Museology Master of Arts Program

June 2, 2021

Faculty/Course Spotlight – Geneva Griswold

This blog is part of the Museology Faculty/Course spotlight series, which consists of short interviews with our new faculty to discuss and reflect on inclusive teaching, their learning outcomes, some of their course highlights, and what they learned from their teaching experience. Our next spotlight is with Geneva Griswold, who is a guest lecturer with the program and taught the Sustainability in Museology course. Her responses are below:

Where did you draw inspiration or what was your impetus for creating this new course?Photo of Geneva Griswold

This course was created during a global pandemic when “essential work” was defined by state governments: the arts were not considered essential. Yet, the arts are where many of us sought solace and expression and community connection – making signs to carry during marches following George Floyd’s murder, painting boarded business fronts, or making music with pots and pans to cheer our health care workers. Others heard bird calls for the first time because traffic ceased – the health of people and planet was made starkly clear during the early days of the “stay at home” order.

Sustainability – often defined as the overlap between sociocultural, environmental, and economic concerns – is under addressed in museum environments. Museums are adept at connecting the past and present, yet museums’ influence in shaping our collective futures is underestimated. Polls state that museums are considered one of the most respected sources of information in our society. How do we leverage museums’ platforms to achieve social justice, which in turn will impact environmental and economic outcomes? We cannot save the planet, so to speak, without social justice as the foundation of our efforts. This course seeks to envision expansive roles for museums in creating our sustainable future.

What kinds of learning outcomes did you set up for your course? How did you put those learning outcomes into practice?

This course has five learning outcomes:
Gain a systemic understanding of sustainability principles and how they apply to the museum field; Consider museums’ roles in climate change and social justice from diverse perspectives; Articulate strategies for engaging museums in sustainable practices; Consider our civic responsibility to work toward a sustainable community; and most importantly, to increase your connection with the place in which you live.

We began each class with a mindfulness activity intended to connect us to place, and to our body’s presence in place. Paying attention precedes taking action. The emphasis of the course is to envision the futures we want to make possible – to think beyond the structures that define our society today, and the roles that museums can and do play in this future.

Can you give an example of what you think was an important assignment? What made it important and how does it achieve your learning outcomes?

The most important assignment – because it is the most fun – is the Design Challenge:
“Re-imagine the museum as a radical form of sustainable action. How must museums evolve to help society make the transformative changes needed to achieve a sustainable world?”
Students’ design proposals can address any aspect of museum design and activity, fantastical or practical, that explores a new way for museums to operate. The Challenge is important because it combines all five learning outcomes, builds on our conversations throughout the quarter, and encourages open-ended thinking.

As a graduate masters program, we are training museum workers to contribute to the field. What do you see as the main way that you contribute to the field? How do you think teaching contributes to the field?

Teaching is where new ideas germinate and come into being, therefore teaching is crucial to promoting dynamism and reflexivity in the museum field. One student described this class as a think tank, which is amazing.

What do you like about teaching?

Teaching is an honor. In this course, I strive not to be a “teacher’ but a facilitator and a learner. To bring what other people are doing— whether guest speakers, case studies, or readings—together to spark conversation. It is an honor to give space and time to exchange our lived experiences and aspirations.

Inclusive teaching is an important aspect to the UW Museology program. Did you implement any kinds of practices to create an inclusive teaching environment and can you describe them?

Acknowledging the fatigue that many of us face with screen time, students were encouraged to show up in whatever capacity best supports their learning – to come as you are. Assignment deadlines are flexible, with mutual communication, to accommodate individuals’ schedules. Students could choose to submit most assignments in different formats – a voice or video recording, written, or as visuals. Our grounding exercises include attentive listening, drawing, or free-writing in order to model different ways of receiving and communicating information, which is exactly what museums must do to reach their audiences.

Reflecting back on your teaching experience with this new course, did you learn anything or was there anything you would have done differently?

I am always learning! I will certainly do things differently because the museum and sustainability fields are always evolving. No course will be the same year in and year out. In the future, we will eat together. Food sovereignty and accessibility came up repeatedly in our conversations because food is a unifier. Food grounds us in place and culture and community.

Can you share with us what you are reading these days? 

I just finished The Great Derangement by Amitav Ghosh, which discusses why climate change is not embraced by the cultural sector (literature specifically). Ghosh relates climate change to imperialism, and I am also reading Potential History: Unlearning Imperialism by Ariella Aisha Azoulay. I have binged the entire seasons of the How to Save a Planet and Green Dreamer podcasts. I look forward to starting the essay collection All We Can Save – there’s a chapter called ‘Harnessing Cultural Power’ that I have a feeling will show up in next year’s course. I opened right to this quote by Bell Hooks: “the function of art is to do more than tell it like it is. It’s to imagine what is possible…” This is exactly what I hope for this course.