Learning to Teach Contemporary Art

emmaAs my first year of college came to a close, my thoughts turned toward questions of how to occupy my summer. Part of the equation would be a job—something my dad reminded me of frequently—but I was also edging toward something that could fill my mind, rather than just my bank account. Luckily for me, I was able to join the UMOCA team as a summer Education Intern.


As an education intern, I’ve had the pleasure of being a part of multiple museum programs. Not only do I engage with the actual program as it takes place, but I am also thoroughly involved behind-the-scenes, writing lesson plans and doing research. One such program is the Art Truck, Utah’s only traveling educational exhibition. The truck houses a different solo show each year and is driven throughout Utah to schools and events. When I first started my internship, I was merely observing my advisor, Education Coordinator Elly Baldwin, as she discussed the artwork and taught students the meaning of contemporary art, which, by its simplest definition, is art that is being created today.


My time as an observer was short-lived, however, seeing as in no time, I was leading tours all on my own. Though it was a daunting task—a gang of children all speaking at once can be overwhelming—it really opened up my eyes to how large children’s minds can be. They asked insightful and curious questions—anytime I discussed the art, the kids would always respond with, “Why?” I needed to learn how to answer their questions so that they could engage with the artwork and contribute to the conversation, which was new for me, seeing as I had mostly spent my time discussing these topics with professors and art professionals. Teaching these students about art helped see the works in a new light.


Students study Meridith Pingree's work in the Art Truck.

Students study Meridith Pingree’s work in the Art Truck.


IMG_0962Another program I was involved with was Family Art Saturday (FAS). On the second Saturday of each month, UMOCA puts together a free family art activity inspired by one of the museum’s artists or exhibitions. During the first FAS I was involved in, I merely aided in project setup and created samples for the families to draw inspiration from. By the second FAS, I was researching different possibilities for a mobile art project inspired by Karen Hodgin-Jones’ motor-powered sculptures in Adjunct. I ended up designing a project where we took paper strips and attached them together with metal fasteners, so that we could glue an object to the end of each strip and move the contraption back-and-forth. We also offered the option to assemble the contraption together, so that when you moved it, it looked like a dragon or some other animal was opening and closing its mouth.


I must admit, finding these projects seemed simple at first. However, I quickly learned that creating a project that draws from key elements of a specific work, but is still simple and enticing enough for children to make, wasn’t easy. Challenges like these made my internship especially rewarding.


In the education department, I took part in programs like the Art Truck and Family Art Saturdays, but I also volunteered at events such as the Utah Arts Festival, UMOCA’s Annual Gala, and opening receptions. Each Tuesday, I spent the afternoon welcoming visitors at the museum’s front desk and chatting with museumgoers from all over the world, which I got to write about in multiple blogposts for the museum! I’m so grateful for the opportunity I had to intern and learn at UMOCA. I will forever be grateful to the people who decided to take a chance on the young and inexperienced college attendee, because after this internship, I definitely feel experienced.


Written by Emma Siddoway, Education Intern Summer ’15

UMOCA is currently accepting applications for our Spring 2016 internship program. Learn more here.