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At the Dali Museum, the real 21st century skill is dialogue

Megan Holmes

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Photo courtesy of the City of St. Pete Flickr.

Every education report, scholarly article, news story and politician has been lauding STEM education as the linchpin for the future of the American economy. When we talk about preparing kids for the future, a nod to STEM is never far behind. In accordance with current dogma, it seems, all answers lie in code. Our jobs will soon be taken by machines, they say, so we had better learn to build them and write the programs that run them, or we will soon be obsolete.

“Everyone, particularly legislators who are putting their heavy hand on our school systems are saying, ‘Our kids must learn 21st century skills.’ And in the same breath they will say, ‘21st century skills are writing code and programming.’” said Dr. Hank Hine, Executive Director of the Dali Museum.

Nothing could be further from the truth, says Hine.

“Machines are gonna write code. I’m gonna just call out that I want a double espresso and also, I want a code that will allow my app to do such and such. And it’s gonna be

A junior docent explaining Girl from Ampurdam by Dali.

written because it’s just formulaic.

“What’s the 21st century skill? How to talk to one another without being ferocious and angry and disappointed; dialogue,” he says.

Hine, who has been at the helm of the Dali Museum for more than 16 years has engendered a shift in the institution – that it is more than a collection of art – that it has a responsibility to educate the thousands of visitors that grace its spiral staircase each year.

“Personally I’ve learned that we’re not an art museum primarily,” said Hine. “We’re actually an educational institution that uses art to try to give people a better vision of their lives and a better understanding of their world.”

The community events and education programming at the Dali is reflective of this attitude. The Dali offers events for all ages (both free and for a fee) that are intended to change perspectives, provide value and create dialogue.

One such program – aimed at adolescents – is the Dali Museum’s Junior Docent Art Camp program.

 

This week-long program is held throughout the summer for kids ages 9-11 and 12-14. It has been a long-running partnership with the USFSP’s Department of Psychiatry, whose own 3-year study provides evidence that the program is beneficial for building self-esteem and self-concept in children.

In the program, started by the Dali Museum’s Director of Education, Peter Tush, students choose one of Dali’s works and learn about it from teachers based in Pinellas County. But they’re learning about much more than just art. They learn to communicate how art makes them feel and how to tell that story to someone else.

“‘I hate that work,’ or, ‘This work scares me,’ then, ‘Okay, let’s see how you can communicate that to someone else,’” said Hine. “So they learned to attach language to feelings they had.”

The program comes in a time of crucial development. “These preteens are most vulnerable, they don’t have a developed sexual identity, they don’t have money, – in this time,

A junior docent explains Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea which at Twenty Meters Becomes the Portrait of Abraham Lincoln.

when we started this, they didn’t have cell phones – they don’t have a lot of power,” he continued. “So they’re really subject to intense personal misgivings.”

But you wouldn’t know it, if you saw the students give their parents and other adults docent-led tours of their chosen Dali works, the end-cap on the week-long program. One might argue the experience is even richer than that of a professional tour. Walking the tour provides the opportunity to see the varied directions young minds take when exposed to the surreal works of Dali. It is truly magical.

According to staff, something of a transformation occurs over the week. Many adolescents walk in the door with immense fears surrounding speaking to large groups or feeling knowledgeable about the subject of art. It’s Dali, after all, a little intimidation isn’t surprising. But students are encouraged to build narratives based on their own feelings and perceptions of Dali’s work. They learn from themselves and one another, and by the end, they share their stories with voices and vocabulary unmatched by many adults.

“Art is a way of people learning about themselves and about the world, their response to the world, Hine explained.
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