
The American Indian Museum Heye Center is located in the old Customs Building at Battery Point. We found many synergies with the sister museum in Washington and were particularly impressed with their exhibition interpretation which aims to give an authentic voice to the different Native American cultures. This is achieved through input by community curators and Native Indian representatives. The challenge for the education team is to raise awareness of contemporary Native American issues and avoid the stereotypes.
A few of us had the opportunity to book the ‘Hard Times’ tour and meet with the education manager at the wonderful Lower East Side Tenement Museum. This is a heritage museum listed on the National Register of Historic Places alongside other significant national landmarks like Mount Vernon. The only way to access the museum is as part of a guided experience. On our tour we were introduced to the Gumpertz and Baldizzi families who lived in the tenement building at different periods of economic hardship in America. The interpretation by the educator was so real and powerful that we came to know the families and their plights. The museum’s founder Ruth J. Abram established the museum as place for conversations on issues relating to democracy and America’s national identity. The school programs deliver this mission through a guided tour and a theme based workshop experience around topics like ‘wants and needs’ or ‘rights and responsibilities’.
For me the learning was powerful and the experiences profound. While I am still processing everything that I heard, saw and experienced; two ideals stood out for me as a museum educator at MoAD. Firstly, every section of the museums I visited reinforced that particular museum’s vision, branding and key messages and secondly, the visitor experience was placed squarely front and centre in all their programs.