Life on the edge

Although museum and gallery educators often complain about the peripheral place of learning in their institutions and bemoan the ‘bolt on’ approach, in recent years learning has started to become more prominent strategically and to gain greater influence, with educators involved at all levels in planning, policy making and operational activity. I’m one of a growing number of educators in senior management but I came across something that made me wonder (at the risk of shooting myself in the foot) whether ‘museum central’ might not be the best place for learning to live.

Image, Learning in the Museum?

Image, Learning in the Museum?

Whilst working on the Museum’s interpretation strategy, I’ve been reading a really useful U.S. publication – the Journal of Museum Education – that was dedicated to ‘Institution-wide Interpretive Planning’ (Transformation and Interpretation: What is the Museum Educator’s Role? in Institution Wide Interpretive Planning, Journal of Museum Education, 33, (3), Fall 2008, Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek, CA, USA).

In this edition I found an article about the educator’s role in “transformation and interpretation”. Czajkowski and Hill acknowledge that learning is often physically and psychologically isolated from what is traditionally defined as the ‘core function’ of a museum, but they question the desire to move education in from the periphery. They argue that the margin is where change happens: it’s the place where audiences and objects interact. Educators understand the museum from outside in, and are ideally placed to act as agents of transformation, mediating negotiations between individuals and institutions.

In support of their proposition, Czajkowski and Hill cite the work of black feminist theorist, bell hooks (no that’s not a typo – she doesn’t capitalise her name). Applying locative politics, hooks argues that the margin is the strongest position from which to “challenge dominance and deconstruct hierarchical power”. This reminded me of the old saying that you should be careful what you wish for. If we embed education in the establishment in a search for security do we risk losing something much more valuable? Perhaps, instead of striving to belong, educators should celebrate life on the edge.


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