from MasonARC’s Interview Blog Series: The Impact of Covid-19 on Arts Programing, Practice, and Research
Darian Stapleton: Tell me about your background in arts research and programming. And what you’re currently working on? What is your role in arts research and practice?
Tiffany McGettigan (Head of Education, Hirschhorn Museum): I have been an educator since 2002, for almost 20 years.I began as a classroom teacher. I did the Teach for America program for twoyears in Washington D.C..while I was teaching, I took my kids to a lot of museums and realized that a lot of my students who were particularly challenging or disengaged in the classroom became much more excited, curious, talkative, and engaged in the learning process. Around the same time, I found out that museum education was a field, something I had never realized growing up in the Mid-West.
I then graduated from GW’s Master’s program in Museum Education, and since 2005 I have worked in a range of museum and historic house programs. Some of the programs I have developed have been for schools, but more recently in the past six years I’ve worked for the Hirshhorn Museum (in Washington D.C.). Most of my current work iswith family groups and teen after school programs. I’ve recently become the head of education for the Hirshhorn ,but previously I oversaw youth programming for kids under the age of 12.
Darian: How do you use arts research in your practice and how does museum education connect to the larger arts ecosystem?
Tiffany: I’m especially passionate about informal learning opportunities in the arts because I think a lot of the research shows that kids have a more positive experience in museums when they come with a family or peer group that is not in a formal, structured, classroom environment. They’re more likely to want to come back, and I think that there is a lot of power in that. Our education work within a contemporary art museum is also really focused on how the artists we collect and exhibit are grappling with issues that are very relevant to our timeWe use art as a vehicle to help kids—even young children— develop positive self-identity and using art as a vehicle for that. Art is a really accessible way to tackle some of those more challenging topics. Within ourteen programs we have a lot of emerging artist workshops where the teens reflect on their own ideas and identity, and they actually exhibit their work at the museum as well.
Darian: What has your arts practice been like during the pandemic? Can you provide any examples of how you adapted projects?
Tiffany: When we had to close the building it was challenging to figure out what we were going to do. It’s very different to have an in-person program twice a week with the same people coming in and building relationships with them, to suddenly being completely virtual. We opted to do something more evergreen, and created static art making projects on a website called Hirshhorn Kids at Home (https://hirshhorn.si.edu/explore/kids-at-home/projects/). We have published around 40 projects to date (July 2021). We decided to make reusable online resources that can be accessed even after we restart in person programs. We built a library of resources that tell an artist’s story and give people accessible and joyful projects they can do at home, it has been very popular. We like to think that our content is out of the box and unique compared to a lot of other online art content available for kids. We try to think about the artist’s process and materials and translate it in a meaningful way that kids and caregivers can explore at home.
One of the positives of the pandemic is the ability to create the online resources that we had wanted for a while, but didn’t have the staffing to conceptualize them. The pandemic gave us the time and freedom we needed. We’ve also been able to reach an international audience with the online resources, connecting with new people we weren’t able to before. One of the challenges has been trying to create online content for early childhood. We developed what we call mini art lessons, which are meant to be more discovery based and exploratory. Another issue with the online resources is that we don’t get as much feedback, it’s harder to be reflective and adapt the teaching based on the needs of the students and parents.
Darian: How do you view the current state of the arts ecosystem (researchers, practitioners, consumers, policies, students etc. involved in art)? How has the arts ecosystem changed since COVID? Where is it headed?
Tiffany: I will speak to the museum world; a lot of museums have been badly impacted by COVID. Many museums have let their education staff go to alleviate stress on the budget. As a museum educator, I really worry about this shift and hope that as buildings start to open, education programs will be prioritized. It’s part of the museum mission to service the public and make things accessible to people, and programming plays a large role in this service.
Darian: How do you see the arts implicated in the increased calls for racial justice? How do you think this may impact future funding for the arts given the current socio-political climate?
Tiffany: We realized, now more than ever, the importance of using the art and artists in our collection to tap into issues of social justice. We also realized the importance of exposing children to the issues at a young age. It’s a critical part of our mission to explore these ideas, and to allow kids and parents access to them. As far as funding, the Smithsonian has some internal funds that are committed to social justice, including the American Women’s History initiative (https://womenshistory.si.edu/). We have received program funding from this initiative to introduce children to women artists from a young age. There are other internal funding pools at the Smithsonian that are focused on Latino initiatives and racial justice. At the Smithsonian, beyond just the arts, our collection at large has the potential to tell many stories and speak to these larger issues of social justice in America and internationally as well.
Darian: What are your goals in the use of arts research in practice? What are your expectations in arts research?
Tiffany: I would love to see more arts research focused on intergenerational learning. As a museum practitioner, a lot of what happens, even outside of our programs, is between generations and within family groups. Those intergenerational conversations are important for people to learn, and in our art making programs a lot of that co-learning is really powerful.
I also think research on early childhood and the arts in informal learning environments is important. Many of our programs tend to have regular kids, at least 20 kids that are monthly regulars. Within the other branches of the Smithsonian, we find that the same kids rotate between the other museum programs as well. I think it would be interesting if there were studies on the impact of arts, art museums, and informal learning experiences on young children; and how that shapes their educational outcomes compared to a traditional pre-school setting. I have several anecdotes from the families about how the programs have helped them, but does it shape them in some way that is distinct from their peers in traditional education?