Take Time To Smell The Roses

As the Rubin Museum’s Docent Coordinator part of my job is to plan and manage Docent schedules each month, facilitate trainings, and organize research materials. Additionally, a very important part of my job is to boost Docent morale, show them support, and ensure that they feel like part of the larger Education team.  With this in mind, I always make sure to schedule several field trips for our group throughout the year.  This not only gives Docents perspective on other museum educator techniques, but allows them time to bond together as a group.

While most of our field trips are educational and relate in some way to our exhibitions and collection, I find it important to plan at least one trip a year that is purely social, where Docents can “take time to smell the roses.” Our last trip allowed them this both figuratively and literally!  On August 23, 2014, a beautiful Saturday morning, we met as a group at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens to take a tour together.

It was nice to get outside the museum walls and walk through all the greenery that the Botanic Gardens have to offer.

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Many plants were still in bloom especially many of the roses and flowers in their Rose Garden.

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In addition to admiring the roses, we visited the vegetable garden where we were impressed by the size and variety of vegetables. Their signage was well written and accessible for all visitors.


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We walked past some greenhouses and towards the lily pond where we saw some lotuses. It was nice to see them in nature as compared to the stylized lotus petals we see around the museum in painting and sculpture.


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Many thanks to Lou Cesario, Jeanine Poggioli, and Katherine Patton at Brooklyn Botanic Gardens for facilitating this amazing experience for our team.  We hope to visit again soon!

To learn more about the Rubin Museum’s Docent program and other volunteering opportunities, please visit our webpage at http://www.rubinmuseum.org/pages/load/31.

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Staff Connections: Gail Goldspiel, Coordinator of Youth and Family Programs

Running a museum takes a whole team of professionals whose different skills help make the Rubin Museum of Art one of the premiere places to visit. In this Staff Connection, we meet Gail Goldspiel who shared with us some unique personal experiences, her role as Coordinator of Youth and Family programs at the museum, and ongoing passion for museum work. 

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RMA: Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do at the Rubin Museum.

GG: I am the Coordinator of Youth and Family Programs here at the Rubin. I help with  family and toddler programs as well as K-12 school programs. Once a week, I lead Yak Packers; our art-making program for toddlers, and once a month, I lead our new Family Sundays drop-in program. For school programs, I schedule and book our class and camp tours and primarily lead our art-making workshops, but occasionally give museum tours. I really find it rewarding helping in these many ways and being involved in as many different capacities as I can.

RMA: Where are you originally from and how did you end up at the Rubin?

GG: I’m originally a New Yorker! I’m from Queens, New York and went to high school in the heart of Flushing. I love the bustle of the city and how there’s always a new museum exhibit, public art installation, festival, or street fair to see. I left the city for college, when I went up to Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. It was there that I really became involved with creative writing , my major,  the Festival of the Arts, and the Rose Art Museum. After Brandeis, I was inspired to go into the arts/museum field and enrolled in the Museum Education program at the Bank Street College of Education. I came to know the Rubin quite well through Bank Street, and attended many open houses and educator events. I feel like everything has come full circle, because I’m really excited to now prepare for the same educator events that I once attended and help host them with our great team here!

RMA: What are some recent, upcoming or current projects you are working on at the Museum?

GG: Right now as the summer ends, we are getting ready for the fall school year by ordering supplies and making sure we are set to go when schools start coming in, in just a few weeks! We are all getting ready for and excited about the new exhibitions and programs and are thinking about upcoming tours, workshops, and programs that can relate and how we can continue to prepare for, enhance, and expand upon them.

RMA: Out of all the current exhibitions at the Rubin Museum, which one is your favorite?

I started when Bodies in Balance had just opened, and now that its ending, I have to admit, I’m a little sad to see it go. I feel like I’ve really been able to get to know the exhibit from studying its artworks and medicinal herbs, to determining if I am in balance mentally and physically, to understanding which force (wind, bile, or phlegm) I gravitate towards the most. It was truly a fascinating exhibition to explore and come into. Some of my favorite objects in the show are the hand-made amulets we always make sure to show our students, the Medicine Buddha palace, and the Medicine tree. I’ve also grown very fond of the outstanding and very unique medicine protectors that I always try to show students on my tours.

