TC Media Center from the Office of External Affairs

Section Navigation

Museum, Awake!

Images

Museum, Awake!

Art rooms are opening in Chinese museums, such as the National Art Museum of China in Beijing.

Museum, Awake!

Judith Burton, Professor of Art Education, says, "Instead of telling children what to think, [now] they are engaging them in dialogue and conversation

Museum, Awake!

Pan Gokai, President of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, "There are now more and more art education programs in China that have benefited from the progressive educational philosophy at TC.”

Museum, Awake!

A Seat at the Table: TC's work with CAFA is creating opportunities to introduce art to students and vice versa.

In 2008, when the Chinese government decided to do away with admission fees for its public museums, people from just about every walk of life began flooding into museums virtually overnight. It was a radical change for institutions that had long viewed themselves more as guardians of imperial treasures and revolutionary memorabilia than as places designed to cater to average Chinese citizens.
“People were genuinely curious about their culture—and this was a kind of foreign experience for them, particularly seeing things in museums that maybe they recently had in their homes or could remember in their grandparents’ homes,” says Judith Burton, Professor of Art Education at Teachers College. “You certainly have this feeling that China is a country on the march. It’s moving very rapidly.”
 
In part that’s because, in artistic matters at least, Burton has been urging it along. Over the past few years, China has established its first graduate programs in art education and taken major steps toward developing educational departments in its museums—and Burton has been near the center of it all.
 
In 2001, Burton was invited by Pan Gokai, President of the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA)—the leading art school in China—to help develop a master’s degree program in art education. (Gokai’s daughter had been a student in TC’s Art and Art Education Program.)
 
To help the Chinese develop their ideas, Burton allowed CAFA to use TC’s art education program as a kind of model of what such a program could look like. At one point, Burton and TC’s entire art education faculty traveled to China to give demonstrations of the courses they taught for the CAFA faculty and students as well as educators from around the country, sharing everything from student work samples and syllabi to strategies for handling student-teaching placements.
 
“The Chinese adapt things to their own context and needs very well,” she says. “That’s been a great relief because I feel like I can say things very openly and know that they will reinterpret things in their own way and not simply clone what we do, or I say.”
 
As part of the collaboration, some members of the CAFA faculty visited TC for short-term residencies, attending classes and learning about the program’s ties to schools and museums in the United States. And TC’s Department of Arts and Humanities now offers a three-week summer studio art program at CAFA in which up to 30 TC students can develop their art, learn Chinese and gain a perspective on Chinese art. The program is taught by TC faculty member John Baldacchino and doctoral student Steven Lane. In 2008, CAFA proudly graduated its second cohort of master’s degree students in art education.
 
“TC was instrumental in developing the master’s degree program at the Central Academy of Fine Arts,” Gokai said. “We now have core courses that have been adopted from the TC art education curriculum, such as Historical Foundations of Art Education, Artistic Development of Youth, and Art Education in Museums. The significance of the generous help that Professor Burton and the Art Education Program at TC have given us is immeasurable. Following our efforts, there are now more and more art education programs in China that have benefited from the progressive educational philosophy at TC.”
 
As a result of her work with CAFA, Burton was invited by the National Art Museum of China (NAMOC) to help it develop an education department. That collaboration is still in its initial phase (the museum’s curator of education spent three months at TC last fall), but for Burton it is yet another remarkable indication of the transformation of Chinese museums from “collection-oriented” to “audience-oriented.”
 
Last June, she worked with NAMOC to organize a conference on museum education, the first ever held in China. One result of that conference is that Teachers College and NAMOC are publishing a book on museum education based on the conference proceedings, in Chinese. Co-edited by recent TC doctoral graduate Yingsui Yang, it will be the first book published in China on the subject.
 
“Thanks to the work we’ve done with NAMOC, they are now teaching children’s classes in the galleries instead of trailing children around to look at pictures,” Burton said. “Instead of telling children what to think, they’re engaging them in dialogue and conversation. We’ve helped them to think about the relationship between what an education department in a museum can do and the larger work of the museum, so that you don’t have the museum curators thinking that the education department is teaching some watered down version of what the work of a museum is all about. That’s a major criticism of programs here in the U.S., as well.”
 
No one familiar with Burton’s track record should be at all surprised to learn of the role she’s playing in China. Over a decade ago, Burton founded the Heritage School, a public high school in East Harlem that partners closely with cultural institutions all around New York City. More recently, she helped write an ambitiously hands-on arts curriculum for all of New York City’s public schools, though she’s been disappointed with its implementation. At TC, Burton is curator of the College’s Macy Gallery and the driving force behind its “Conversations Across Cultures” series. The common thread running through all her activities is the same one that animates TC’s art education program: that teaching and learning about art should not be separate from the practice of it.
 
“The knowledge that practice gives is as critical as theory,” Burton says. “And if practice is important to kids’ learning, it’s equally important for graduate students as well.”
 
Though some of the changes Burton is working toward in China have come quickly, others have not. There is, for example, still little collaboration between museums and art schools. Burton is actively promoting more of a relationship between CAFA and museums and was pleased to learn recently that there is now a required course for art education students at CAFA that is taught in collaboration with Beijing museums.
 
Creating collaboration between museums and K–12 schools will be more difficult because of tight restrictions within the state-mandated curriculum. “For change to happen in China,” Burton says, “the work of the museums will have to be written into the school curriculum in advance.”
 
That won’t happen easily, but it hasn’t stopped Burton from urging anyone who will listen in China to give teachers greater flexibility to incorporate more visits to museums and other cultural and artistic venues as a way of inspiring students’ imagination and creativity.
 
Of course, if she were to be successful, she pointed out, it would be rather ironic: China allowing the kind of teacher flexibility that has fallen out of favor in U.S. schools. “In this country, of course, we have the No Child Left Behind Act, which is doing exactly what we’re trying to help China get away from doing. It is interesting. You feel sometimes like you’re speaking out of both sides of your mouth.”
 
Yet Burton feels such ironies have enriched her Chinese experience, requiring her to re-examine her assumptions about the educational roles of museums and the possibilities that art affords in the learning process. And they have also helped her deepen her own discussions with her students about art and education.
 
“What I do now in many of my classes is talk about China because it is so different,” she said. “It’s a nice way of raising issues for our students to think about: the role of the imagination in learning, what we mean by creativity, and how art is defined culturally and traditionally. Those are issues that become interesting to our students to look at in the context of the United States.”
previous page