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Grads Make an Impact at Rubin Museum of Art

Posted by D. Hansen on July 31, 2011

"The concepts of co-learning and inquiry and authentic collaboration that I learned at Bankstreet are also the ideas that permeate this museum. I think this is one reason why so many of us from Bankstreet are working here," says Ashley Mask, '10, Manager of Visitor Experience at the Rubin Museum of Art on West 17th Street in New York City.

At last count, seven Bankstreet graduates and students (six from the Museum programs, one from Early Childhood Education) were at the Rubin, which houses an unparalleled collection of Himalayan art dating from the second to the twentieth century — paintings, sculptures, textiles, ritual objects, and prints. The Himalayas, an 1,800-mile-long mountain range, spreads across several countries (Afghanistan, Nepal, Mongolia, Bhutan, Myanmar and the Tibetan Autonomous Region). The region's larger cultural sphere includes Iran, India, China, and Central and Southeast Asia as well.

Educating audiences of all types and ages

"Museums are engines of creativity, and the Rubin is especially so since the art and sacred traditions of the Himalayas emphasize connecting to the world around us," says David Bowles, '08, SFC '93, Manager of School Programs. "Our educational programming includes a great variety of offerings aimed at a great variety of people: families with small children, teens, adults, visitors with disabilities, seniors, and K-12 schools, colleges, and universities."

Bowles oversees, coordinates, and implements programs for K-12 students and their teachers. These include museum tours, residency school programs, museum-school partnerships, professional development opportunities, and a wide range of gallery experiences. "It is our job to help visitors learn, connect, reflect, and to have a real encounter with the art — at all levels," Bowles says.

The museum hosts two open houses for educators each year to help teachers and administrators explore possibilities for student learning at the museum. Bowles and his team also attend teaching conferences, visit schools, and utilize alumni networks to spread the word. Says Bowles, "Last year we expanded the number of students participating in our programs and developed new professional development workshops for teachers. Based on evaluations and feedback, I think the quality of experiences we offer is improving too. Our new Educational Center will open this spring, and starting this summer, we will offer K-12 school groups hands-on arts workshops to accompany gallery tours. The art studio will also impact how our other initiatives for teens, adult education, family programs, etc., evolve."

Schools Programs

Lauren Appel, '07, Coordinator of Schools Programs, is specifically responsible for long-term arts residency programs, such as the museum's Thinking Through Art, a ten-session arts residency in which teaching artists work with students and their teachers both in the classroom and the museum. The goal is for them to connect classroom curriculum to Himalayan art. In the fall of 2010, the students, ranging from third grade through high school, created narrative scroll paintings depicting scenes from their lives.

Appel selects the artists for the program, and also teaches. "I love balancing the administrative side of coordinating a program and being a teaching artist in the classroom," she says. "I've worked in numerous arts education programs as both an administrator and an educator and it is a unique pleasure to work at an institution with so many colleagues who share the perspective we gain through our work at Bankstreet."

Teen and College Programs

Pauline Noyes, '11, Coordinator of Teen and College Programs, designs and leads development programs for teens and college students during out-of-school time. Designed as part of a career spiral in which students continue growing, the programs take high school students through college, into adult careers in the arts. Noyes came to the Rubin with a passion for Himalayan art, having lived and travelled extensively in Asia for over two years, including a six-month stay at the foot of the Himalayas. At the Rubin, Noyes combines her love for Asian art and culture with her other favorite thing: working with students.

Noyes says her programs are greatly inspired by her Bankstreet background, with an emphasis on learning by doing. She points out that the profound universal ideas related to the Rubin's collection can be accessible and inspiring to anyone: "You don't have to be Buddhist to have a meaningful exploration of self-transformation or why people suffer," she says. "Our student population is exceptionally diverse and we place huge emphasis on access to the museum for all students. We see learning about Himalayan culture as closely intertwined to the students' expression and appreciation of their own unique cultures and backgrounds. It's a priority for us to relate the art to the lives of NYC students."

Connecting both to the old and to the new

The Rubin also makes connections to other artistic and spiritual traditions, both old and new. One current exhibit, Embodying the Holy, explores the affinities between sacred representations in the Eastern Orthodox Christian and Tibetan Buddhist traditions down through the centuries.

Then, there is the new: Dawn Eshelman, '12, the Rubin's Programming Manager, feels that "Programming is a way to create different portals into the powerful experiences Himalayan art can inspire. Each portal gives a specific audience a different way to access the art, as well as the ideas behind it."

One progran has musicians creating a piece of music for a work of art that resonates with them. "We project the artwork onto the back wall of our theater as the song is played, and the musicians describe their personal connection to the artwork. After, audiences are invited on a tour to learn more about the piece. So visitors may come for a jazz concert but end up engaging with themes like compassion and rebirth, or with the concept of a mandala," she says. "To use a term I learned at Bankstreet, these musicians are 'scaffolding' learning for their audience, inspiring them to engage with a new level of understanding." Eshelman, who has a performing arts background, says she was always "interested in the intersection between the live arts and the visual arts, and here I can explore this in many ways."

tagged: ashley mask, david bowles, rubin museum of art