Art Around Town is a Columbus Museum of Art outreach program designed for family audiences. The program takes an authentic work of art from the Museum’s collection into different Central Ohio locations, along with a host of family-friendly activities such as artmaking, gallery games and discussions. Art Around Town was created to provide Columbus families with a fun, free, and accessible opportunity to experience authentic art in the comfort of their own respective communities, as well as raise awareness about the Museum and its family-oriented programs and initiatives.
The concept for Art Around Town was inspired by the notion of the democratic museum which is an idea championed by museum theorists John Cotton Dana, Stephen Weil, and George Hein. They argued that museums are inherently public institutions and, as such, are bound to serve and be active in their communities in meaningful ways. Museums’ collections belong to all of their community members; not merely to the ones who have the means or inclination to visit the museum buildings. Art Around Town was designed with this philosophy at its core and included only very high quality, important works of art – some of which were literally removed from the Museum’s walls specifically for the program. In addition, the activities included in Art Around Town were modeled on constructivist pedagogical principals, encouraging active participation for genuine learning and personal experience.
The central research question that I address in this paper is: What might a museum program look like that is both pedagogically progressive and socially conscious, that serves the community while encouraging learning through experience and meaning-making? I argue that Art Around Town is such a program, presenting the evidence I gathered through a survey that was distributed to the adult (parents, grandparents, guardians, etc.) participants of the program. I also supplement the survey findings with observational data and photographs.
The research showed evidence that Art Around Town successfully increased participants’ comfort level with authentic art, raised their awareness of the family-friendly nature of the Columbus Museum of Art, and was positively received by its participants. My observations provided incidences of families having meaningful social interactions with art and evidence of creative problem solving. However, more structured data needs to be collected to confirm these findings. I concluded, therefore, that the research I gathered regarding Art Around Town shows that it is a socially-conscious museum program that adheres to progressive educational philosophies. The program displays evidence that it is meeting many of its goals, however further research needs to be done in order to better understand to extent to which some of the goals are being accomplished.