Marta Coelho Valente & Catarina Martins

Questioning relational possibilities and public engagement in museum education

This presentation seeks to open a discussion on current museum education practices which focuses on questioning relational processes and public engagement, and proposes an exploration of museum education as a space for critical possibilities that challenge and transform the monolithic system that, to some extent, the museum traditionally is.
Today we are witnessing a shift in institutional discourses, which seek to break down the conventional barrier between institutions and their local contexts and people. Although we may regard this as a current trend, it is important to question the processes that convey the museum as an open space but still perpetuate power mechanisms. In fact, the challenge is to consider the museum a space where there can be a flow of intermixed lines of the participants’ knowledge and experiences in creating situated actions and new meanings where there is the possibility of confrontation of different interests and points of view.
Some topics of discussion can be introduced here about how museum education can be a space of contact committed to social justice where the differences, approaches and singularities of those involved are interconnected; and what challenges and tensions are inherent in this collaborative relational dimension.

Bernadette Lynch

Pity porn or activism for social justice?
A critical look at public engagement in museums today

While museums increasingly adopt the language of social justice and go so far as to claim they are adopting a rights-based approach for social change, the fact is that change is something with which not all museums are comfortable. Lynch argues that such claims in support of social change must be interrogated for the extent to which museums enable those whose lives are affected the most by inequality, prejudice and social injustice, to articulate their priorities – and to make change happen.
Based on her extensive research into the impact of public engagement in theory and practice in museums, Lynch argues that it is important now to differentiate between the museum’s activist image (for example, an exhibition on refugees or climate change) and its efforts to support others in developing their own activism. When the museum promotes activism for change, Lynch notes that there is a need to differentiate between what is performative and what is operational activism in the museum.
Lynch looks at activist museum practice internationally, aimed at increasing the agency of local people. This includes communities that have faced long-term discrimination and consequently harbour a great deal of mistrust towards institutions, including museums, finding museums to be poor partners in social change. As one community activist stated, 'I want to do stuff that is more radical than museums can handle.'
Examining the elements of successful, activist practice in some museums, Lynch provocatively asks, 'If these museums can do it, why not others? Does there continue to be an underestimation of the role museums could play in society?'

Denise Pollini & Raquel Ribeiro dos Santos

Cocktail of Questions

Making use of the questioning device is an important ingredient of the mediation labour. Having that in mind, Cocktail of Questions is a performing strategy designed to trace – in a non-hierarchical manner – some of the issues that are presented to the educational and relational work in museums and cultural institutions. It was built as a collaborative process between Serralves and Culturgest and it started by chance. Both Denise Pollini and Raquel Ribeiro dos Santos, Head of Education in two different Learning Departments, had coincidently the initiative of collecting instigating questions on the different relations that we may have with the work of art. The result is an immense collection of fascinating questions that were written and spoken in the last years in several countries.
Are educational services pacifying the internal contradictions raised by the widening gap that exists between the institutional discourse of museums and their audience’s reality? In a time of false consensuses are there strategies of audience empowerment? How can we claim instability and uncertainty as a critical, reflective and gathering position?

Nora Landkammer

The museum as a site of unlearning? Coloniality and education in ethnographic museums

'All these things…', a seven year old asks the educator in an ethnographic collection display, 'did you make them yourself?' Besides saying 'no', what can the educator reply? Each possible answer, what it highlights, what it omits, implies taking a position regarding key topics of postcolonial museum critique: histories of objects brought to Europe in a colonial context, issues of ownership, of representation and power of definition in narrations of culture and difference. How do educators deal with the coloniality inscribed in their work and the institution? Based on an interview study with educators in ethnographic museums in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and action research in the project TRACES – Transmitting Contentious Cultural Heritage with the Arts, I will discuss current discourses and contradictions of museum education engaging with its colonial heritage, by asking: could ethnographic museums be sites for unlearning colonial frameworks?