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RMA: What’s the most interesting or unusual thing you’ve experienced working at the Rubin Museum?

GG: There have been several unforgettable and interesting events here at the Rubin that I’ve been able to participate in and assist with since I’ve started. From the recent and very successful Block Party, to the Dream-Over in May, these events and experiences have been unique, fascinating and truly memorable. I have never participated in an event quite like the Dream-Over. It was truly a new experience to see so many people come into the museum with their pillows, blankets, and sleeping bags and settle comfortably under the artwork while also having rich conversations about dreams. It is an experience I would definitely take part in again. I read a poem I wrote about the Teaching Buddha and a short story I wrote about the Future Buddha and giving my stories to my guests to keep at the end was one of the best gifts I’ve given in a long time. It was an unforgettable experience as a whole, from sleeping under the Lukhang Murals on the third floor to walking through the galleries as the lights were dimmed and the floors were silent, even with all of our sleeping guests. I encourage everyone who can to participate in the Dream-Over.

RMA: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to follow the same career path?

GG: For a prospective museum educator, I would advise as soon as possible becoming as connected to the network of great museum educators and teaching artists in the city. It’s really important to join the networking organizations in the field and attend as many museum events as possible. The first organization I learned about and immediately joined at the start of Bank Street was NYCMER (NYC Museum Educators Roundtable) and since then, I’ve met many talented and wonderful museum educators who I’ve really gotten to know through monthly programs and educator events. One can become more and more involved, and since joining, I’ve worked on the NYCMER conference committee!

RMA: What do you do when you’re not at the Rubin Museum?

GG: When I’m not at the Rubin, I try to stay really active in the museum community and keep myself busy with NYCMER and another arts organization, ELNYA (Emerging Leaders of the New York Arts) where I serve as a fellow and help plan and create events / programs for emerging arts professionals. I also like to give back to Bank Street as much as I can and when I’m available, volunteer as a Museum Education Ambassador for prospective students. When I’m not busy with museum activities, I like to exercise (ride bikes, jog, walk through the city) and explore new restaurants, cafes, and street festivals. This summer, it’s been nice taking some weekend trips and exploring the art and museums in nearby towns like Beacon and Greenport, NY and hopefully before the end of the summer, Cold Spring.

RMA: If you could travel anywhere in the Himalayas where would you go and why?

GG: If I could travel anywhere in the Himalayas, I would really like to go to the heart of Nepal, because in my short time here, I’ve already heard so much about the region, seen such amazing photos, and now know it’s a must-visit destination and place I must go in the near future. Now that I’ve used images and photos of Himalayan Asia in workshops and tours, I would especially love to see Mount Everest, the Kathmandu Valley, and all of these breathtaking mountain top views in person!

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Finding Math at the Rubin Museum of Art

The Rubin Museum’s Education Department continues to expand its horizons and explore new and surprising lenses through which to look at the art in the museum’s collection. Most recently, the School Programs staff invited educators and administrators from the National Museum of Mathematics (MoMath) to have a tour of the galleries in order to begin brainstorming ways that Himalayan art and Math intersect.


The “Mathenaeum” is the playful tittle of an interactive section of the exhibit space that provides visitors with some digital technology with which to experiment.

The Rubin has a history of incorporating mathematics into their K-12 programming, especially when it comes to in-school residencies called Thinking Through Art (TTA). The Education Department has led TTAs based on such mathematical concepts as the Golden Ratio, symmetry in Mandalas, and using prayer beads, or malas, to illustrate division problems. On their tour, the staff of MoMath looked at both mandalas and paintings of deities to find she symmetry, proportions, and intricate grid work that goes into the creation of these paintings. They also had the opportunity to discover their own mathematical connections in the galleries. One of the staff favorites for MoMath was the the Eleven-Headed, One Thousand Armed Avalokiteshvara. Not because of the beautiful painting or the inspirational story (although these were well appreciated) but because of the line drawing that accompanied the painting in the Gateway to Himalayan Art exhibition. Glen Whitney, MoMath’s Co-executive Director, noted that the drawing wasn’t laid out according to a Cartesian grid (all points are plotted out according to X and Y axes), like others we had seen, but was instead designed using a polar coordinate system (all points are plotted out relative to a central point). It was fascinating to view the Rubin’s collection from a very different perspective.

