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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Toward responsive participatory art museum practices Lenz Kothe, Elizabeth (Elsa)


This research explores the ongoing actions and commitments that make up responsive participatory practices at two community-based arts organizations—the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History in Santa Cruz, California. Two questions guide the study: “What are responsive participatory art museum practices and what could they be?” and “In what ways can education, learning, and pedagogy be understood in the context of responsive participatory art museum practices?” I engaged the guiding questions through a feminist research methodology that is informed by post-qualitative and arts-based methodologies and methods. This methodology was developed as I responded to research questions and data in production, and as I thought closely with scholars and their writings, especially Elizabeth Ellsworth’s (2005) Places of Learning: Media, Architecture, Pedagogy. Methods used to address my research questions included research conversations—some of which took place while walking—arts-based mapping, and narrative writing. Drawing on art, education, and museum scholarship, my understanding is that responsive participatory art museum practices embrace multiple commitments, including: sharing the authority of questions, interactions, and knowledge production between museum staff, collaborators, public audiences, and participants; sharing spaces and collections within museums and with the communities in which museums exist; and committing to ongoing, respectful collaborations and relationships with community members and collaborating organizations and individuals. In these responsive practices, works of art, museum objects, and carefully designed experiences and projects are dialogical points of encounter that provoke a proliferation of responses, which in turn precipitate transformational movements that are subtle, are not pre-determined, and impact individuals and communities in a relational manner. Education within responsive participatory art museum practices is an ongoing process of creating the conditions for potential learning through everyday practices. Embedded in responsive participatory practices is the expectation that change will occur as a result of taking part in museum programs, projects, and experiences. Mutual transformation in responsive participatory practices emphasizes that these potential changes are not one-sided; changes occur for participants and audiences, as well as for museum staff, systems, and practices.

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