A Community of Learning

Inside the Jul–Aug 2020 issue of NGV Magazine, Michele Stockley, NGV Head of Learning, explores how museums have evolved to become important places for lifelong learning and considers the NGV’s own journey since 1950. Throughout this journey, the NGV has collaborated with a community of people passionate about the life-changing learning experiences art and design can offer.

Exclusively for NGV Magazine Online and to continue this issue’s celebration of seventy years of the NGV Learning Department, we asked Vince Alessi (Senior Lecturer, Visual Arts and Art History at La Trobe University), Lily Mae Martin (Visual Artist and NGV Drop-by-Drawing Artist), Dr Robert Brown (Senior Lecturer, Arts Education, Melbourne Graduate School of Education at The University of Melbourne), and Dr Kathryn Hendy-Ekers (Curriculum Manager, Visual Art, Communication Design and Media) one question each about the unique learning experiences museums and art provide.

What can learning in a museum like the NGV offer that cannot be found easily anywhere else?

Vince Alessi: As a Senior Lecturer at La Trobe University, a Learning Partner of the NGV, I have been fortunate to teach our students at the NGV in a Summer School program; a unique opportunity afforded to our students annually. Teaching at a museum such as the NGV provides a learning opportunity like no other. Foremost is the opportunity for students to learn directly from the object. Nothing can replace the experience of being able to engage with an artwork in such an immediate setting. Being in front of an object, be it a Tintoretto painting or a Marc Newson chair, make both the object and the creator real; they are not mysterious and historical figures in a PowerPoint presentation.

The museum allows the chance to explore history and concepts – everything from gender, climate change, politics to religion – through objects. In the museum these ideas move from the conceptual to the physical. Moreover, the museum allows for students to think how cultures and societies have engaged with these ideas over time by physically comparing and contrasting objects.

Lastly, the museum allows space for multiple voices. In my case these voices include students, academics, curators, educators, artists and designers and above all else, objects.

Has working in the arts changed any opinions or perspectives on life you previously held and what is one thing that surprised you engaging with NGV?

Lily Mae Martin: I’ve been working in the arts for all of my adult life, seventeen years now, and it has definitely shaped the artist and the person that I am now.

It has given me the ability to listen and take the time to process ideas and information. In a world that is becoming faster in response time and opinion, art is a space where one can take the time to process or contribute to perspectives. To me it is the one place where you can sit with ideas and truly engage with them, even if they are not your own world view.

The National Gallery of Victoria is a place that I have been visiting for my entire life. I remember being truly challenged when I did drawing classes there as a child; Charles Blackman’s paintings had a lasting impression on me. As a young adult I was so thrilled that I got to do some work with the gallery. I am always impressed by how passionate and knowledgeable everyone is. I always learn something new there; from the other staff and from participants in workshops.

NGV Learning is designed around a model of creative, enquiry-led learning not only in the visual arts but with links across curriculum areas. In your experience and research, what do models of learning like this offer to students and what are some lasting benefits?

Dr Robert Brown: Working with diverse school groups, many of which have had little experience in galleries, NGV Educators passionately engage students with a ‘real experience’ with art and the gallery. Through a shared inquiry, Educators impart knowledge whilst also animating the personal aesthetic responses and interpretive capabilities of students. Through rich and reciprocal dialogues NGV Educators promote the agency of young people to connect with art and develop a critical awareness of the historical and cultural systems that frame how artworks are created and valued in our world.

In your experience and opinion, what does museum education look like now, what does its future look like and what can it offer that cannot be found elsewhere?

Dr Kathryn Hendy-Ekers: Museum learning, its purposes and pedagogies have transformed over the last 20 years. There has been a shift from the traditional tours offered to visiting school groups to interactive programs that engage audiences from different age groups and backgrounds. The NGV has been at the forefront of museum learning by offering innovative programs that build a broader knowledge about society and culture for viewers, and place artists and artworks at their centre. These programs involve the viewer as an artist and use interactions with artworks to develop innovation, problem solving and creativity. Learning programs that interact with contemporary art and artists promote thinking about contemporary society and the issues and challenges we all encounter. Programs such as Top Arts and Melbourne Now attract audiences and the learning programs and resources surrounding these exhibitions inspire young artists and provide a future for our arts industry.

Museum learning has a unique pedagogy that focuses on direct experience with objects to develop thinking strategies and twenty-first century capabilities that can be applied in all aspects of everyday life. The exhibition related programs cater for learners from all backgrounds and ages: 8 to 80 years. You are never too old or young to engage with and learn about art.

Read more about the role of learning at the NGV and other cultural institutions inside the Jul–Aug issue of NGV Magazine.