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Later, the Rubin Museum’s Education staff took the quick walk to MoMath, situated at the northern end of Madison Square Park. The exhibition spaces at MoMath are wildly different than what one might see at the Rubin. First of all, nearly all of the exhibits are interactive, or at least things that visitors can touch. Some of them are so interactive that visitors can climb in and ride around on the objects in the collection. One of the highlights of the experience was a bicycle with square wheels that was set up on a special track so that it could be ridden (almost) smoothly in a circle. Chief of Education Ben Levitt explained how the angles of the wheels dictate the bumpiness of the track, and how normal, circular wheels have no angles and therefore perform best on a smooth surface. (This is, of course, a greatly pared down version of his explanation.) The Rubin’s Docent Coordinator, Laura Sloan commented, “After seeing so many touchable things at MoMath it would be nice to incorporate more touchable things at the Rubin.”

Larissa Raphael, Head of Youth and Family Programs, takes the square-wheeled bike for a test ride.

Larissa Raphael, Head of Youth and Family Programs at the Rubin, takes the square-wheeled bike for a test ride.

MoMath does have a gallery that focuses specifically on art and how it relates to math. This gallery was of particular interest to the Rubin staff because here was where they could find the greatest parallels in educational practice between the Rubin and at MoMath. Some of the artwork emphasized symmetry, knot theory, and even some more scientific topics such as how the lens of the eye views the world. Tim Nissen, the Chief of Design at MoMath, was always quick to point the similarities between the art in their galleries and the mandalas in ours.

Part-time guide, Jeremy McMahan studies a knotted sculpture made of pipe cleaners.

“It was interesting to see the parallels between the Rubin and MoMath, especially considering that our subjects couldn’t be more different from each other. Despite this though, we both attempt to teach a relatively esoteric topic and try to make it relatable to our visitors.” -Jeremy McMahan, Rubin Part-time Guide

Both museum staffs learned a great deal from this experience. Discussions were held about pedagogy, addressing challenges, and accessibility. Bill Appleton, the Rubin’s Director of Education and Engagement said, “I was particularly struck by how we share some of the same challenges. MoMath and the Rubin both seek to make complex content meaningful and fun in an informal learning situation.” The two museums hope to continue working together in the future and are discussing potential educational partnership opportunities for K-12 and teen audiences. A special thanks to MoMath’s Co-Executive Director, Cindy Lawrence, for helping to make these discussions happen.

Stay tuned for next month’s Educator Meetup when the Rubin Education staff visits the Merchant’s House Museum to talk about how the context of objects plays a major role in the way that they are interpreted by museum staff.

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Are you feeling Peaceful or Wrathful?

Campers from Berkeley Carroll Summer Camp represented their personal protectors – both peaceful and wrathful – inspired by images from The Rubin Museum. Here are some of their great drawings!

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Tara, Mother of all Activities; Tibet; 13th Century; Brass with silver inlays

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Begtse; Mongolia; late 18th Century; gilt copper with pigment



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Guest Artist Preeti Vasudevan visits Family Art Labs!

July’s Family Art Lab was all about Himalayan Sounds.  In honor of our sound exploration, we invited special guest artist, Preeti Vasudevan to lead our family tour.  She arrived with many interesting ideas and instruments of her own that enhanced our tour experience – teaching us stories about Shiva and his damaru, Ganesh and his dance moves, and guiding us through a listening experience in the Tibetan Shrine Room.

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We hope to have Preeti join us again very soon for another engaging family gallery experience.  We’ll be taking a break from Family Art Labs in August, but our ever popular Parade with Ganesh Family Art Lab will be taking place Saturday, September 13th.  If you’re hankering for August family activities, please join us at our weekly drop-in art-making program, Family Sundays – every Sunday from 1-4pm!

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A Wonderful Weekend with Carmen Mensink

We were delighted to welcome Carmen Mensink, a gifted educator and artist based in Amsterdam, back to the museum this past weekend.  A practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism who has studied thangka painting extensively, Carmen has taught thangka painting classes in Europe and the States for over fifteen years.

