The Art of “I Don’t Know”

As an Apprentice Museum Educator, I have the opportunity and privilege of leading school tours. Before I came to the Rubin, I never thought of museum tours as gallery experiences but instead I thought of them as, well, just tours. I would go to a museum, and a knowledgeable and friendly guide would impart their knowledge onto me. Since I started my work here at the Rubin I’ve come to appreciate tours as a chance to experience art with others and learn together, whether through observation, conversation or stories.

I led a particularly satisfying tour today with a very savvy High School group. I was incredibly intimidated going into the tour, the majority of tours I’ve lead have been 3rd grade-5th grade. I worried I wouldn’t have answers to their questions. Luckily, I had had very positive experiences with younger children in the galleries, when difficult questions were asked that I couldn’t answer, but only by the sweetest and most understanding of children. The process of finding an answer and exposing visitors to our resources is rewarding, but still, I irrationally feared a group of 15 teenagers wouldn’t be as understanding (flashbacks to my own High School days didn’t help).

To my pleasant surprise my worst fears didn’t come true. Our tour was chock-full of thoughtful observation and exciting discussion. I happened to also be presented with a wonderful opportunity; not one, but two questions to which I did not know the answers! I hope this doesn’t make me sound like a bad Guide to readers, I promise I do know my stuff, but this was my chance! I could really create a full experience for the group by following-up with the students after they left my brief, one hour tour (or rather, gallery experience).

I eagerly wrote down their questions and names, and approached the teacher for her contact information and when I returned to the office hurriedly began my research to answer their questions. It is a satisfying feeling to know that this brief one hour experience could be prolonged by creating curiosity beyond the museum’s walls.

I am now looking forward to my next unanswerable question with excitement, instead of fear. Bring it on!


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