For nearly 200 years, The Brooklyn Museum has been dedicated to educating and engaging its patrons through art.
The museum will redouble those efforts when it reopens the newly-renovated Toby Devan Lewis Education Center on Jan. 27.
Named for Lewis — a famed collector and philanthropist who made significant contributions to the museum — the 9,500-square-foot education wing will open up a world of new programming and possibilities for the museum and its patrons, said Shamilia McBean Tocruray, the museum’s new Co-Director of Education.
A legacy of education
Outfitted with LED lighting and state-of-the-art audiovisual equipment, three new studios inside the Education Center will host hands-on programs and classes for Brooklynites of all ages, and interactive art exhibits will cycle through the renovated 1,300-square-foot exhibition space.
Flooded with natural light from new windows and glass panels set into the walls, the new Education Center is “radically different” from its past self, Tocruray said.
“It’s really underscoring our commitment to working in a participatory nature with our community, and in creating space together for world building and imagining possibilities and creating the world we want to see,” she said. “More broadly, the Brooklyn Museum is engendering that each day, but it’s great to have spaces that reflect that.”
The Brooklyn Museum was one of the first museums in the city to create an entirely separate education department, and is one of few large museums today with a strong focus on studio art education, Tocruray said.
The “refreshed and renewed” studio spaces will host the museum’s semester-long Studio Art Programs, which welcome students from age 6 through adulthood.
“These are art classes where you can come in at really any level in terms of your skill and experience and really build up your practice,” Tocruray said. “We’re excited to take everyone’s artistry seriously and build upon it to whatever degree folks want.”
Studio art classes are just a drop in the bucket of the museum’s education programs, said Adjoa Jones de Almeida, Deputy Director for Learning and Social Impact.
Each year, the museum brings on nearly 80 paid teen interns who train as educators and public programmers, she said.
“One of our historic programs is an LGBTQ+ program for teens that identify as LGBTQ+, and they actually develop programming and opportunities for other LGBTQ+ youth to engage with the museum and to delve into our collections and exhibits,” de Almeida said.
There’s also the “iconic” Museum Education Fellowship Program for college graduates stepping into the field, which has been around for more than 35 years.
With what de Almeida described as a “tremendous legacy of bringing in diverse talent” from multiple communities, the program has trained fellows who went on to lead programs at museums across the world.
The museum’s various fellows, interns, students and art guides will all be able to work out of the new Education Center.
“This opening of our Center gives us an opportunity to kind of align the importance of our legacy with our physical spaces,” she said. “If you’ve ever come into the education department before, the spaces were not on par with the power of this legacy.”
Engaging patrons through art
The “participatory nature” of the Museum and its education programs will be reflected in the Education Center’s newly-renamed Norm M. Feinberg Gallery.
On opening day, visitors will be greeted with the colorful ecosystem of “Artland: An Installation by Do Ho Suh and Children,” the gallery’s inaugural exhibit. The piece features a patchwork of islands and characters sculpted from colorful clay — and it will technically be incomplete when it’s unveiled.
Visitors are asked and encouraged to add their own creations to Artland, transforming the piece with new flora and fauna.
“The longer the exhibit remains on view, the idea is that this world starts to grow and expand to the extent that it’s being co-created and co-imagined with our visitors,” de Almeida said.
“Artland” also serves as a kind of metaphor for the museum at large, she said, and how they want patrons to understand themselves as artists. In the future, the pieces chosen for the Feinberg gallery will focus on the same values.
Joy on opening weekend
The Education Center’s opening weekend will be chock-full of free events, starting with a ribbon-cutting on Jan. 27. On Saturday, the museum will be filled with music, giveaways, art-making, and an artist talk — followed by a special Lunar New Year celebration on Sunday.
“The hope is that the new way that this space exists is a continued invitation for those of us who work here and the communities with which we’re collaborating to build the world we want to see,” Tocruray said. “To continue in a space of deep imagination, of wonder, of joy. Not just because it feels good, but because it’s necessary to growth and community.”