Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Participating in the Neoliberal Art Museum

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Participating in the Neoliberal Art Museum

Article excerpt

Art museums have increasingly been promoting participatory activities that enable the inclusion of visitors' perspectives in programming and exhibition spaces. This article endeavors to clarify the constraints and contradictions of such a mandate within the neoliberal art museum Neoliberalism1 is a pervasively operating and mute ideological formation that covers its tracks within everyday agendas and practices, including those found in art museum education As noted by Giroux (2011), neoliberalism,

with its emphasis on the privatization of public wealth, the elimination of social protections, and its deregulation of economic activity now shapes practically every commanding political and economic institution in the United States In these circumstances, notions of the public good, community, and the obligations of citizenship are replaced by the overburdened demands of individual responsibility and an utterly privatized ideal of freedom (para 1)

Education-art museum or otherwise-is politicized in a sense as offering solutions to social, economic, and cultural problems plaguing society today, remaking societal inequities as individual, learning responsibilities Using the recent exhibition, 30 Americans, displayed at the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM), we ask: How does art museum education buttress neoliberal discourses and priorities in a relationship that is underexplored in the movement toward enhanced visitor value and participation? While these interconnections have been considered in networked environments, the media, popular culture, public and higher education, research, and participatory and political art, there has not yet been sustained analysis of these currents in art museum education (Dean, 2012; Gielen, 2012; Giroux, 2014; McCarthy, 2011; Relyea, 2013; Rottenberg, 2013) Although we do not propose tidy resolutions, we do consider alternative starting points to think about our practices differently We maintain that such an examination is needed in a time of increasing privatization, social stratification, and hypersegregation in American society and beyond To begin, we start with a consideration of how we got to our present circumstances

Neoliberal Citizen as Cultural Consumer

Neoliberal tenets seem natural and essential to our times Emerging in the 1970s, neoliberalism has privatized collectively and/or used state-run resources Neoliberalism is associated with liberating free enterprise from bonds imposed by governments that might restrict the movement of goods and services Mandates in harmony with neoliberalism have included cutting public expenditure for social services, including the funding of public higher education, deregulating to increase profits, encouraging privatization for efficiency, and emphasizing individual responsibility to ensure consumer choice and entrepreneurial initiative These practices have trickled down into educational environments where open intellectual inquiry and debate have been replaced with an institutional stress on performativity, including its ability to be instrumental, commercial, and practical in preparing students for the world of work, as evidenced by an emphasis on strategic planning, performance indicators, quality assurance measures, and academic audits

Under neoliberalism, individuals are valued for being active in making choices to further their own interests and that of their families, thereby, shaping them into entrepreneurial actors in their quest for self-expression, freedom, and prosperity while at the same time reducing the need of the state to be responsible for their well-being (Davies & Bansel, 2007) Within neoliberalism, the concept of the citizen is thus transformed As Davies and Bansel explained,

The so-called "passive" citizen of the welfare state becomes the autonomous "active" citizen with rights, duties, obligations and expectations-the citizen as active entrepreneur of the self; the citizen as morally superior This is not simply a reactivation of liberal values of self-reliance, autonomy and independence as the necessary conditions for selfrespect, self-esteem, self-worth and self-advancement but rather an emphasis on enterprise and the capitalization of existence itself through calculated acts and investments combined with the shrugging off of collective responsibility for the vulnerable and marginalized (p 252)

The arts, as creative capital or educational site, have also been influenced by neoliberalism under such discourses as the cultural industries movement Cultural industries use creativity, cultural knowledge, and intellectual property to produce products and services with social and cultural meaning (Loy, 2009) Museums, cultural festivals, and artist studios-among other cultural venues-are imagined as engines that have the potential to revive local economies Creative culture industries experts, such as Florida (2002), have suggested that to revive our economies we need to dress up our towns and cities as tourist destinations with a series of adventures in consumption Museums appear as circuits of production, circulation, and exchange of cultural value where subjects test their freedom to consume, and therefore, to produce value as individual players Cultural consumption thus becomes a form of investment and a sign of citizenry in line with neoliberalism Here, the art museum has a vital role to play

Art Museum as Edutainment

Barrett (2011) discusses how the relationship between the museum and the public has changed over time, moving from the authoritative role of civilizing and educating people in the late 18th and 19th centuries through displays of national achievement, to an increased emphasis on visitors and their experiences Moving away from universalizing to democratizing practices allowed a larger proportion of the population to participate physically and intellectually within the museum's walls 2 Diverse representations and dissenting practices among disciplines; communication with marginalized communities in devising exhibitions and programming; and thematic versus chronological approaches to exhibiting, knowledge, and control continues to be centered, by appropriation, in and by the museum Although multiple ways of interpreting the world and its histories; diverse representations and dissenting practices among disciplines; communication with marginalized communities in devising exhibitions and programming; and thematic versus chronological approaches to exhibiting are advocated, knowledge, and control continues to be centered, by appropriation, in and by the museum (Boast, 2011) Here, learning is understood to be social, allowing individual visitors to generate ideas, share perspectives, and contribute to some collective understanding Furthermore, one of the outcomes of this newer museology is the development of educational and public programs for audiences that have been differentiated into categories so that they could be served and measured This conflation of goals still exists today and sets up an ongoing tension between museum and visitor, authority and participant, knowledge and consumption

