By Hannah Arata
“We have built an institution for the public, not for the few,” said founder and first president of the Art Institute of Chicago, Charles Hutchinson in 1887.
The Art Institute of Chicago was built for the people of Chicago and the staff of the world-renowned museum wants the public to know the Institute is still for them. Recently, the MSLCE cohort had the opportunity to visit the Art Institute and hear from Sarah Alvarez, Director of School Programs, and Emily Fry, Director of Interpretation, about how the museum continues to welcome the public after 139 years.
The Art Institute of Chicago was created as an initiative to rebuild the city’s arts and culture scene after the great Chicago fire of 1871. While it has always been interested in collecting and preserving art from many cultures, it is now recognizing the need to become more inclusive and accessible in all its activities. This includes acquisitions and exhibitions, programs and resources, as well as its general operations. The museum welcomes 1.5-1.7 million visitors a year and 16% of those visitors will participate in learning and public programs.
Sarah Alvarez, Director of School Programs, shared with us the framework that was created to plan for the beneficial impacts of school programs on K-12 students and teachers. The overall learning outcomes AIC hopes to have on student visitors are socio-emotional outcomes, such as increasing their sense of belonging in art museums, as well as cultural & historical impacts and other cognitive outcomes. As someone interested in the impacts of the arts, it was very insightful to hear from Alvarez on all the ways AIC plans for their visitors to have an educational and meaningful experience while at the museum.
Emily Fry, Director of Interpretation, gave us an overview of her position and also took us on a walk-through of the their current exhibition: Painting the Floating World: Ukiyo-e Masterpieces from the Weston Collection, highlighting how her department was involved. Museum interpretation encompasses a wide variety of things but ultimately is used to make the museum a more welcoming and accessible place for everyone. Fry expanded on the challenges of interpreting the Painting the Floating World exhibition. She needed to consider details such as the reading conditions of the wall texts, how many places of rest there needed to be in the exhibition space, creating a diverse audio tour, creating screens of digitized scrolls, and much more.
MSLCE students’ ability to engage with the museum and ask questions of staff was very educational and relevant to our career paths. Special thanks to The Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Alvarez, and Emily Fry for having us!
For more information on how our students engage with the industry, click here.