In Birmingham, Slow Art Day is every Sunday

We at Slow Art Day are excited to learn that Kristi McMillan, assistant curator of education for visitor engagement at the Birmingham Museum of Art (BMA), recently launched a new free program: Slow Art Sundays.

Slow Art Sundays, led by museum docents, presents participants with one artwork to look at slowly from a collection of 24,000+ paintings, sculpture and multimedia works from around the world.

After gathering in the designated gallery space, visitors are provided with stools for their slow looking. Importantly, the experience does not start with a lecture or context-setting by the docent. Instead, it begins with 5 minutes of silence so that participants can quietly observe the artwork.

Following the quiet looking, there is a period of discussion. Docents kick it off by asking simple non-directed questions like, “What is your immediate response?” or “What part of life does this artwork capture?”

McMillan, who works on ways to engage visitors says she believes “in the power of internal and external collaboration in order to address the visitor experience holistically.”

While the museum has experienced great success with their new, regular program, they are also excited to continue annual Slow Art Day events. The BMA is a veteran host museum. In fact, Caroline Wingate, master docent there, started hosting it in 2010 and has since become a leading member of the global Slow Art Day volunteer team. For Slow Art Day 2013, the BMA has decided to invite participants to look slowly at two different artworks at two different times during the day.

We at Slow Art Day plan to introduce Kristi McMillan and Laurel Fehrenbach, public programs coordinator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Last week we profiled Laurel and her initiative “Is This Art?” that includes a similar slow looking approach.

Part of our mission at Slow Art Day is to support these kinds of events at museums throughout the year – and also to connect progressive museum educators and curators with each other so that they can learn from and help each other. If you know of a museum or gallery pursuing slow programming we should know about, please comment here on this blog post or contact us.

And if you’re in the Birmingham area anytime in the coming year, stop by and experience a Slow Art Sunday. The BMA is free and open to the public as is this program.

-Dana-Marie Lemmer, Slow Art Day Coordinator

Is this the future of museum art education? A discussion with Laurel Fehrenbach

We recently caught up with Laurel Fehrenbach, public programs coordinator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, to discuss “Is This Art?”, a museum initiative with several programs that slows visitors down and asks them to focus on only one or two pieces of modern or contemporary art.

We discussed in-depth one of the “Is this Art?” programs, the “Open Discussion” series, which starts by asking people to quietly look at a single piece of art. There is no introduction or curatorial discussion. Then after a while – about 5 minutes – Laurel starts a dialogue with a few questions, like “what are your first impressions?” or “what do you see?”  Throughout the 45 to 60 minutes sessions, Laurel is more of a participant than a moderator.

Laurel has found what we have found in our Slow Art Day events around the world – i.e. that this simple experience of asking people to slow down and look has a big impact. “People don’t often get the opportunity to unplug from their smartphones and cell phones and sit in front of artwork for 10 minutes or an hour. But when they do, the experience is transformative, refreshing and thought provoking.” We agree.

Laurel, who is passionate about helping people see the art without guided experts, is still experimenting with different ways of running the program.

We shared with her the design for Slow Art Day events, particularly the decision to invite people to look slowly on their own without any guide from the museum, though some Slow Art Day events do have a curator or educator come along in a way similar to what Laurel  does. She’s considering bringing Slow Art Day back to the Smithsonian American Art Museum next April (the museum had participated in earlier years) and, in the meantime, is looking to connect with more people like us and others.

We are really happy to see this innovative initiative at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and look forward to continuing a conversation with Laurel as her program evolves. And, like Laurel, we are interested in identifying more museums doing similar programming. In fact, part of our mission at Slow Art Day is to support and inspire these kinds of events.

If you know of a museum or gallery pursuing programming we should know about, please comment here on this blog post or contact us.

And if you are in the DC area next week, stop by and look slowly at some art with Laurel and other participants at the next Open Discussion event, Tuesday, December 4, from 12pm – 1pm.

– Naomi Kuo, Slow Art Day intern, with Dana-Marie Lemmer, Slow Art Day Coordinator