Object Stories—From the Middle was a three year program that ran from 2011-2014. It was funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum & Library Services, and managed by the Portland Art Museum. Originally designed for sixth, seventh, and eighth grade middle school students, Object Stories—From the Middle capitalizes on the close relationship between young people and the objects that they value the most deeply. Beginning with the world they know, the program used written, oral and pictorial storytelling techniques to develop a rich repository of student voices. The personal connections that students felt with their own objects thus became a bridge to learning about the meanings contained within all objects, inviting their participation in interpreting the art and artifacts within the Museum.
Almost everyone, at every age, has a relationship with an object—whether it is a memento, a saved keepsake, or a work of art, and the act of sharing such objects and telling their stories is empowering. Museum education staff, teaching artists and museum docents worked with classroom teachers to integrate Object Stories—From the Middle into middle school curriculum using classroom artist residencies and study visits at the museum. Together we experimented with frameworks for using students’ interest in their personal objects to emphasize and expand upon the meaning and stories that all objects carry.
What We Did: We brought middle school teachers, teaching artists and Portland Art Museum docents to the Museum for annual Professional Development, to plan and prepare a year of Object Stories experiences for middle-school students. Throughout the school year teachers, teaching artists and docents delivered activities in classrooms; art-making experiences included photography, collage, narrative writing, visual arts and oral storytelling. Museum docents facilitated tours in the galleries, using new strategies like Tableau, and sharing in discussion with students about perspectives and storytelling.
What Students Did: Students thought critically about how objects acquire meaning, first creating written and image-based narratives about personal objects in the classroom, and then about Museum objects in the galleries and Online Collections. Students also developed and recorded an oral story about the significance of their own, personal objects.
Why We Do It: Part of the overarching idea of the Object Stories program is to demonstrate how ordinary objects receive and accrue meaning; a corollary to the same processes that take place in Museum objects. Through their objects students teach us about themselves, their identities and how they understand the world—their fears, aspirations and values. Using objects as a catalyst we consider each others’ stories, so it is a small step to using Museum objects to do the same: translating object literacy into art literacy. By exploring objects via art integration and interactive techniques, students and teachers deepen their connections to the Museum and to each other.
Our program partner, The Right Brain Initiative, works to make creativity a basic part of every child’s public education by bringing teachers and local artists together to design experiences for their students that connect the arts with other subjects. Together we built a program to create lifelong relationships between young people and the arts.