ArtCity: Art education in the gallery (and virtual) space


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In September, I returned to the Woodstock Art Gallery as the Assistant Curator of the Education Intern, eager to bridge the gap between artistic programming within the permanent collection and the public.

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In September, I returned to the Woodstock Art Gallery as the Assistant Curator of the Education Intern, eager to bridge the gap between artistic programming within the permanent collection and the public. I have been involved in the gallery for three years, first as a co-op student with the education department in 2018, then as a curatorial and collections assistant in 2019 and 2020. In my previous position, I worked exclusively in a background curator role. exhibitions and help in the management of collections. With this new role of Assistant Curator of Education, however, I was once again able to rekindle my interest in bringing the arts to the local community.

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This position, of course, comes with some unique challenges during a pandemic. Everything we once considered iconic in educational programming – in-person class trips, tours, and studio events – has been put on hold with great caution. Over the past year and a half, staff at the Woodstock Art Gallery have created online courses and educational resources, virtual exhibitions and other online activities for the public. In addition, artist talks, curatorial webinars and exhibition openings were all broadcast virtually. It was under these unique circumstances that I started my new position in the education department.

The role of Assistant Curator of Education is a fairly recent addition to the staff roster of the Woodstock Art Gallery. Created in 2018, this short course helps educational and curatorial services to carry out public programming. Previous interns have organized exhibitions, wrote a practical accessibility guide, conducted research, and conducted education programs. However, the current goals of the education department had to be completely reoriented to cope with the pandemic. Virtual resources are further developed and made accessible to the public as well as to teachers. As collaboration with the curatorial department of the Woodstock Art Gallery has become a central part of arts education programming, alternative methods of experiencing exhibits are also being developed.

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The future of education programs, however, will not remain entirely in a virtual space. There is a unique value to in-person programming that the staff at the Woodstock Art Gallery aspire to return to. The release of community building kits and art handbags throughout the past year, for example, has been a way to get art creation materials back into the hands of the public during the tightest restrictions. Now that the lockdowns are slowly easing and the restrictions are diminishing, we have started to revert to in-person education programs.

In September, the gallery hosted its first Creative PA daytime program since the pandemic began with a small group of children. The day was filled with art as we visited exhibits, visited the park and explored sculpture lessons. At the end of the day, each child brought home their sculpture and multimedia creations, along with the tools to create more. Building on this successful day, the education department will slowly begin rolling out more in-person programs, including another creative day in November. But this, of course, will take time.

Throughout this pandemic, educational programs have taken many forms – from fully virtual resources to home art kits and sound days, educational programs have required innovation and creativity. The future of education will forever be shaped by the lessons learned during the pandemic and may take a whole new form that has yet to be explored.

Julia deKwant is the Assistant Curator of Trainee Education at the Woodstock Art Gallery. The Woodstock Art Gallery acknowledges support for this position which is funded by Young Canada Works at Building Careers in Heritage.

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