LIN Miaomiao 林苗苗 and Colin MACKENZIE 馬麟
Beijing World Art Museum 中華世紀壇世界藝術館 and The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
A 12-Month Fellowship in the Curatorial and Education Departments at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
This paper explores my experience as a 12-month J.S. Lee Fellow at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Unlike previous fellowships, which have been primarily focused on art history/curatorial research, my goal as a museum educator was to understand the organizational structure of a Western museum, and the role that education portrays in it, and to see what aspects of Western museum organization and museum processes could be usefully applied to China.
During my yearlong fellowship, I worked with the Chinese Art Curator, Dr. Colin Mackenzie, and the Director of Education Division, Mrs. Judith Koke. With their guidance, I contributed to the exhibitions Journey through Mountains & Rivers: Chinese Landscapes Ancient and Modern, and Jade: China's Immortal Soul, and the educational programmes Chinese New Year Events, and Family Gallery Guide to Chinese Art. Through my participation in a great number of museum practices, I finally figured out what the similarities and differences in education are, and what we could learn from American museums.
In this presentation I will discuss some of the areas in which I gained a better understanding of the complexity of museum work, particularly the organization of exhibitions in the US. One of the key insights I gained was how closely curatorial, education, and fundraising departments work together. In particular, the concept of keeping the audience as the focus and trying to see a potential exhibition, even from early discussions, from the point of view of the audience. I found that concepts like the "big idea" and the "take away message" were considered very important. I also learned much about the focus on audience evaluation both in terms of general demographics and surveys of visitors' attitudes toward the museum prior to their visit as well as their experience during the visit.
As a museum educator working in a museum that exhibits primarily "foreign" (i.e., non-Chinese) art and therefore deals with challenges of interpreting it to a domestic (i.e., Chinese) audience, it was very useful to work with a non-European Department which faces similar challenges-how to engage audiences with material that can be totally unfamiliar.
Although not all the practices in a US museum can be transferred wholesale to a Chinese museum, I believe that it is important for Chinese museums to understand the dialogue and changes that are taking place in Western museums and to adopt those elements that are suitable. Since returning to China, I have begun to discuss with my colleagues how we can use some of the new techniques and organizational structures that I encountered during my fellowship and we have begun to think about an achievable and realistic plan for the next three years.
I believe that a successful exchange can contribute to both professional exchange and personal life exchange; it could even lead to the creation of future international joint programmes. I truly hope my fellowship experience can be a useful example for the J. S. Lee Memorial Fellowship Programme as well as being beneficial to future fellows.