Intro 4: Columbus Museum of Art

Photo of Columbus Museum of Art ext.

I’ll be visiting five arts organisations (four museums and one tour company) in September 2016 as part of my Churchill Fellowship. I’d like to give a bit more information about each one and why I think their learning programmes, staff and organisational culture are particularly interesting.

My fourth stop: Columbus Museum of Art (CMA)

Columbus Museum of Art was established in 1878, making it the oldest institution I will be visiting, although they certainly haven’t been resting on their laurels over the past few years. In 2007, CMA launched a massive site development and endowment project with the goal of raising $80m. In 2011, after 13 months’ construction, the JP Morgan Chase Center for Creativity opened – 18,000sqft (1,700m2) of space dedicated to learning programmes, including zoned areas such as the Wonder Room and the Big Idea Gallery. To put the scale of the Center into context, it occupies the entire ground floor! Its prominence puts making and active engagement with artwork at the core of the visitor experience and says a lot about how much the organisation values learning. In October 2015, the third and final phase of development was completed when new galleries, a restaurant, shop and entrance were opened in the Margaret M. Walter Wing.

What I particularly like about CMA is how clearly they share their core purpose with the public, and it can be summed up in one word – creativity. Cindy Foley, Executive Assistant Director and Director of Learning and Experience at CMA, has given an engaging TED talk on the subject, titled ‘Teaching art or teaching to think like an artist’. She argues that an understanding of creativity needs to move beyond artistic skill, and when ‘teaching for creativity’ there are three habits to foster: comfort with ambiguity; idea generation; and transdisciplinary research (ie. research that serves curiosity). The CMA website describes the Center for Creativity as “a place where creativity is cultivated, championed, and celebrated”. The site also has a collection of creativity resources as well as blog categories for Musings from the Center for Creativity and inspiring Visitor Stories and Conversations.

This explicit and repeated promotion of creativity is interesting to me because I feel that this kind of thinking often stays buried in the programming process, and audiences rarely get to hear much about it. For example, at the V&A we have intergenerational engagement as the cornerstone of our families programmes; it’s important to us that everything we offer champions conversations and shared experiences between children and their parents or carers. However we don’t tend to tell families this, instead we focus on the tip of the iceberg, which is the actual programme itself. CMA aren’t just saying ‘come and participate in our programmes’, they are also saying ‘and this is why we’ve programmed them this way’. Audiences aren’t just encouraged to be creative, but to also understand what creativity is and why it’s important.

A couple of examples of the CMA approach in practice:

  1. Creativity Summit

A three-day conference (April 2016) for practitioners interested in the intersection of creativity, community and learning. Judging by the photos, the participants were active contributors rather than passive receivers and applied their own creativity to explore the conference themes and questions. And what rich questions! If this doesn’t whet your appetite, nothing will: “what dispositions support the creative process, and how might we cultivate them for ourselves and others? What is wonder, what role does it play in the imaginative and critical process of creativity? How do questions fuel growth? What factors create a fertile soil for creativity to thrive? How can we reimagine learning to promote the conditions and cultivate the thinking dispositions of creativity?”

  1. Teaching for Creativity Institute

To quote the CMA website: in this program a select group of Central Ohio educators work for one school year with CMA staff to better understand how to foster creativity and deep learning in their students, and how to cultivate innovative learning environments for their students. This program is open to all educators who are interested in how creativity can transform teaching and learning.” What appeals to me about this approach is the time commitment. Going deep, developing complex skills, trialling new approaches, and periodically coming together with peers to reflect – this strikes me as a process not to be rushed and one with rich rewards.

I’m sorry that I missed out on the Creativity Summit, but I’m very much looking forward to attending VSA Ohio’s Art and Autism conference that CMA is hosting while I’m visiting.


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