Marla Shoemaker is the Curator of Education for Youth and Family Programs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In addition to being named National Museum Educator of the Year by the National Art Education Association, she was invited to be a Museum Guest Scholar at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. She spent three months there studying interactive teaching techniques and their role in museum teaching.
SA: What exactly does a museum educator do?
MS: In the largest sense, the job of a museum educator is to build connections between museum collections and a broad and diverse public. They write recorded tours, give gallery talks, and organize film series, concerts, poetry readings, and symposia, all related to their collections and exhibitions. They may collaborate with local artists, sponsor artist residencies or mural projects, give art appreciation talks at libraries and community centers, or organize technique demonstrations in galleries. The goal is to provide multiple and diverse entry points into art and the museum collection so that many kinds of learners can make fruitful connections with the objects on view.
Museum educators collaborate with teachers to plan new programs and develop curriculum resources. They lead workshops and courses for teachers on ways of making the most of museum resources, as well as offering studio art classes, either as part of a school group visit or as after-school or weekend offerings.
SA: What advice regarding training and preparation would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career in museum education?
MS: The single most important thing is a rich and deep understanding of the art world, including strong components of art history, criticism, and aesthetics, as these are the realms most often dealt with in museum galleries. …