Arts Awareness at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Art Museum Education as Artistic and Political Practice
thesisposted on 27.10.2017, 00:00 by Alyssa Greenberg
In the early 1970s, teens played bongo drums among the mummies at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They burned incense, shot video, and performed interpretive dance in the museum’s European Sculpture Court--often to the chagrin of the Met’s administrators, curators, and security guards. Arts Awareness was a museum education program comprised of a series of experiences in art forms such as movement, music, photography, and video through which high school students created direct responses to artworks in the museum. This dissertation project is a close analysis of Arts Awareness, considering the program’s historical and cultural context, analyzing its pedagogy, and interpreting the perspectives of its creator Philip Yenawine and several affiliated artist-educators. The study of Arts Awareness is valuable not merely as a historical excavation, but as an example of participatory pedagogy that provides important lessons for the contemporary moment. In particular, the interest in participatory pedagogy as the site of social justice work in museums links Arts Awareness with today’s practitioners. Chapter 1 situates Arts Awareness within the institutional history of the Met as well as its broader historical moment, tracing the ways in which Arts Awareness diagnosed the museum’s struggles with racial, cultural, and economic diversity not simply as the result of curatorial or outreach decisions, but of institutional power dynamics within the museum itself. Chapter 2 argues that Arts Awareness attempted to leverage the unique potential of museum education as a site for challenging these power dynamics, positing a participatory pedagogy that made critical reflection on the power relations between individual and institution a fundamental component of engagement with art, and with the museum itself. Chapter 3 compares the motivations, objectives, and methods of Arts Awareness with those of contemporary practitioners of participatory and social-justice-oriented pedagogy through the lens of their respective approaches to the question of the “outsider.” Arts Awareness provides a crucially important model of educational practice driven by critical reflection on the relationship between pedagogy and institutional power dynamics--a reflection that any museum education program that aspires to the mantles of “inclusion” or “social justice” as they are predominantly articulated today must undertake.