Carmen Adult July 2014 ThangkaDuring the weekend, Carmen Mensink taught a range of exciting programs, including a Teen Art Lab session on how to draw the Buddha’s head, as well as three workshops for our general visitors inspired by themes found in the exhibition Bodies in Balance: The Art of Tibetan Medicine.

Carmen drawing with students

T'Shawn with buddhaEach session included a discussion and sketching in the galleries, followed by art-making in our Education Center. The individual workshops explored the role of the Medicine Buddha, the Diagnostic Tree, and Protective amulets within the context of Tibetan Medicine.

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Carmen Adult July 2014 4Carmen Adult July 2014 talkingThank you, Carmen, for making Tibetan Buddhist art come alive through your passion, warmth, and insight into a beautiful and time-honored tradition. We look forward to welcoming you back to the museum!

Learn more about Carmen:  http://www.tibetanthangkapainting.com/artist_intro.html


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What I Have Learned From the Rubin Museum

Writing this blog entry is quite bitter sweet for tomorrow will be my last day here at the Rubin Museum of Art.  Before I began my position here at the Rubin Museum of Art, my predecessor, before she left, had decided to express what she learned from her experience from museums.  Following her wonderful example, the time for me has come for reflection.

When I began here at the Rubin Museum, I had already worked in museums but I had always known this place was beautifully and uniquely different.  It wasn’t just the works of art that I was experiencing for the first time that gave me this feeling but the people and employees that make this museum what it is.  Over time I realized that being the Educational Resources Coordinator here, the finest resource the museum had (and still has for that matter) is its staff.  They are the people who assist you with a smile when you approach the front desk for a ticket.  They are the people who greet you by name when opening the museum when you are a regular.  They are the people who tirelessly travel all over the world to make sure the finest art and its interpretation are correct for all to experience. They are the people who fundraise for educational programs here at the museum for you to enjoy.    They are the people who time and again teach multiple classes a day without a days lunch.  All of these people have something in common, they care about this beautiful museum.

Reflecting on my own experience here, I can happily say that I am one of them and will always have a deep connection with this museum. But it was also this museum that helped me realize my love for teaching students on a regular basis.  It was this museum who helped me shape who I am today and helped me meet some of the most significant people in my life.  And because of that I am entirely grateful.  To all of the staff, past, present and future, I thank you for all of your work. So what did I learn from the Rubin Museum? I learned that with an incredible staff, stunning works of art and sheer dedication, you can create a place that promotes the importance of education, stimulates intellectual thought and creates an experience like no other.

I close with my favorite pictures of my time at the Rubin Museum.  Thank you again for a life changing three years!


Photo Booth for Allegory and Illusion.


Staff Bonding, 2011


Diwali, 2013

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Speaking to the Roosevelts for the exhibition Quentin Roosevelt’s China.

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Teaching, 2013

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Staff Connections: Nicole Leist, Assistant Manager of Adult & Academic Programs

Running a museum takes a whole team of professionals whose different skills help make the Rubin Museum of Art one of the premiere places to visit. To get to know us a little more, and to explore different careers in the arts, each month we will be asking a Museum staffer/intern to answer six questions about their position at the Museum, their favorite artworks or exhibitions on display in the museum and other personal attributes. 


Nicole Leist, Assistant Manager of Adult & Academic Programs

RMA: Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do at the Rubin Museum.

I am the new Assistant Manager of Adult and Academic Programs. Working closely with Laura Lombard, the Head of Adult and Academic Programs, my first project is reviewing applications for the fall 2014 class of Apprentice Museum Educators. In addition to working with university partnerships, professional trainings, and program development, I will also be teaching in the galleries.

RMA: Where are you originally from and how did you end up at the Rubin?

