Meet Me at the Museum is a Barnard/Columbia student-led initiative that provides tours to elementary school students in New York City. BarnardHistoryBlog invites Sofia Perez, the club’s president, and Allie Berdon, the club’s director of operations, to share their experiences and to encourage History majors to get involved! No art history education required, just a passion for equity, public education, history, art and social justice!
$200 USD. The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) charges $200 for a single guided school tour. This lump-sum accounts for “the admission plus flat fee per 30 students for a one-hour tour” and while the Met takes initiative to provide reduced rates and waivers, this $200 still presents a significant barrier to many under-resourced schools in New York City. Meet Me at the Museum (MMatM) seeks to make elementary school field trips to NYC museums more inclusive and empowering by offering free, personalized tours led by Barnard and Columbia students.
Sofia Perez, a senior at Barnard College majoring in Art History with a minor in English, first joined MMatM as a tour-guide in her freshman year. She currently serves as the president of the organization. Sofia, raised in Fort Lauderdale, Florida but born in New York City, recallsa rich and vibrant childhood filled with art: “my Colombian parents and grandparents always made an effort to expose me to [New York City’s] art collections.” Her family’s dedication to cultivating a love and respect for art motivated Sofia to continue cultivating a love for art in others.
Allie Berdon is also a senior at Barnard and serves on the executive board with Sofia. Allie is the director of operations for MMatM, and is responsible for scheduling tours and facilitating communication between schools, museums and tour guides. Allie is a history major with a concentration in transnational conflict and justice and always tries to incorporate historical and cultural context into her tours with MMatM. Meet Me at the Museum is most concerned with providing elementary students with an arts education that is not only accessible, but also incorporates a wide range of cultures and regions. Having a strong foundation in transnational history has allowed Allie to draw connections between seemingly disparate pieces of art and show young students how cultures can relate to one another through art.
MMatM is motivated by the principle that arts education is a right, not a privilege. This means that students of every race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, and socioeconomic backgrounds should have equal access to a museum space, and more importantly, feel comfortable in it by seeing themselves positively reflected in the art and empowered to visit these spaces again. MMatM strives to develop racially and culturally expansive curricula that reflect the lives and experiences of the diverse students it works with. To do this, MMatM curates a series of art pieces that are relevant to the classroom curriculum; each tour is unique. MMatM hopes to dedicate its services exclusively to Title I public schools, schools with large concentrations of low-income students that receive little to no funding for arts education.
Since MMatM’s inception in 2015, it has held over 150 tours at the Met, the Bronx Museum of Art, and the Cooper Hewitt Museum. Over 3,600students have enjoyed an interactive museum experience with tours ranging from topics such as human rights, Native American history, and friendships around the world. MMatM’s tours are not just an art history or history lesson, rather, they are collaborative discussions that require constant participation from students. In front of every art work, the guide asks, “what do you see?” – a question that emphasizes the value of the child’s voice, opinions, and observations specific to their lives and experiences.
MMatM works primarily with the Met because Met’s collection is an unparalleled resource for the NYC public, particularly for students. Aware of the colonialist legacy of many museums, MMatM works to challenge the Eurocentric narratives prevalent in the art world. MMatM grapples with the histories of these institutions, specifically the Met, the collection of which have roots in theft and appropriation from colonized places. To widen their horizons, many tour guides have taken courses on the history of colonialism. This interdisciplinary approach between art history and history is crucial.. MMatM runs diversity, equity, and inclusion workshops for all guides every year where they discuss how art can reflect or exclude, how experiences shape the way art is seen, discussed, and valued, and how guides can be inclusive and sensitive as tour leaders.
At the beginning of every Fall semester, MMatM opens up applications for Barnard/Columbia students to become tour guides. Within the organization, tour guides can become involved in the Curriculum Committee, which structures and plans tours, and the Development Team, which trains new tour guides and fosters a sense of community. No art history education is required, just a passion for equity, public education, history, art, and/or social justice. There are many History majors currently involved with MMatM! History majors are highly encouraged to join!Every Fall semester, MMatM opens up applications for students at Barnard and Columbia to become tour guides. Within the organization, tour guides can become involved in the Curriculum Committee, which helps write the tours given, and the Development Team, which helps train new tour guides and foster community. No art history education is required, just a passion for equity, public education, art, and/or social justice. There are many History majors currently involved with MMatM! History majors are highly encouraged to join!
Thank you Sofia and Allie for sharing MMatM with us!
To learn more about the histories of art from colonized places:
HIST-BC 2321 Colonial Encounters: Europe and the Culture of Empire
HIST-BC 1801 Colonialism and Nationalism in South Asia