In case of emergency, break convention: A case study of a Human Library project in an art gallery


  • Darlene Clover University of Victoria



Adult education, Art Gallery, Portraiture, Human Library, Social Change


Against a backdrop of elitism and exclusion, many public art galleries are adopting educational processes aimed at tackling society’s pressing social and cultural problems. This paper shares the findings of case study of one such project, a Human Library (HL), hosted alongside a portraiture exhibition in an Art Gallery in British Columbia. Findings show how this ‘safe’ space of ‘discomfort’ illuminated stereotyping, bias, and ignorance and the subsequent transformation of perspectives around both people and art. It also provided a critical space of social reflection on the media and gender issues. Yet those who attended were predominantly middle and upper class and female and there was confusion around the link between the portraits, the mission of the Gallery and the HL. However, the Gallery can be seen as an intentional, critical space of adult education, playing a unique role in promoting social justice and change.


Allman, P. (2001). Critical education against global capitalism: Karl Marx and critical revolutionary education. London: Bergin & Garvey.

Belifore, E. and Bennett, O. (2008) The Social Impact of the Arts, London: Palgrave MacMillan.

Borg, C. & Mayo, P. (2010). Museums: Adult education as cultural politics. In E. Taylor & M. Parrish (Eds) Adult Education in Cultural Institutions: Aquariums, Libraries, Museums, Parks and Zoos (pp.35-44). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass).

Cameron, D. (2004). The museum, a temple or the forum. In G. Anderson (Ed), Reinventing the museum: Historical and contemporary perspectives on the paradigm shift (pp.61-73). Walnut Creek, California: Altamira Press.

Chobot, M. & Chobot, R. (1990). Museums as educational institutions. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 47. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Clover, D.E. (2012). Feminist artists and popular education: The creative turn. In L. Manicom & S. Walters (Eds.), Feminist popular education: Creating pedagogies of possibility (pp. 193-208). New York: Palgrave.

Crenshaw, K. (1991). Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and

violence against Women of Colour. Stanford Law Review, 43, 1241-1300.

Creswell, J. (2009). Research Design: Qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods approaches. London: Sage

Ellis, L. (2002). The backlash to access. Engage 11, 40-42.

Falk, J. & Dierking, D. (2000). Learning from museums: Visitor experiences and the making of meaning. Plymouth: Altamira Press:

Foucault, M. (1992). The archeology of knowledge. London: Routledge.

Freire, P. & Macedo, D. P. (1995). A dialogue: Culture, language and race. Harvard Educational Review, 65(3), 377-402.

Grek, S. (2004). Whose story do museums tell? In C. Hunt (Ed) Whose story now? (re)generating research in adult learning and teaching, Proceedings of the 34th Annual SCUTREA Conference (pp.101-108). Sheffield: University of Sheffield.

Grenier, R. (2007). Do As I Say, Not As I Do: A Case Study of Two Museum Docent Training Programs, AERC Proceedings. Retrieved on September 20, 2013 from:

Hooper-Greenhill, E. (2007). Museums and education: Purpose, pedagogy and education. London: Routledge.

James, C.E. & Shadd, A. (2001). Taking about identity: Encounters in race, ethnicity and language. Toronto: Between the Lines.

Janes, R. (2009). Museums in a troubled world. Milton Park, Abingdon: Routledge.

Kaplan, F. (1996). Museums and the Making of Ourselves: The Role of Objects in National Identity. Leicester: Leicester University Press.

Kudo, K., Motohashi, Y., Enomoto, Y., Kataoka & Yajima, Y. (2011). Bridging differences through dialogue: preliminary findings of the outcomes of the Human Library in a university setting. Retrieved September 05, 2013 from

Kumashiro, K. (2000). Towards a theory of anti-oppressive education. Review of Educational Research, 70, 1, 25-53.

Levin, A. (2010). Gender, sexuality and museums. London: Routledge.

Lopes, T. & Thomas, B. (2006). Dancing on live embers: Challenging racism in organizations. Toronto: Between the Line Publishing.

Manicom, L. & Walters, S. (Eds) (2012). Feminist popular education: Creating pedagogies of possibility. New York: Palgrave.

Marcuse, H (1964) One-Dimensional Man (Boston: Beacon)

Marstine, J. (Ed) (2006). New museum theory and practice. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Merriam, S.B. (1998). Qualitative research and case study applications in education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Newman, M. (2006). Teaching defiance: Stories and strategies for activist educators. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Pollock and Zemans, J. (Eds) (2007). Museums after modernism: Strategies of engagement. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Rule, P. (2004). Dialogic spaces: Adult education projects and social engagement. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 23(4), 319-334.

Smith, M. (n/d). What is pedagogy? Retrieved September 05, 2013 from:

Tiller, C. (2013). Participatory arts and community development. In M. Mayo, Z Mendiwelso-Bendek & C. Packham (Eds), Community research for community development. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Whitelaw, A., Foss, B. & Paikowsky, S. (2010). The visual arts in Canada. Don Mills: Oxford University Press Canada.

Wyman, M. (2004). The defiant imagination. Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre.




How to Cite

Clover, D. (2014). In case of emergency, break convention: A case study of a Human Library project in an art gallery. Canadian Journal for the Study of Adult Education, 26(3).

Most read articles by the same author(s)

1 2 > >>