Before leaving the Bronx Museum, the museum educator said,
Your students are my last group for the summer. They are such a great group. They are unlike other students I worked with in the Bronx. I have had students who showed zero interest in art. People assume I have fun and it’s easy-going as an artist here but working with youth is getting more difficult.
She walked us to the elevator and added,
The Bronx Museum is going through a fight about space since the building didn’t really belong to them. I’ve been her for a long time but I am not sure what is going to happen.
Oh, that’s going on here too!?
Here, please, lastly, she gave me an evaluation sheet, fill this out for me.
Why do museums do that? Why do they ask the teachers to fill out evaluation forms as if the children are non-existent? If she would have asked my students to fill out an evaluation form, she would have gotten the whole truth.
On the way back to the school, I couldn’t help but think of how I would have lead my students through the Jamel Shabazz exhibit.
It was almost strange how her entire pedagogy was all-together off. My students were very interested in the material we came to see, because I taught them many lessons before we went. However, when we got there, the artist wasn’t at all engaging.
Instead of telling her much, I decided while on the way back to the school, I will conduct two restorative circles to hear their feedback then I will end the day with an art activity that the museum should have done.
I conducted two restorative circles. I turned the classroom into a museum exhibit.
The first assignment I completed with my students was with the teens. It was during this time, that I learned that some thought the show was boring and some were looking forward to actually meeting Jamal Shabazz. When I asked them how they would have showed the work, they mentioned that a video to see Shabazz speak would have been nice and even a zoom call with the artist for question and answer. They admitted that they didn’t see the connection between the pencil excise, the watercolor and the photographs.
(The educator told me she loved to just let children do art… “they are thinking about what they saw and somehow it would come out in their watercolor”…)
The second restorative circle was with the younger children. It began after their lunch period.
I gathered old photos from my photo albums and my darkroom days. I placed them on the wall and allowed the students to get as close to the photos as they wanted. I split them up into groups then the groups into pairs. Each student had a few minutes to draw a quick sketch of any image on the wall and when I told them to switch, each student had to give it to a friend who in turn looked for the image they drew.
During this exhibition, they laughed and talked about art. They asked questions and showed they were very capable of viewing art and engaging in conversation about the art itself.
I knew my students. They were unhappy, insulted I might add, that they went to the museum to see work by an artist they studied before hand and the museum educator was not equipped to engage in dialogue with them. I could have asked to give the tour myself but assumed she was well versed in the subject matter more than me. When I realized she wasn’t, I tried to give her pointers but she quickly placed paper and paint in from of them and told them to paint anything. All the while, telling me how worried she is about the program closing.