National Gallery of Art, National Museum of American History

DC Day 5

Accessibility in museums was the focus of today’s discussions. We visited the National Museum of American History and the National Gallery of Art. The National Gallery of Art visit was not focused on accessibility, but it was discussed a small amount. It is interesting to learn about accessibility in cultural institutions because it is not something I personally have to think about. The museum field is moving towards accessibility for everyone by moving past the minimum standards required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Accessibility is more than ramps and physical inclusion; it also involves intellectual and communication inclusion.

The Smithsonian Institution has an Accessibility Office with a very small staff who works with units at each of the Smithsonian museums on accessibility. The Spark!Lab at the National Museum of American History has just forayed into intentional accessibility for visitors with intellectual disabilities. Spark!Lab is a hands-on space for the invention process activities for 6-12 year old children. The motto of Spark!Lab is “Everyone is inventive.” The staff wanted to ensure that the term “everyone” actually means “everyone,” and that the space is inclusive for visitors with disabilities. The staff worked with the Accessibility Office to create resources for families with children with disabilities, which are made available both onsite and online. This discussion was very eye-opening for me because I have never worked with visitors who have disabilities. I can make connections about the discussion with the museum I work at and the areas that could be improved at my museum.  I can take what I learned from today’s discussion and take those ideas back to my museum.

Spark!Lab activity with motto
Spark!Lab activity











The National Art Gallery is the typical art museum where the space is physically accessible, but other aspects of accessibility could be improved. The artwork has tombstone labels with little description. Accessibility can be increased with programs and communication tools. Increasing accessibility and working with the community is an important for task for museums today.

National Portrait Gallery

DC Day 2

What do storytelling and object based learning have in common?

Objects are used to tell stories, and not only one story, but multiple stories. Museums cannot tell stories without objects because objects are the tangible things that make the story interesting and relatable. If people can actually see the object, they can connect with it based on their personal knowledge and background. Today, we learned about object based learning from Judy Landau. Object based learning is a method where a person looks at an object and is guided by a museum educator to describe what they see. After describing what they see questions may arise that dig deeper into the story. For example, there is a small coffee table in front of you. The table is brown, it appears to be made from three pieces of wood, and there is an open area beneath the top. Next, I wonder how the table was made, what is a table of this size used for, who made the table? These questions create a story related to the object. Object based learning must be learned, but the knowledge and skills needed to teach it are easily accessible. This method is based on knowing basic information about an object, having inquiry and critical thinking skills, and good communication (see Figure 1). Object based learning is a way to get people thinking about objects in a different way.

object based learning
Figure 1: Object based learning as discussed with Judy Landau

Storytelling in museums begin with one object or theme. Today, we visited the National Portrait Gallery, and created a story based on two completely different objects. Using those objects, in groups of two, we constructed a story that connected two unrelated objects. My partner and I created a story based on a painting of Katy Perry and a photograph of Jack Dempsey. These people are from different time periods and backgrounds, yet we could create a story using the context around the objects and our imagination. Of course, this exercise may seem a bit silly, but it is a great example of how objects are the center of a story and are integral to expanding beyond the visual.

cupcake katy
“Cupcake Katy” Artist: Will Cotton