Wendy Woon
Nov 6, 2015 · 6 min read

“Doing with, rather than doing for…”

This phrase, which I’ve heard in several different circumstances over the past few years, continues to resonate almost daily. Doing for suggests a hierarchy, a top down beneficence, and doing with evokes more of a respectful opportunity to exchange and learn with each other. I’ve heard this from a formerly homeless individual describing how he felt treated as a recipient and perhaps a pawn for political gain. I’ve heard artists speak sensitively about carefully learning with and from the native intelligence, resources and experience within communities, establishing what each brings to the table, rather than the community being perceived as at a deficit. It’s a subtle shift of words, but one that speaks volumes about a way of operating in the world. Givers and takers? Or learners and acknowledgers of the merits, richness and knowledge of others whose circumstances are different.

I was reminded of this phrase while reading Dale Russakoff’s recent book, The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools?, which documents the political machinations, complexities and ultimate failure of well-intentioned philanthropic initiatives to reform the failing Newark public school system. This well researched book underscores the problem of doing for rather than with the communities of parents, teachers and local activists. I highly recommend reading this book, which details one of America’s most significant problems of inequity which is and has been impacting generations of children and families. Beyond the specifics of Newark, this book provides a metaphor for the systemic connections between politics, public education, poverty, access to healthcare, housing, childcare and employment, and the justice system, which incarcerates high proportions of black and hispanic youth.

At the core…

Our ethos within MoMA’s education department continues to be “working with” people of all ages and abilities through experiences with art and artists. We consider ourselves as learners, and our work to be about continued learning with people, onsite at the museum, in schools, communities and online around the globe. In order to be relevant, we focus on continually learning and maintaining dialogue and an exchange of ideas with others artists, participants and colleagues, inside and outside the museum. In addition to working with communities across all five NYC boroughs in sustained partnerships, here are a few highlights.

A Tale of Three Cities: London, Chicago, and New York’s Art Scenes

Three huge cities, three major art museums, and three groups of young people collaborated to create our newest free online art teen course. Rather than adults creating content for teens, our strategy has been to create content with teens taking the lead.

For the first time ever, Tate, the Art Institute of Chicago, and The Museum of Modern Art worked together on a single educational and social experience, bringing the very best of each of our cities’ vibrant cultures together into one incredible four-week online course. This free teen-led initiative invites teens around the globe to visit international artists in their studios and learn about underground art spaces and emerging art scenes, and to explore the politics, communities, and everyday challenges that shape the contemporary art world today. The teens investigate issues surrounding fashion, gender, artistic value, curating, aesthetics, inequality, art making, and more. One of the great opportunities is that they gain free access to exclusive content available only to course participants, and meet other young, creative people from around the globe. I’m looking forward to seeing what participants can learn from each other through experiences with art and also what we can learn from a global community of teens. Be sure to check out the trailer for the course, available here:

To-date almost 400 young people are enrolled. In addition to areas all across the United States, over 70 of the young participants come from countries including Poland, Estonia, Saudi Arabia, Iceland, Philippines, Brazil, Guatemala, Netherlands, Belgium, Argentina, UK, Sweden, Singapore, Panama, France, Mexico, Israel, Malaysia, El Salvador, New Zealand, Russia, Australia, Ecuador, China, and Sri Lanka.

In addition, MoMA is unique in offering monthly programming for people of all ages who have developmental and learning disabilities and we look forward to continuing to offer a Create Ability program for teens in the upcoming year.

A few weeks ago we received feedback from a mother who brought her adult son to the program said, “I took my son, to the Create Ability program for the first time this past weekend and we both loved it. I have spent the past couple of days telling people about how great it was and trying to explain just exactly why it was so wonderful. The simple answer is that you talked to my son in an appropriate manner…..you spoke to him as if he had a brain. Sadly, that is so unusual for him. My son is non-verbal, but spells using a letter board. He understands everything and is so smart, but his body doesn’t listen to his brain. I can’t thank you enough for just talking to him as if he matters. It meant the world to him and to me. We are so excited for the November class.”

Collective Intelligence for the Common Good: Wikipedia-a-thons at MoMA

In the effort to bring more knowledge about our collection to the world, our colleagues in Interpretation, Research and Digital Learning in collaboration with Digital Media and the MoMA’s Library and Archives have hosted all-day Wikipedia events to foster more breadth of content on art & feminism, focus on LGBTQ arts and culture, and Arte y Cultura Latinoamericana (“WikiArte”), a communal day of creating, updating, improving, and translating Wikipedia articles about Latin American art and culture.

The recent Arte y Cultura Latinoamericana event was a collaboration between MoMA and the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros and Wikimedia NYC. There were over 50 attendees at this event, and the impact is exponentially greater through their collective work.

Please be sure to read The Wall Street Journal article Museums Open Up To Power of Wiki, which further explores museums’ recent engagement with Wikipedia. The next will be held at MoMA’s Library on the evening of Tuesday, November 10th, focusing on the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, Basquiat: Still Fly @55, organized with with AfroCrowd and Black Lunch Table (BLT). The BLT artist project is “an ongoing collaboration between artists Jina Valentine and Heather Hart that has sought to fill holes in the documentation of contemporary art history. BLT’s aim is the production of discursive sites at literal and metaphorical lunch tables, wherein people of color can engage in critical dialogue on topics directly affecting our communities.” On March 5, 2016 MoMA will host the third annual Art + Feminism edit-a-thon.

Again, working with communities of people, some experts and some simply interested in learning about art and creating good content to share allows us to achieve so much more and share our resources to support greater engagement with art, artists and ideas.

And over the past four years, we’ve invited artists into our process of thinking about ways to challenge traditional notions of education and knowledge through the Artists Experiment initiative. They’ve continued to help us question established hierarchical models, formats, and notions about knowledge and power within institutionalized education and experiment with new ways of engaging people with and through art. One of many examples include an upcoming event titled Tea.

Tea, Wednesday, November 11, 2015 at 6:30pm
This Veterans Day, artist Michael Rakowitz hosts Tea, a ceremony and discussion, led by Iraq War veteran and artist Aaron Hughes, that explores memories of war, detention, dehumanization, and love. When someone sits, sips, and reflects over a cup of tea there is space to ask questions about one’s relationship to the world — a world that’s filled with dehumanization, war, and destruction; a world that’s filled with moments of beauty, love, and humanity. Please join us to sit, reflect, share, and sip tea together. This program is presented as part of Artists Experiment, in collaboration with Michael Rakowitz.

Digital @ MoMA

Musings from the digital media department at The Museum of Modern Art

Wendy Woon

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Digital @ MoMA

Musings from the digital media department at The Museum of Modern Art