Civic engagement comes in different shapes and sizes. Last month, I wrote about how one museum uses its history and collections to incite visitors towards social action. There are quieter methods, too. I worked at a museum that co-hosted an annual event with a student group; in addition to the opportunity to see art after hours, it included yoga in the galleries, shoulder massages in the lobby, and goodwill all around. It was always a smashing success. Engaging the community can be about opening your doors and seeing what they might want to use your space for.If we’re looking for institutions that have found innovative ways to invite the community into their museum, the Delaware Art Museum shoots to the top of the list. Its Outlooks Exhibition Series “encourages community involvement in the creation of exhibitions that will be hosted by the Museum.” In the three years since the initiative has been in place, twelve shows have gone up. Exhibition themes have ranged from folk art, to modern ceramics, to juried shows with artworks from various community groups. In each case, the exhibition is proposed by an individual or group in the area, with the aim of representing a group, exploring a cultural identity, and/or focusing on a particular medium. Several shows have provided a space for area artists, often amateurs, to display their work.
The most recent exhibition, “Creativity Multiplied: Art Teachers of the Christina School District,” is a celebration of art educators. Eleven teachers exhibited 27 artworks, selected by an artist and former University of Delaware faculty member. The pieces are bright and lively, and taken as a whole they are a testament to the kind of creativity and inspiration these artists bring to the classroom.
It’s no small thing to involve the public in the work that you do. In the field of public history that practice is termed “shared authority,” and there is a reason the concept still pervades most discussions of community engagement. It can be hard to let community partners dictate some of the terms. In an art museum, exhibition development is the bread and butter of curatorial work. How do you successfully transfer some of that job to your audience, without losing your vision or sacrificing your quality standards? The Delaware Art Museum knocks it out of the park.
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE 19806