In Spring 2006, when I was preparing for my first interview for my current position as deputy director for education at MoMA, I spent some quality time with a fascinating book: Art in Our Time: A Chronicle of the Museum of Modern Art. Edited by Harriet S. Bee and Michelle Elligott, a Museum archivist, the book—published in celebration of MoMA’s new building in 2004—uses archival documents and photographs to document the decades from the Museum’s 1929 inception to its reopening in 2004.
Page by page I became more and more absorbed in the evolving story, a rich history of this venerable institution. By the end, however, I was troubled. Although founded as an “educational institution,” there were only a scant few references to the Education Department during all of these years. And in fact, the “redesignation of the Education Office as the Museum’s Department of Education,” one of the few references to the department (1978), suggests a shroud of mystery and intrigue. Michelle later explained to me that unfortunately there was little archival material that remained at the institution documenting the educational initiatives over these many decades.
I arrived at MoMA just as the new Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Education and Research Building was to be opened, and at many of the opening events people would share passionate stories of their first experiences with MoMA, many catalyzed by art-making experiences in the classes set up by Victor D’Amico, the Museum’s first director of education, who served from 1939 to 1970.
I found a curious compatriot in my department early on. Gwen Farrelly, then the Emily Fisher Landau Education Fellow at MoMA, had begun to research the spaces for education programming from 1929 to 1969. As she researched a timeline and the evolution of spaces for education programming, I became interested in the shifting pedagogical and programmatic initiatives of MoMA’s history.
Along the way, I also met Christopher Kohan, president of the board of the Victor D’Amico Institute. Victor D’Amico was the founding director of MoMA’s “Educational Project,” and what later became the Education Department. The Art Barge, which now houses the D’Amico Institute, is an old army barge pushed up on a piece on land in Amagansett, on Long Island, New York. One of D’Amico’s many innovative initiatives to help people understand and enjoy modern art, it was the site of a series of summer art-making classes—a function still provided by the Institute today.
Over the past three years, I have had many conversations about the early history of MoMA, and found other colleagues here and abroad who were also interested in early leaders in modern museum education and their evolution within—and contributions to—the prevailing pedagogical, social, and historical contextual cultures of their time.
For this reason I am gathering some of my like-minded colleagues together on June 25 in MoMA’s Education and Research Building for a panel discussion, Mining Modern Museum Education, to examine some of these seminal figures, their times, and their pedagogical strategies.
In the next few weeks, we will feature a series of guest blog posts by each of the panelists: Robert Eskridge (Woman’s Board Endowed Executive Director of Museum Education, The Art Institute of Chicago) on Katharine Kuh; Kim Kanatani (Deputy Director and Gail Engelberg Director of Education, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum) on Hilla Rebay; Kelly McKinley (Richard and Elizabeth Currie Director of Education and Public Programming, Art Gallery of Ontario) on Arthur Lismer; and Briley Rasmussen (Museum Educator, Los Angeles County Museum of Art) on Victor D’Amico. I hope you will be able to join us for the event—and if you or anyone you know has a personal story they would like to share about their experiences at MoMA or in educational programs at other museums, please send us a message to post!