At SITES, we’re always looking for new and interesting programs to recommend to our exhibitors. We suggest speakers, workshops, events, educational activities, and more so that our venues can reap the full benefit of hosting one of our exhibitions.
To this end, I was recently introduced to a program at the Smithsonian American Art Museum which matches perfectly with SITES’ core mission of bringing the Smithsonian to YOU. This distance learning program, called Artful Connections, uses real-time videoconferencing in which museum docents teach lessons about U.S. history and culture using the museums’ extensive holdings of American art. That’s right – it’s basically a Smithsonian-led tour of Smithsonian artwork taking place right in YOUR classroom! And best of all – it’s FREE!
Topics range from “The Lure of the West” to “Found Object Artworks” and correspond to national education standards. For SITES, I was most interested in the program “America’s Signs & Symbols,” as I suspected the themes would parallel those in our exhibition Becoming American: Teenagers & Immigration, making it an excellent program to recommend to future museums on the tour.
Actually observing the “America’s Signs & Symbols” videoconference helped me understand how the setup works, and how valuable the program really is. The docent sits at studio desk and speaks to a camera, using a computer monitor to zoom and indicate details on artwork seen on the screen in the classroom. The docent sees what the students see on a one monitor, and another monitor shows video of the classroom itself (the view in this photo was later adjusted to be able to see the students – sweet kindergarteners from my hometown of Greenville, SC!) This way, the instructor can see both the students and what the students are seeing, which facilitates communication and allows the program to run smoothly.
We’re hopeful that our exhibitors will use Artful Connections and recommend it to schools in their area. It’s another great way to experience the Smithsonian without coming to Washington, DC!