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July 2019 cultural, arts, and museum education in review

Hello again!

In this series, I discuss a few cultural, arts, or museum education articles that you may have missed or didn’t have time to read in the past month. All of the resources are publicly accessible.

This month is short and sweet, because 1. I sliced my pinky open with a grater and it’s harder to type than you’d think and 2. I have an announcement for you!


(P.S. If you can’t access one of the articles, or if you find something interesting that you’d like to have included in next month’s newsletter, send me an email!)

Photo courtesy of Andrea Jones.


We Need More Than Empathy: A Call For Social-Emotional Learning In Museums,” Andrea Jones, blog post, 15 minutes to read

Summary: Jones outlines some of the empathy-, social-, and emotional-centered movements and research in the education field at the moment and how these could potentially be drawn into museum work and practice.

Main points:

  • -Social-Emotional Learning definition: “the process through which children and adults: understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, make responsible decisions.”

  • The museum field seems to be increasingly concerned with empathy, but has yet to establish a working method or consensus on how to incorporate empathy into museum work.

  • Fostering empathy can be framed in different ways: “Some kinds of empathy frame stories in a way that can leave visitors with more of a ‘selective empathy’ – reserved for people just like them.”

  • “…human beings make decisions in their lives based mostly on emotion. Then they use rational thought to justify their emotional response.”

  • There’s a lot of research on empathy, compassion, and learning that’s already out there, so there’s a great foundation for this to be implemented in museums.

Major takeaways:

  • If your museum is trying to encourage more compassion and empathy, Gretchen Jenning’s Empathetic Museum group and the Dalai Lama’s/Emory University’s Social Emotional and Ethical Learning framework are good places to start.

  • These empathy frameworks employ critical thought “to examine the roots of our emotions, values, ethics, and relationships” instead of using rational thought to justify our initial emotional reaction.

  • Empathy is important to “understand and identify emotions” and “figure out our purpose and values.”

  • Empathy is important for all age ranges—it is something that needs to be reinforced, practiced, or learned throughout our lives (rather than being limited to school); so museums, as lifelong learning institutions, can be the perfect environment for learning about and practicing empathy.

  • If empathy learning frameworks are to be incorporated into museum practices, “we have to work at making our organizations more emotionally healthy overall. We have to learn how to identify toxic workplace dynamics, be mindful of our emotions, and identify our values in ethical decision making.”


Embedding Engagement: Participatory Approaches to Cultural Heritage,” Neil Forbes and Silvana Colella, 10 pages, 35 minutes to read

Summary: A survey of “good practices” from the REACH (Re-designing Access to Cultural Heritage for a wider participation in preservation, [re-]use and management of European culture) program.

Main points:

  • The participatory practices of REACH are founded on the idea that “cultural heritage plays an important role in contributing to social integration” (p. 69).

  • Rather than simply celebrating the past and historic cultural heritage, “…care for the past is interlaced with care for the future” (p. 69), meaning that a link is made between how we care for and celebrate heritage and how we celebrate and promote contemporary culture.

  • The four pillars meant to serve as the foundation for policies of culture promotion and preservation are engagement, sustainability, protection, and innovation (p. 70).

  • Participation ranges from “minimal” to “optimal … when citizens fully share control, power and responsibilities” (p. 70).

  • In one example, “protecting and re-activating forms of intangible heritage about to disappear can only be warranted by engaging the local Indigenous communities in collaborative and participatory activities” (p. 71).

  • Online or digital participation is also effective in the field of cultural heritage, for example, through the “online crowdsourcing of ideas, memories, personal stories, and other data” (p. 73).

Major takeaways:

  • “Achieving a level of participation that is truly transformative requires both short- and long-term processes” (p. 70).

  • There is no one-size-fits-all model when it comes to participation (i.e., don’t get too stuck on “optimal” participation in every case): different target groups, projects, organizations, etc. will require different types of participation and different types of participatory initiatives (p. 71).

  • Participation works effectively in cases in which the target group (e.g., Indigenous groups or women) has a form of knowledge exclusive to that group, meaning that that group is the most qualified to preserve and/or transmit that intangible heritage (pp. 71–72).

  • Although examples of “optimal” participation are not common, the movement from participation as an idea to participatory practices is well underway (p. 75).

  • Analyzing and measuring participation (using the REACH participatory framework; see pp. 76–77) is an integral part to incorporating participation into the preservation and communication of cultural heritage (p. 76).

Fun Fact: Okay, so this is something I’ve ACTUALLY wondered about: Who in the world has ever slipped on a banana peel? Thank goodness Atlas Obscura unveiled the history of the life-threatening banana peel in trash-filled 19th-century NYC.


Research, complexity and love”: On the role of love—both for the topic, the process, and for our colleagues/students/visitors/etc.—in research and teaching.

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