Critically Engaging Volunteer Guides
A Study of Adult Learning in a Art Museum
The role of art museum educators has shifted from presenter of information to facilitator of dialogue. But as art museums pledge to be more accountable to — and representative of — a plurality of publics and narratives, what is spoken about with visitors? Given revolving temporary exhibitions and expanded readings of permanent collections, guides play a dual role of adult learner and educator. This article asks what learning opportunities equip art museum guides to critically engage with challenging subject matter. A qualitative research project grounded in the author’s reflective practice, it draws on interviews with newly trained volunteer guides. Responses suggest that guides’ relationships to challenging subject matter are multilayered and deserving of both personal and institutional attention. Findings point to a need for support that includes, but is not limited to, ongoing training. This article will contribute to the growing but limited scholarship on art museum educators’ learning, speaking to efforts by trainers and adult educators to foster reflexivity and critically embrace the potentially challenging and necessary dialogues inspired by art museum collections.
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