I had the privilege of working alongside Sandy Martiny at the Jersey City Museum from 2006 to 2009. During my tenure at the museum, Sandy struck me as a professional dedicated to making art, and the enjoyment of art, as available to as many people as possible–from the artist, to art lover, to first-time museum visitor. Sandy Martiny formed Museum Resource Professionals in January 2010 to provide temporary services for entrepreneurial and creative organizations that are committed to arts and education in challenging economic times.
The Jersey City resident is as capable discussing contemporary art to public school students as she is developing and leading community-based workshops, writing grant applications for non-profit institutions, or two-tracking to the sounds of Alice Cooper in the Michigan dunes.
Sandy Martiny was gracious enough to spare some of her time to discuss her new venture with me, and her thoughts and feelings about the role of museum and art education in the community.
Hi Sandy, what is your background?
I came to Museum Education pretty organically. I always loved museums, and when I was an undergraduate art student in Michigan, I secured an internship at the Grand Rapids Museum of Art–I worked in the collections department with the preparator. I thought that was the greatest thing in the world because I could get up close and personal to the museum objects even when they weren’t on view!
One day we were getting the galleries ready for a traveling exhibition from the Detroit Institute of Arts. We had painted all the galleries and the crates were ready to be unpacked. The curator from DIA arrived and spent the day alone in the empty gallery spaces with only the crates, just looking and thinking. Wow. I thought that was it! To be paid to just look and think about space and things and what they might mean together in different arrangements!
Well. I tucked that information away, moved to NYC and went to graduate school to study painting. By the time I emerged from school I was married, I’d moved to Hoboken and I’d started a family. I was exhibiting my work locally, in New York, and in Michigan. It was initially through involvement with my kids’ school that I became interested in collaborative public art and art education. I started to do artists residencies in Newark Public Schools, and I taught after school classes in Hoboken.
When an opportunity came to work at Jersey City Museum, I jumped. I felt I could facilitate so much more by working within an institution that had both a permanent collection and a commitment to supporting local contemporary art.
Currently, you are an Education and Public Program Specialist at Museum Resource Professionals. You were also Director of Education at the National Academy Museum and School of Fine Arts and the Curator of Education at Jersey City Museum. For people who are unfamiliar with museum education, what is it, and what does a museum education specialist do?
Museum educators interpret collections and exhibitions for the public. They create a framework for enjoyment and learning in a museum. If you’ve ever gone on a tour of a museum or historic house, chances are a museum educator developed the tour, and trained the docent who led it. Museum educators develop interpretive workshops, classes, and public programs, written guides and games for families and materials for teachers that support classroom learning.
As a Museum Education Specialist at Museum Resource Professionals I consult with cultural institutions about their educational programs and identify funding opportunities. I write curriculum materials that link their activities to educational objectives for school audiences and I help them evaluate the effectiveness of their programs.
I had the privilege of working with you for three years at Jersey City Museum. I had the opportunity to see you introduce and discuss challenging artwork to students and visitors of all ages and background. How do you increase in your audiences the knowledge of contemporary art, ignite discussion, and inspire creative thinking?
Wow I really love when that happens, but I can’t take the all credit for the magic. There are actually well researched teaching techniques that museum educators use. Of course it starts with common sense; you need to love what you do and love sharing it with people. Contemporary art can be challenging for people of all ages and the key is to respect people’s feelings and ideas. Everyone who looks has an experience with art that is valid. Teasing out how people see and learning what they bring to the experience is the beginning of the conversation. When it goes well, that conversation could last a lifetime.
You have struck me as a person dedicated to making art, and the appreciation of art, accessible to everybody–including, artists, students, other academics, and the casual museumgoer. Why is art important to you, and why should it be important to other people as well?
Art is us, isn’t it? We make it, we consume it, we experience it, and we have since we lived in the cave. Art changes with us, and our experience of art changes over time. Maybe art is the ultimate time machine that gives us access to ideas, past, present and future.
I came from a family that went to the movies, not art museums. To this day, I feel more comfortable watching a movie in the theatre than I do looking at a painting in a museum. I did not begin to frequent art museums until I was a senior in high school. I was fascinated by a painting of a hunk of rotting meat by Chaim Souitine at the Princeton University Art Museum. When was your first deep engagement with art, and what was it?
The first painting I fell in love with hung above the entrance to the Muskegon Museum of Art — my hometown museum in Michigan. My mother took me there frequently. The painting was Tornado Over Kansas, by John Steuart Curry. My mother’s name was Dorothy and I was fascinated by everything “Wizard of Oz.” Curry’s painting was nothing like the illustrations in Frank Baum’s book — it was more similar to the black and white images of Kansas in the movie. Every time I visited I got lost in the drama of Curry’s farm family gathering at the storm cellar, every person and animal is depicted in its own state of panic, resolve, or witnessing.
Let’s discuss looking at art in a museum. You walk into an art museum, what is the first thing you do, and why? Do you look for the wall text adjacent to the work? Do you use the audio support? Do you participate in a guided tour of the exhibition? Do you just look at the work, with your own eyes, and ruminate–or not? Is there a right way or wrong way to experience art?
I like to look first, read second, look again and wander around at will. Sometimes I use the audio guide. I pop in and out of tours. Living in Jersey City, so close to great museums, its easy to treat a museum like its my private living room. I like that. Sometimes I’ll just run in and see one or two things, or just one exhibition in a huge institution. I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to experience art–its usually not worth your time to look at stuff you really don’t like. Move on to the next thing. Maybe you’ll be interested in that hideous installation, painting, sculpture, performance the next time you see it–its not like you are going to forget it. When you are ready for it, it will be there.
As a kid, when I visited a museum, they reminded me of wakes–the rooms were quiet, lights were dim, the person next you spoke in hushed tones, and the star of the show didn’t move–and you weren’t supposed to touch him. What kind of experience are you looking to have in a museum, and why?
Personally, I like wakes. There are some very important things you can only experience at a wake. As for museums today, there are many more ways to access its collections and exhibitions — websites, books, orientation areas, audio, tours, programs, parties, classes. I guess in the quiet past, the interface was up to you and your imagination. Now more visitors have more points of entry and that’s a good thing. The museum can now be everybody’s living room.
Have you ever touched an artwork on view in a museum — for example, have you ever placed the tip of your tongue to Gotham News, a painting by Willem de Kooning, at the Albright-Knox Museum in Buffalo, New York, in July 1997. Have you ever been taken out of an art museum in handcuffs?
I am much too well behaved to do that.
Tell me about Museum Resource Professionals. What is it, and why is it important?
I formed Museum Resource Professionals in January after working strictly in museums for over eight years. MRP provides temporary services for cultural institutions in challenging economic times. Our clients are either start up cultural groups–visual and performing arts organizations, individual artists, historical societies, or museums who have had to look very closely at their budgets. We provide niche services like program development and evaluation, educational writing, proposal and grant writing and teaching artists to help our clients meet their mission and objectives.
You hail from Michigan–the birthplace of Madonna, Gilda Radner, and Diana Ross. Whom do you identify with most, and why?
All of the above and more. Michigan is a unique state of mind.
If Detroit challenged Jersey City to a hotdog eating competition, whose side would you be on, and why?
So, so hard to answer that question. Both are edgy and hungry. Jersey City, No, Detroit, No, Jersey City, No.
Original post is here.