My hometown is Louisville, Kentucky and it’s been a long and winding road to the Rubin! I attended undergraduate university at Washington University in St. Louis. During my junior year abroad at University College London, I discovered big museums for the first time in the form of the British Museum. It was love at first sight. After my B.A., was complete, I packed my bags for New York in pursuit of American museums and attended New York University to receive an M.A. in Museum Studies. I was a guide at the Rubin Museum (in a very different incarnation of the program) in 2005-2006. Then I joined the staff of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where I held several internships and professional positions, most recently the Associate Education Programs Coordinator of Public and Exhibition Programs. In this role I worked with free public lecture programs for adults. In my free time, I was a graduate student at Columbia University, earning a second M.A. in Art History and developing my gallery teaching practice at the Met. As the Rubin and I enter our second decade in New York, it seemed like to perfect time to come back.

RMA: What are some recent, upcoming or current projects you are working on at the Museum?

Getting my feet thoroughly wet! I am excited to embark on my new position duties. Currently I am participating in the July program Teen Art Labs: Connected City.

RMA: Out of all the current exhibitions at the Rubin Museum, which one is your favorite?

Not in one exhibition, but the stars of the collection- Wrathful deities! These are represented on almost every floor and especially in the exhibition Bodies in Balance: The Art of Tibetan Medicine. Wrathful protectors are the flaming-eyebrowed, zombie- riding, intestine lasso-wielding crew that are my all-time Rubin favorites, due to a lifelong interest in mythology and folktales. They have an engaging energy and are imbued with an infectious vitality. In my gallery teaching, I am interested in the original context of objects and how they continue to resonate with contemporary life. The wrathful deities are so distinctive to the Himalayas and to the Rubin’s collection; I am drawn to their paradox of ferocity and compassion.


Red Wolf-Headed Protectress Central Tibet; 19th century Pigments on cloth Rubin Museum of Art C2006.66.9 (HAR 192)

RMA: What’s the most interesting or unusual thing you’ve experienced working at the Rubin Museum?

When I was revisiting the galleries during my interview process, I was pleasantly surprised that a fellow visitor spontaneously came up to me and talked to me about how the Rubin was a special place to them. I hope to contribute to that wonderful sense of conviviality.

RMA: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to follow the same career path?

As a field, Museum Education is expanding and changing rapidly-a great place to begin is to intern and/or volunteer in a variety of institutions and gain teaching experience.


Nicole Leist Teaching at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

RMA: What do you do when you’re not at the Rubin Museum?

In my home borough of Brooklyn, you are likely to find me on a run in Prospect Park or at a flea market, and I am a big fan of New York museums and sister institutions such as libraries, zoos, botanic gardens and historic homes in the Hudson Valley. I always have a fiction book in process and love going to author talks.

RMA: If you could travel anywhere in the Himalayas where would you go and why?

It is a part of the world I am still exploring via armchair, but I love Geoff Dyer’s Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi novel so it would be fascinating to visit Varanasi. The city is significant as an ancient site of continuous inhabitation, in addition to its deep importance as a holy site for both Hinduism and Buddhism. And it is a river city, much like Louisville, St. Louis, London and New York, so I will have at least one point of reference.

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Himalayan Sounds Family Art Lab This Saturday!

Join us on Saturday, July 12th, from 2 PM – 4 PM, for our Himalayan Sounds Family Art Lab!  Hear monks chanting in the Tibetan Shrine Room and join our special guest, Preeti Vasudevan, on an exploration of the galleries to discover musical instruments in the artworks.  Make your own instrument from recycled, natural and found materials in the art studio!

Please visit the Museum website for more info or to purchase tickets.

See you Saturday!

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What Do American Indian and Himalayan Art Museums Have in Common?

For their latest Educator Meetup, the Rubin Museum’s Education team headed all the way down town to the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). While it might seem like a museum devoted to the historical and contemporary material culture of American Indians and a museum dedicated to mainly Hindu and Buddhist art from Himalayan Asia would have very little in common, the Rubin educators were pleasantly surprised to find that the two institutions actually had many parallels.

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The Rubin Educators first took a tour of NMAI’s relatively new, encyclopedic exhibition Infinity of Nations. The tour was prefaced by a brief visualization activity where the Rubin team members were asked to imagine an American Indian Chief and to paint a mental picture of him, from his clothing and accouterments to the environment in which he existed. Then, as a the group entered the first section of the exhibition, they were confronted by a series of ten headdresses from different Native Peoples around the Western Hemisphere. When asked if anyone saw something similar to what they had imagined, no one had an affirmative answer. This activity was the first step in understanding how strong our stereotypes are, even if we don’t think that we hold them, and how those stereotypes influence the way that we experience exhibitions.

