Our Education team is integral to extending the reach of our multi-disciplinary programs to audiences both in and out of schools. We are delighted to shine a spotlight on our educators as part of the Wexner Center’s 25th anniversary celebration.
Educator for Docent and Teacher Programs Tracie McCambridge has led an evolving roster of programs, including the docent-training course, since her arrival at the Wexner Center in 2007. She and Development Assistant Diana Gerber sat down to talk about her experiences with gallery education at the Wex.
DG: How do you know that a program is successful?
TM: Well, each program has its unique set of measurable goals, but contemporary art can be very intimidating, so one of my baseline goals is to meet people where they are, and help them to have a really great experience in the galleries with work that they very potentially could have disregarded or not liked at all in other contexts. Within the experience of a program like Art on the Brain, someone with a particular brain injury might not be able to do much more than work to focus on the conversation and listen to the rest of the group. And if that's where they are that day, that's OK. That's success for me, making people aware that wherever they are, as long as they're pushing themselves, they're successful in my book.
DG: Please talk about a top moment here at the Wexner Center.
TM: During the Blues for Smoke exhibition, I had just finished working with a group of adults in the galleries and a man walked up to me. He told me he would ask questions to a couple of women of color that he knew, about their hair, and he realized that he had not really handled those conversations in the most sensitive way possible. The Blues for Smoke exhibition was a really powerful platform for talking about different people's experiences, particularly people of color in this country, and he discovered that he had been insensitive. He said, "This experience, this exhibition is going to change the way I think about and treat people for the rest of my life." He actually said, "I don't have a whole lot of the rest of my life left," because it was an elderly man, but he said, "this has been an eye-opening experience, one of the most eye-opening experiences that I've ever had, and I feel like I'm going to be a better person after being here." So that for me was a very powerful moment.
DG: During that exhibition, I was on a tour with upper elementary school kids and we had talked in Rodney McMillan's from Asterisks in Dockery and one of the girls was walking sort of really slowly out and she looked at me and said, "I didn't know that art could make me feel that way." She had this really solemn look on her face. And I think with little kids especially, it can be hard to share experiences that aren't feel-good.
TM: I think a lot of people have some perception or idea that art is supposed to be pretty, it's supposed to make you happy, feel peaceful, and that's really not what we're doing here. We're trying to push people out of their comfort zone. And again, push them from where they are. We don't have to be all in the same place in the end.
DG: How has your understanding of art education shifted during your time here at the Wexner Center?
TM: When I first started here, I had this very idealistic view of, “We're gonna go into the galleries, and everybody's gonna be thinkin' this-this-and-this and it's gonna be wonderful!” I've evolved and realized that we're all in very different places. So I think embracing everyone allows me to feel OK with myself if someone leaves the galleries feeling only just a little bit closer to how I feel about art.
DG: You mean in terms of its value.
TM: Yeah, in terms of its value as a mode of communication. So for instance if someone leaves and is just like “well, I don't really like it, but I can see how someone else might like it” and they walked in saying “art is stupid,” that's progress. And that movement toward open-mindedness might open the door for this person to value someone else's ideas down the line.
DG: That makes sense. And what brought you to the Wexner Center?
TM: This job. I was working at the John Michael Kohler Art Center in Wisconsin and a friend of mine saw this position and said, “Oh my god, this looks like something that would be perfect for you.” I really love the city, I really love the Wexner Center, and it was one of the best decisions I've ever made in my life.
DG: What are some of your favorite artworks in any discipline that you wish everyone could see or you could share with a lot of people?
TM: One of my favorites is You Who Are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies by Yayoi Kusama. It's at the Phoenix Art Museum, and the room is pitch black, except there are tiny, little light diodes hanging at different levels that are reflected infinitely all around you because the floor, ceiling, and walls are mirrors. And it makes you lose your physical self, I mean, it was so dark when I first walked in I couldn't see my hand in front of my face. I like immersive, environmental pieces. Art can make you feel really grounded and make you think about the world around you and your place in it, or you can find yourself sort of lost in a moment. And there's something about being lost for a moment in front of piece of art that I really like, and I wish that feeling for others as well.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.