The Museum as Interface: The NGA Vermeer Exhibition

How the NGA promotes arts education using inclusive space

Museums are often considered a non-inclusive space (only for a certain audience). Part of this comes from a gap in dialogue about art in education. The education system sometimes views the arts as a luxury and therefore does not invest in arts programming (particularly where funding is low). Exclusivity (especially of classical art) is also reinforced in media and popular culture.

That being said, my first impression of the National Gallery of Art is that it had free entrance. This immediately opens up access and establishes this museum as an inclusive space.

To further the idea of inclusiveness— I found the design of the exhibit to be in line with this concept. The design was simple and accompanied with clear descriptions. The rooms were set up in a way that you could start on either side of a room, keeping the space open to exploration and movement was encouraged. All staff on site was very friendly. I thought the descriptions were a vital part of understanding the exhibit as a whole, which was about comparison and influence the artists had on one another (rather than just featuring Vermeer). This choice to use a comparison lens promotes deeper learning (especially for those not familiar with Dutch Genre painting).

Personally, the descriptions provided me with useful social and historical context that resulted in my ability to relate to and be moved by the work (that I otherwise would have missed out on). For example, there was a contemporary biblical reference done by Steen, where he showed the importance of choosing virtue over vice (which I think transcends time and will always be relevant). This was my favorite piece of the exhibit, not because of the work itself, but rather the meaning behind it.

As a whole the museum and exhibit show consistency in inclusivity: free attendance, cohesive design, easy to digest written description, helpful staff, and an online interactive map (online access that is engaging + access for non-locals). This contributes to a larger conversation about what role museums are playing in the community as a means of education and inclusivity.

Linking back to the readings/ other postings: Everything in the museum (interacting with each other) creates a multi-faceted exchange of meaning. I understood the art from the historical context provided, from un-stated social constructs, and from my own personal connections that I drew from (accessibility to art, artist influence and originality, the current social climate, etc).

Some questions for thought: How did they achieve the diversity of audience at this exhibit? What modes of media were most effective in attracting people tho this exhibit? Is the marketing done also in line with the other inclusive features found at this exhibit?