Small Victories and the No-Show Blues

So last week Tif and I were prepped and ready to go for two tours and a couple of days in Millennium Park. However, neither of our groups showed up. I can’t tell you the supreme disappointment of a no-show. Standing up at the student group entrance, pacing the floors, thinking that every shadow that moves outside could be a sign of your approaching group…. it’s not a pretty sight. Just ask the teen interns. The most pathetic part is when a group comes in and they turn out to be a self-guided tour, and you seriously consider hijacking them and leading them on a tour anyways.

However, we did have a great time in Millennium Park (which I mentioned last week), so that was a great way to spend part of the week.

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I also gave my first solo tour on Monday! Well, it wasn’t technically a solo tour, because Kendall was there helping me out. Our group ended up being 10 students instead of 16, so we decided that I would lead the students through the galleries and the Kendall ran the studio portion. I was pretty nervous when it started: the kids were the oldest age group I’ve worked with yet, and some were clearly not very happy to be there.

I gave a version of the “Heroes” tour that Tiffany and I put together, and I started at Gustave Moreau’s Hercules and the Lernaean Hydra.

Gustave Moreau’s Hercules and the Lernaean Hydra, 1875/6

As you can see, this piece is a bit graphic and violent, and it ended up being a great starting point for a group that was made up of mostly 13 year-old boys. When I had tried to discuss the idea of QUEST with the students in the studios, I had been met with near silence. They were not pleased with me for asking them questions. One of the girls even leaned over to the chaperone and said, “This is like school….” Needless to say, she was not pleased. But when we got the the art, it was like a switch had been flipped. It is pretty incredible to see the moment that a student goes from being bored to being engaged and interested.

I enjoyed the studio portion as well. As I said before, I’ve been working mostly with younger groups, and this was the first time that I had worked with a group of 7th-9th graders. It was hard for some of the students to begin the project, and one girl in particular had only put a few very small figures on her quest timeline and then pronounced herself finished. She didn’t have any real interest in the project and was kind of checked out. I sat down with her for awhile and we talked about the images she had chosen, why she liked them, and what she wanted to say about them. She ended up creating an entirely new story about them and adding on to the work she had already done. In the end, she even presented her quest in front of the entire group.

This group was a challenge because my usual tricks with younger kids (a big smile, lots of energy, etc…) were not going to get them engaged. I had to work to get them interested in the objects, and they had no problem letting me know if I wasn’t doing a good job. Some objects worked better than others, and I’ll have to tweak my objectives and procedures on a few others. I also think that the group dynamic played a role in how much the students contributed: in a group of ten students there were only three girls, who were all about 13 years old. The girls were much quieter and less likely to participate when discussing a given object, and it was a challenge to get them out of their shells.

So perhaps I’ll never be able to get every single student in my tour to listen to me with rapt attention, hanging on every word I say. But maybe it’s more gratifying to see two girls who were wary of talking throughout the tour excited to present their quest projects, and to see three smiles when I left the studio that afternoon.

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