In her paper “Approaching Art Education as an Ecology: Exploring the Role of Museums,” researcher Karen Knutson suggested that today’s art museum visitor comes equipped with “a fairly low level of artistic literacy.” I wouldn’t argue with the notion, and that’s the starting point we had when we developed the Big Table Gallery I wrote about in Part 1 at the Baltimore Museum of Art.
So when it came to the activities that we were setting up, we needed the usual parameters of clear path to ‘success,’ some modeling or seeding of the activity, and of course, something that could be done without mediation as the space is un-staffed. Working off of the graphics by Post Typography, Gamynne Guillotte, the terrific Manager of Interpretation the BMA had recently hired and I created a framework for “text as image” activities that visitors could drop in, complete, and post on the wall in the space. We built off of our findings from the early rounds of testing for an in-gallery drawing experience.
When I went to visit the space on a Sunday afternoon in February, each peg was piled at least a half-dozen drawings deep by visitors, and there were people at the table busily creating new work for the wall. There were all ages that engaged at the table, and their efforts were smart, inventive, and funny. A fairly high caliber of work for an unmediated experience.
Having a place to sit down in the museum is delightful. Having a free-choice, experiential space that engages visitors with the concepts on display appears to be building artistic literacy.