During Jan Plan 2017, Colby student Bayley Ray-Smith ’19 worked alongside Margaret Aiken, Linde Family Foundation Coordinator of School and Teacher Programs, to develop a new program for the Museum’s underserved senior audience. In anticipation of the exhibition Marsden Hartley’s Maine, which opened in summer 2017, a senior-geared program provided a wonderful opportunity. Bayley developed the foundations of the program and, in early summer, Jake Abbe-Schneider ’19, Linde Family Foundation Summer Education Intern, worked under the supervision of Margaret Aiken and Jordia Benjamin, Mirken Coordinator of Academic and Public Programs, to bring Bayley’s plans to fruition. The two students worked effortlessly and smoothly on the project despite the fact that the time they spent did not physically overlap. Below are their stories.
Bayley (below left) discusses one of Hartley’s portraits with a senior visitor.
Innovation, experimentation, and change are integral aspects of the Colby College Museum of Art. Through a variety of programs and events geared to specific audiences, the Museum strives to increase accessibility for our community. The Museum is regularly filled with students from a wide range of courses taking advantage of its resources. In addition to enhancing the learning experiences of Colby students, the Museum has, in recent years, offered a growing number of opportunities aimed at serving preschool-aged visitors and local schools. A senior-specific program, however, had not yet come to fruition. In January of 2017, I developed the Tour & Tea Workshops for Seniors, an interactive educational program designed for Maine’s senior citizens with a focus on promoting community and shared experiences through art and conversation. I looked forward to the plans moving from paper to practice.
At last, this August, the Tour & Tea Workshops came to life. The first visitors arrived on Mayflower Hill from Waterville’s Oak Grove Center. On that warm August day, one could not help but smile while witnessing the power of art. The seniors’ exploration of Marsden Hartley’s Maine seemed to spark memories, establish connections, and provide space for creating shared experiences with art. At day’s end, there could be no doubt that Colby College had taken on new meaning for these individuals. No longer were we a college set apart on a hill; instead Colby College and its Museum of Art had become a welcoming space for the greater community.
Jake (left) discusses Hartley’s portrait paintings.
Working in the Colby Museum of Art during Summer 2017 was enlightening, to say the least. In my first office job, my role as Linde Family Foundation Summer Education Intern in the Museum’s Education Department opened my eyes to the way in which events that I so often take for granted come to be. The project I learned the most from was an event targeted at senior citizens in Maine centered around the Marsden Hartley’s Maine exhibition, titled Tour & Tea Workshops for Seniors. My work on it taught me three key lessons about the ways in which museums and other educational bodies plan events: change isn’t necessarily bad, cooperation is key, and improvisation is an incredibly valuable skill.
Bayley Ray-Smith had left the Museum such a detailed and well-researched plan for the manner in which the project was to be executed that it should have been a breeze to carry out. However, as I came to learn, events as originally envisioned don’t always play out exactly as planned. In helping to organize this event, I talked to program directors at several retirement communities and live-in facilities for senior citizens who felt that the plan as first conceived was perhaps too rigorous for the seniors. Consequently, I learned not to become too attached to any iteration of the project and to be flexible with each group of seniors. The purpose of Tour & Tea was to serve the elderly community, so it was important that it be able to adapt to the needs of the groups we were to serve.
As I’ve mentioned before, this whole program was Bayley’s idea. Although she wasn’t at the Museum when I was, I worked extensively with her proposal. I also worked with my supervisors since they have the skills and knowledge of the ways to get an event off the ground. There were so many people and tasks involved with Tour & Tea that I had to work with others to get everything done. I had to book docents, talk to my supervisors about providing food, and much more. I also had to work cooperatively with the retirement communities in the area to be able to provide the best service for them. I found that people are generally more responsive and willing to work with you over the phone or in person (e-mails have a tendency to slip through the cracks without getting noticed).
The last—and possibly most important—thing I learned at the Museum this summer was how crucial it is to be able to think on your feet. Murphy’s law states that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Throughout the summer I saw Murphy’s law in full effect at most of our events. Often Museum staff had a plan B, but if they didn’t, or if plan B was somehow compromised, the most successful workers and event planners were able to fabricate a plan out of thin air. For example, during the first run of Tour & Tea, the tour went a little short, so Bill Lagerstrom, the docent, and I improvised a plan to take our guests through several other galleries in the Museum. We all ended up having a blast and staying in the galleries for longer than we had anticipated. A pretty good event can become a great event with a little clever extemporization.
At the end of the day, Museum events are about serving the community. In that sense, my Museum internship this summer was like an outreach or sales job anywhere else. Because of that, the skills I learned planning Tour & Tea will be applicable and relevant to my future. The important thing is being able to use those skills to help others, and the Museum has offered me a great opportunity to do just that.
Enjoying tea in the Museum lobby!