Carla Cabral & Education Service of the Museu do Douro

walking down to earth
Multisensory experience and enquiry in the landscape

This programme offers a set of pedestrian routes along the Corgo River, devised and lead by Landscape Architect Carla Cabral. This route aims to foster an experience of the landscape that prompts a wider awareness of every sense summoned by a specific time and place.

Samuel Guimarães

i am landscape
arts and education service, Museu do Douro

Can we, in a talk, share possibilities, failures and hypotheses rather than findings, for ‘dissonant’ practices?
I am landscape: the foundation for this action is the research and creation of experiential relationships between people and landscapes. The research addresses concepts to discuss such as territory and landscape, body and place, establishing a dialogue and a tension between different modes of expression, discourses and politics. How can our research practices decentralise binary ways of dealing within the landscape, challenging the singular plural as condition of life, as defined by Hannah Arendt?
This work aims to contribute to complexify the discussion about art education practices on close relation to landscape and arts (performing arts, in particular). Both landscape and participants are challenged with resort to theatre, dance, video, animation, writing and biology, geography, anthropology and literature, landscape design and cinema, engineering and drawing, photography and sound design.
I am landscape holds a clear and unequivocal willingness, and the invitation to think and act upon education in the differentiated places of the territory.
In a territory where power and bondage are such an obvious part of the landscape, we want to aim and instruct our enquiry towards those small big things that could act as magnifying glass: In the Douro Valley, it is not uncommon to talk about the secrets of wine, grape varieties and soil, but amidst those local secrets we want to talk too of lovers; of voices and particular accents; of apples; of video recordings; of daisies (she loves me, she loves me not); of cherries; of dancing; of oranges; of loves; of names; of theatre; of red poppies; of lands; of the names of lands; of plants growing on riverbanks; of songs; of the lyrics of songs; of the secrets contained in the lyrics of songs; of cinema; of breeding; of poplars; of bodies; of body parts; of chestnut trees; of ash trees; of poetry; of rivers; of tributary rivers; of philosophy; of olive trees; of partners; of power; of hierarchy in the landscape and in human relationships; of secrets as a currency of power.

Sofia Victorino

Art and Collaboration

In times of social, economic and political unrest, collaboration emerges as a driving model for art institutions. Drawing on a series of case studies from the Whitechapel’s past and recent history, I will discuss the intersections between collaborative art practices and the politics of institutional programming, within and beyond the space of the Gallery. Can collaboration and performativity foster new communities and forms of collectivity? Can artists’ propositions act as a productive counter-model to an accelerated global context? How are artists enabling us to re-imagine the art institution and its social relevance?

Janna Graham

Where Are We When We Think?

Gallery education sits at a crossroads, at once an apparatus upholding the colonial and affirmative aspects of museum culture (Mörsch, 2009), an agent in the whirring of an increasingly dislocated set of trendy and consumable political themes (Holmes,2004), and a site for ‘allyship’ and other kinds of radical and socially transformative work. Resurrecting Hannah Arendt’s question, ‘where are we when we think?’ this presentation argues for gallery education as a space for a situated critique encompassing two crucial and inter-linked dimensions: one, analysis of and responses to the dynamics of power and coercion within the cultural institutions in which they are situated and two, interpretation of and intervention into social injustices beyond the gallery’s walls. In particular, this paper argues for the use of strategies derived from popular education in suggesting that such strategies support groups in collectively naming and thinking conflicts that are often buried within the doublespeak of neoliberalism. Promoting ‘critical’ gallery education, this paper draws from two experiential case studies to suggest that the re-construction and use of the often forgotten genealogies of popular education are pivotal to doing social justice work in galleries and museums.

Andreia Magalhães & Lara Soares

Off centre and in between

A conversation about the definition and development of the educational project Núcleo de Arte da Oliva an emergent art centre located in the small industrial city of São João da Madeira. Taking advantage of our young age we’re going through a process of rethinking the identity and territory of action of the project in which education is paramount. The presence of a multifocal thinking leads us to places of daily research in an experimental field where the curatorial and the educational walk together. We want to share and discuss this (de)balanced platform of action where artists, curators, educators, audiences, politicians and others are constantly crossing boundaries.