BGC Suitcase Exhibitions: Taking the Gallery to New York City Schools

by Rebecca Allan, Head of Education

This winter, as part of an exciting outreach initiative, these and other fascinating questions are being explored by students in New York City schools together with Tracy Grosner, gallery outreach educator and BGC graduate student docents Alyssa Greenberg, Kimberly Vagner, Rebecca Mir, Ruthie Osborne, Sequoia Miller, Shahla Abdi, and Michelle Messer. The conversations are part of the BGC’s Suitcase Exhibitions Program that offers highlights of our Gallery exhibitions to K-12 students and educators and introduces school groups to the study of material culture.  Two suitcase exhibitions, "Gifts from Our Ancestors: Native American Treasures," and "Radiance of China" correspond to our current exhibitions Objects of Exchange: Social and Material Transformation on the Late Nineteenth-Century Northwest Coast, and Cloisonné: Chinese Enamels from the Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties. Filled with intriguing objects such as: a Haida argillite carving, sweetgrass basket, cloisonné bowls, and a Chinese silk robe, each suitcase generates excited anticipation when we roll into the classroom. Students can't wait to see what's inside, to handle the objects, and speculate about what they see. Ultimately, outreach visits prepare teachers and students to have a richer and more meaningful experience when they visit the actual exhibitions, and they contribute to a greater understanding and appreciation for the history and meaning of material culture.

For BGC students, this program provides an opportunity to gain professional experience as educators at work within a variety of school communities. Graduate student docents participate in training workshops with education staff before heading out to schools. They receive mentoring and guidance around best practices in museum education while interacting with students at all grade levels, and they learn to create connections between the school curriculum and the content of each exhibition. These important skills give BGC students a valuable advantage when they go on to seek positions in museums or educational institutions.

Since April 2010 more than 1500 students in public and private schools across the five boroughs have experienced our Suitcase Exhibitions. Now, we are welcoming many of those students to the newly re-opened BGC Galleries for tours of each exhibition, and conversations in the presence of the actual cloisonné vessels, raven rattles, and other intriguing objects.   

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