Currently, education as social participation within the museum has taken its place within the experience economy (Pine & Gilmore, 1999) based on individual consumer choice and preference Funding bodies regulate art museum education as a provider of services that compete with other entertainment options Gielen and De Bruyne (2012) articulated education under a neoliberal catering regime as giving "customers the impression that they can choose anything they like, made to their own measure, while in fact it delivers mass-produced, standardized products" (p 5) Interacting with visitors' personal interests dictates the need for a variety of choices to meet visitors where they are-not to move them, trouble their current understandings, or exemplify what most art educators define as learning Under the neoliberal regime, the art museum visitor is considered a consumer seeking maximum customer satisfaction in the use value of their "free time "

Along these lines, Newhouse (1998/2006) claims the public art museum has mutated into a vehicle for entertainment, or "edutainment" (Hooper-Greenhill, 2007, p 33) since the late 1990s Whether characterized as constructivist learning (Hein, 2001), free-choice (Falk & Dierking, 2002), or discovery learning,3 these theories of learning within the museum are representational forms with objectives set out in advance, although not always readily apparent Usually edutainment activities appear as enhancements to audience experiences such as the inclusion of visual and physical effects, simulations that recreate activities or projects, or gaming narratives that give viewers options All provide interaction to those involved in learning while playing into the expectations of people who are accustomed to the entertainment venues of theme parks and movie theatres Such a range of choices vying for visitors' attention counters the impersonal nature of large art museums and their apparent didacticism or the vestiges thereof Thus, the consumption of culture within the museum has been seemingly demystified through interaction and accelerated in line with consumer demands for pleasure, social exchange, and sensuous experience-not to mention memory building-all in harmony with the experience economy Research conducted by McKinley Parrish (2010) confirmed and extended this predicament wherein visitors are primarily seeking entertainment with others in museums they believe intersect with their shared values In serving up culture as entertainment, participation becomes key

The Participatory Museum

As an approach capitalizing on edutainment, Simon's (2010) participatory museum characterizes visitors as cultural participants instead of passive consumers Simon noted that museums need to keep up with the times For example, today's networked society has made us into active participants and sets up an expectation among the public to access, create, share, connect, and respond to a variety of platforms for participation around content in the cultural sphere In order to be competitive in a world of distracting entertainment and media options vying for individuals' attention, museums have to adapt these very modes of participation in order to fight back the perception of their own irrelevance, or authority as a singular voice with its own expert account Instead, they must embrace the mantra of learning through experience-giving the public opportunities to make meaning on their own terms within an increasingly flattened, horizontal view of institutionality (see Gielen, 2013)

The participatory museum offers an audience-centered approach to cultural institutions that aims to make visitors more motivated to interactively participate by serving as a platform that supports multiple, interconnected paths for users as content consumers, creators, remixers, collaborators, and distributors As a design technique and marketing strategy, participation keeps the institution relevant by soliciting visitors' ideas and creative labor in order to build personal investment, thereby allowing museums to look like their offerings of experiences fit in with visitors' desires, while enhancing comfort and constructing a social hub for interpersonal dialogue related to cultural content All this makes museums more essential to community life as vital participatory venues offering tools for visitors to network with others in relation to social objects and co-created art-related experiences

Much like the World Wide Web, one prominent feature to the participatory museum is social engagement through connecting multiple individuals in order to coordinate collective intelligence For Simon (2010), museums improve the more people partake in them: "When you connect enough individuals to each other, they start feeling like they are part of a communal experience I call this 'me-to-we' design, which builds on individual (me) experiences to support collective (we) engagement" (para 74) One example provided by Simon (2010) was pulled from the corporate world of Nike®, called Nike Plus (Nike+®), a running program that starts by generating statistics through tracking your running and then shares your statistics with others so you might collaborate on challenges both physically and virtually In this instance, the museum is posited as a physical enactment of online communities where people can come together to contribute to and participate in areas of interest that matter to them through visitor-contributed content Simon believes this engagement can potentially make significant civic impacts that could alter the world Yet, most visitors do not have the aim of civic or democratic engagement when they visit art institutions (McKinley Parrish, 2010), although this is now the primary funding justification and organizational aspiration for many non-profit organizations in the United States under neoliberalism

30 Americans at MAM. …

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