Building Trust

Kendyll Gross, Education and Visitor Services Coordinator with AGBS, has been a part of the team for 3 years. She earned her MA in Art History from the University of Texas in 2018. She is originally from New Orleans, Louisiana, but has made Austin home for the last 4 years. In her own words, she describes the shifting face of museum education.

Over the past few weeks, museum education has looked very different for AGBS. Before the end of the semester, we shifted our specialized tours online. As such, Zoom has halted some of the familiar comforts that come from these tours: spotting nodding heads in a crowd, hearing someone ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ in affirmation at the knowledge we all bring to the table, or seeing visitors lean into an artwork to point out details. What I love about these moments comes from the familiarity we feel when we trust each other enough to share our own thoughts and generate new ideas.

In this time of virtual events, I’ve repeatedly questioned how I can sustain personal connections and communication online while also navigating the complexities of Zoom. With the gallery doors closed, how can I continue to build spaces of trust so that others feel comfortable to share their thoughts?

With the gallery doors closed, how can I continue to build spaces of trust so that others feel comfortable to share their thoughts?

The intimate environment that educators foster in-person can be much harder to achieve as we teach via online platforms. Gauging whether I’m really connecting with an audience [virtually] can be hard. Is the kid behind the Kermit the Frog icon picture listening to me? Is this awkward pause because everyone is thinking or because they’re shopping online?

However, teaching online also comes with a lot of excitement and room to experiment. When hosting a “virtual tour,” educators can share a variety of materials - paintings, monuments, images of archival materials - without being limited to gallery space’s content. Bringing in outside materials can enliven the dialogue, allowing for more meaningful reflection questions and comparisons. Coming together online also presents opportunities for visitors to share their resources with the group. For example, by the end of one virtual tour, the chat box was filled with links to articles, other artists that students wanted to share, and reflection questions that students wanted to ask of each other. Everyone was able to join in and feel like they had something to contribute, whether they wanted to speak it aloud, write it down, or point to other resources.

Moving online has changed the face of how we connect, but technology can also offer unique ways of sharing knowledge and creating spaces of trust. One educator raved about a Zoom feature which allowed students to annotate works of art, something that could never happen in a museum without making a museum professional faint. If we continue to move in this direction imagine how far we can go.