Bank Street College of Education
Leadership in Museum Ed Program Keeps Pace with Changing Times
Bank Street’s leadership in museum education program is designed for individuals already working in museums or cultural organizations. The students call it an “MBA for museum educators.” The program prepares them for leadership roles or to assume more responsibility in the leadership roles they already play.
“There is an increasing need for our program because museums, and the role of museum education within them, have changed enormously over the past twenty years, and continue to do so,” says Leslie Bedford, the Program Director. Museum education is no longer simply a variation on, or a challenge to, school based teaching and learning, but a separate field with a growing professional literature and research agenda. Concurrently, the museum educational leader has evolved from being a master teacher to occupying a position at the center of the museum’s mission and strategic agenda.
Bank Street’s program has evolved as well. Some changes had already been instituted under the leadership of Rima Shore, Director of Bank Street’s Adelaide Weismann Center for Innovative Leadership. “We changed the ‘Exhibition
Development’ course from focusing entirely on the educational aspects of exhibition design to understanding the role of exhibitions in furthering a museum’s overall mission,” Bedford says.
“We also decided to take a hard look at our current course of study to see how well we were meeting the needs of today’s museums and educational leaders,” she continues. “In June 2006, we convened an all-day formal Program Review with twelve distinguished experts (five were alumnae) to determine further changes we needed to make in our curriculum. The session was an eye-opener!”
The Program Review experts agreed that “education” was too narrow a term for what Museum Leadership graduates do. As “master strategists,” they are responsible for articulating and implementing change both internally and externally. An important area is “civic engagement,” the term for the field’s increasing focus on attracting a wider and more diverse audience, especially from communities whose members may not regularly visit museums. “This more outward-directed vision requires a sophisticated set of skills in advocacy, collaboration and conflict resolution, communication, politics, and management,” says Bedford.
Besides thinking and working strategically, these educators must also be aware of the public’s interest in the customized programming that new technologies can provide. As alumna Shari Werb, Director of Institutional Outreach at the U.S. Memorial Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., remarks, “Museum education now also happens on websites and podcasts; audiences are both virtual and onsite. The potential for new audiences is huge and challenging.”
The Program Review experts also encouraged Bedford and three of her senior faculty advisors to embrace a more diverse set of theoretical frameworks. Human development and learning theory should be just one of the perspectives given students. Anthropology, communications theory, aesthetic education (as articulated by Lincoln Center Institute), the growing field of “imaginative education” (which highlights stages in the development of the imagination’s contribution to learning), and even social work and community development—all offer insights to enrich students’ understanding of the place of the museum in contemporary society and the meaning of their own work as educators.
Classes are held on weekends from September through May, with one full week of classes in June. This two-year Program attracts an increasingly accomplished and outstanding group of professionals from all over the country. Recently, students from California (six), Florida (three), Georgia (three), as well as individuals from Denver, Chicago, and Nashville have joined those from cities along the East Coast, including New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, and Washington. With the support of New York Community Trust, the program has been able to build on Bank Street’s tradition of welcoming diverse candidates—in the past four years, it has attracted between twenty-five and forty percent of students of color in each two-year class.
“Our students comprise a fabulous and inspiring group,” says Bedford. “They embody my vision for this program: to provide leadership training for educators, who are the people most likely to understand the potential of cultural organizations for serving our communities. We want to excel at helping them do so.”#