Reimagining engagement at the Spencer Museum of Art
Neal Long & Ashley Offill, Spencer Museum of Art
There was a sense of trepidation for all involved as the Spencer Museum of Art began to welcome students back into the galleries in early September. The familiar routines were suddenly no longer in place. Instead, we began to check for masks, direct students to the CVKey kiosk, and dispense hand sanitizer as small groups of students hesitantly walked through our doors. The sheer delight students exhibited as they said hello to their instructors, for many the first time they had seen each other in person, carried us through the awkward steps of a new routine and into the galleries themselves. Seeing and sharing how students not only excitedly engaged in discussion of works of art but also lingered after class to spend more time in the galleries proved to be a welcome catharsis for all involved after six months away from the Museum.
In addition to scheduled and socially-distanced, in-person visits, the Museum continues to facilitate virtual engagement in a variety of ways. The Curricular Resources Database (https://spencerartapps.ku.edu/curricular-resources), populated with multidisciplinary assignments created by and for KU instructors, has seen expanded use since March. The innovative work of KU instructors continues to be added to the database and has led to the creation of a new search for Online/Hybrid class assignments. We frequently engage with classes synchronously over Zoom with a staff member filming live from the galleries, from the Goddard Study Center, or from a home office. Since March, we have added several new technologies to our toolkit: a software program that allows visitors to virtually walk through the Museum from their personal devices; new web applications that bring the exhibition experience online with expanded content; and, debuting soon, a specialized camera that will facilitate close-looking for virtual class engagements and beyond. Our online collection search (https://spencerartapps.ku.edu/collection-search#/) proves continually useful to students and instructors and has new functionality that allows users to save their searches and access higher resolution photographs of objects in the collection.
Increased one-on-one conversations with instructors prior to their class engagement allow us to create a specialized experience for their class. Oftentimes, an instructor comes to us requesting one date only, and we realize together that the possibilities are far greater when we work in collaboration to design an experience involving multiple engagement sessions. In Fall 2020, we have had nearly 60 individual class engagement sessions (in-person, virtual, and use of resources) and have served 740 students as of this writing in early October. We look forward with excitement to working with at least 50 more sessions and 720 students this semester. It is not too late to use the Museum as a resource in your class this semester, nor too early to consider arrangements for spring. For more information, visit spencerart.ku.edu or reach out to one of us personally at firstname.lastname@example.org.