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After a whirlwind tour of the immense exhibition that left the whole group wishing there was more time, we proceeded to the museum’s Education Center. More colloquially known as the “Tipi Room,” the Education Center is an interactive exhibit that focuses on the culture of the peoples of the Great Plains of central North America. Here we were met by two of the museum’s Cultural Interpreters as well as the Manager of Education. First, Cultural Interpreter William Chimborazo led the group in an experience/discussion about his goals when working K-12 students, specifically when telling the Christopher Columbus story, which is one of the most requested topics for the NMAI interpreters. William stresses the fact that, when telling the history of Columbus, semantics are very important. The commonly used language is that Christoper Columbus “discovered” America, but in reality, America was not his to discover. He got lost during his journey to the West Indies and stumbled upon what is currently the Dominican Republic, a place that was already populated by the Taino people.

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William continued to stress the importance of not forming or enforcing stereotypes such as “All Indians lived a long time ago” or “All Indians live in tipis” because there are, in fact, over 500 distinct Native American tribes in North America alone, each with its own culture, history, and language. So when asking questions like, “What kinds of houses do American Indians live in?” the answer is always “different.” Visitors to the Rubin Museum also come laden with stereotypes about Buddhists, China, Tibet, and other cultures within the Himalayan region. The guides agreed that they must all work to find the best ways to gently dispel these stereotypes in a sensitive and skillful way.

To end the field trip, we opened up the floor to the Rubin Educators so that they could have a chance to voice their thoughts about the similarities between their institution and NMAI and to begin a discussion about the challenges we both face and how we deal with them. One interesting topic that came up was the importance of cultural sensitivity. In both museums, there are educators who belong to the culture about which they are teaching, but more commonly, neither the educators nor the students belong to that culture. At the Rubin, we often incorporate the concept of Mindfulness into our teaching. While other museums like NMAI might not use that term, they often talk about sensitivity, neutrality, or cultural relativism when discussing the cultures of various American Indians.

Another question that came up dealt with the issue of working in a museum that holds a very specific political position (in both cases, one of neutrality) and how educators have to set aside their own opinions in order to uphold the position of the museum. Every educator at the Rubin has been confronted with questions about Tibet and whether or not the museum supports Tibet in any way. It is important for all educators to understand that the Rubin, as a public institution, remains neutral on the subject, just like NMAI must remain neutral on issues regarding the Indigenous populations of North and South America. The Manager of Education, Dr. Johanna Gorelick, was able to speak directly about the position of NMAI as a Smithsonian Museum and a branch of the US Government, and about the importance of all of the museum’s staff knowing how to talk about tricky political issues.

The last part of the discussion focused on the missions of the two institutions and whether or not a separate Education Mission should be added. The Mission of the Rubin is as follows:

The Rubin Museum of Art is a dynamic environment that stimulates learning, promotes understanding, and inspires personal connections to the ideas, cultures, and art of Himalayan Asia.

Although we currently do not have a separate mission statement for the Department of Education and Engagement, the staff that was present for this discussion largely agreed that the part of the mission where the guides can really excel and have the most rewarding experiences is in helping visitors to create personal connections to the art in the museum.

The NMAI mission has many parallels with that of the Rubin, with one major difference. NMAI stresses the importance of cultivating partnerships with the Indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere:

The National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) is committed to advancing knowledge and understanding of the Native cultures of the Western Hemisphere—past, present, and future—through partnership with Native people and others. The museum works to support the continuance of culture, traditional values, and transitions in contemporary Native life.

Another aspect that is conspicuously not included in the Rubin’s mission is the inclusion of contemporary life in Himalayan Asia, and the group also discussed this fact and how they address contemporary concepts during their tours and programs.

Everyone agreed that this was very engaging and very heavy meetup that address many tricky issues. Stay tuned for July’s meetup, which just might be a little more lighthearted.

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