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Kennedy Museum of Art supports dialogue and diversity in the OHIO community through training in  Visual Thinking Strategy methods

Past Times by Kerry James Marshall
Past Times (1997) by Kerry James Marshall. Metropolitan Pier and Exhibition Authority, McCormick Place Art Collection, Chicago. 

This story was updated on January 6, 2021, to include a source. 

Ohio University’s Kennedy Museum of Art, housed in the College of Fine Arts, offers educational components that align with exhibitions they produce throughout the year. The museum recently began using an educational tool called Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) to facilitate collaborative, inclusive, community-building dialogue centering around works of art.

The method is used by arts and education professionals who are trained in deep listening and responsive teaching practices. Kennedy Museum of Art’s Registrar Lisa Quinn has had extensive training in VTS and employs the process in workshops with students and faculty throughout the OHIO community.

Quinn says she began knowing and understanding about the power of the method in small increments.

“I came to this more gradually,” she says. As a museum-based educator, Quinn was used to relaying information about works of art to an audience of K-12 and higher education students with minimal collaborative dialogue, typical of what she describes as “an old-fashioned method of teaching where there is an authority figure who says, ‘here's the information that I want you to know.’”

Then she attended VTS training at conferences and workshops; the most recent practicum was held online due to the coronavirus. Now her practice is almost exclusively based in VTS methodology that aligns with student-centered pedagogy currently employed in all levels of education and by most museums.

“Using the VTS strategy allows the Kennedy Museum of Art to emphasize collaboration in the educational process,” Quinn explains. “It is more dynamic to have a conversation, more interesting to hear what others think. It eliminates biases towards students who don't have a background in art. The whole concept is we will meet you where you are; and we will develop a narrative together. The practice exemplifies how valuable diversity is in our lives because you're getting a number of different perspectives. That’s how you learn; that’s how you grow.”

Four Season Series by Wendy Red Star. Courtesy of the Kennedy Museum of Art collection.
Four Season Series (Spring) (2006) by Wendy Red Star. Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Johnson County Community College, Overland Park, KS.

The workshops include up to 16 people who are asked to choose works from an offering that were specifically curated to accomplish goals set in curriculum or by group dynamics. After taking a moment to look at the artwork attentively, the group then engages in a discussion about the work with Quinn as the facilitator.

“The goal is to create a narrative based on close looking,” Quinn says. “There are no right or wrong answers. Everyone should just feel open to say what they want. The practice encourages people to think deeply and find visual evidence that led them to the assumptions they draw or creates awareness that they are bringing information into the dialogue from their own personal experiences. Both types of responses are equally valid – one objective of the practice is to become cognizant of how and why you are arriving at your conclusions.”

“You have to be so present,” Quinn says. “You have to listen to everybody. So that's the deep listening part. The more diverse the group is, the better the conversations are.”

Medical students have overwhelmingly identified VTS as one of their favorite parts of The Open Book Project, a narrative medicine elective at OHIO's Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine (HCOM), says Joe Bianco, associate professor of Social Medicine.  

"In their course feedback, they noted that VTS skills help them 'challenge their assumptions about reality,' increase awareness of assumptions and biases, and view the world from different perspectives," he says.  "I'd argue that VTS is a clinical skill that enhances clinical reasoning and empathy--exactly what we want to promote in future physicians."

Quinn was able to pivot the VTS workshops online due to Kennedy Museum of Art closing because of the pandemic. The virtual workshops were surprising successful, Quinn says.

“It's the same and it's different,” Quinn says about holding the workshops online versus in person at the museum. “When you get in a room with twelve people, you're going to have people that sink into the back of the room. And then my job is, through body language and tone, to be really open and invite participation. I rely on a lot of gesturing. That is what is a little different when you're doing virtual programs. You're using the cursor to point, and you have to adapt different methods to keep people engaged,” she explains.

The Kennedy Museum of Art continues to offer VTS workshops to any OHIO unit or class during spring semester, 2021. To learn more about VTS or to schedule a workshop, contact Lisa Quinn at quinnl@ohio.edu or Sally Delgado at delgado@ohio.edu.