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The Hirshhorn Receives Significant Funding for Digital Learning

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Museum Launches ARTLAB+ Digital Technology and Innovative Approaches Are Key

The Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum announces significant funding that supports technology-driven education for young people. The Hirshhorn is the recipient of a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation grant of $500,000 for the creation of a digital youth learning center. It has also received a technology grant of $50,000 from the computer and video game industry’s philanthropic arm, the Entertainment Software Association Foundation. In addition, the Hirshhorn is one of three Smithsonian museums named in a Pearson Foundation and Nokia gift awarded earlier this year to enhance education through the use of mobile and digital technologies at the Smithsonian.

The combined funding will assist the Hirshhorn in building a physical and intellectual environment—a “21st-century classroom”—that blends technology and curriculum in innovative ways. The Museum has launched an initiative called ARTLAB+ to house various free education programs. Applying MacArthur research on how the young people of today learn, the ARTLAB+ programs support a conversion from passive content consumption to active content production. Using the model of a professional design studio, students work with the Museum’s exhibitions and collection as a way to explore art in the context of contemporary ideas about technology and culture. Some programs are already under way and more will be developed in the coming years. Registration is currently open for the spring workshop.

Ryan Hill, the Hirshhorn’s director of digital learning programs, is developing the project. “This funding helps us build an immersive and engaging environment where young people can explore a variety of technologies, including digital artworks created by their peers and inspired by film and video from our permanent collection,” he said. “It gives us an opportunity to create a hothouse culture where young people learn about art from each other.”

“The Hirshhorn’s commitment to learning ranks equally with its commitment to exhibitions, representing a dynamic new approach in which education is seen as a full partner with curatorial efforts,” said Milena Kalinovska, director of public programs at the Hirshhorn. “This is a departure from the standard museum model, which tends to regard educational programming as an adjunct to the exhibitions on view. Key to the Museum’s approach is the use of digital tools to teach young people about art.”

In partnership with the Pearson Foundation, the Hirshhorn spearheaded a pilot program of mobile learning workshops this summer where participants created games, blogs and videos that were shared on a social network set up especially for the curriculum. Hill developed the program with guidance from the Mobile Learning Institute, a Nokia/Pearson Foundation alliance.

The ARTLAB+ program currently under way draws inspiration from two Hirshhorn exhibitions that separately examine recent “ruins” and raise provocative questions about consumerism and the grand plans of today’s artists and architects—will they fare any better than those of previous generations? Working in teams, the students use digital technology to define and observe the “ruins” of the built environment in their surroundings in order to produce a thematically integrated video or photo series based on their insights. Their work will receive critical feedback from artists Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt, known collectively as Semiconductor, currently in residence under a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship.The Museum plans to redesign the lobby as a learning and social space that will include an area dedicated to ARTLAB+.

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