Ronna Tulgan Ostheimer has been the Director of Education at the Clark for more than five years. She first came to the Clark as the Coordinator of Community and Family Programs. Her mission as a museum educator is to help people realize that through looking and engaging with art they can feel more truly human. Prior to coming to the Clark, Ronna taught in the Education Department at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA). She holds an Ed.D. in Psychological Education from the University of Massachusetts as well as a B.A. in Sociology and American Studies from Hobart and William Smith Colleges.
It is a cold; rainy day here in Williamstown, Mass. Ronna sits at her desk. Her office is quaint, and dimly lit with a soft, warm glow, papers and books line the walls, and it is peacefully quiet. It is mid-day and Ronna has yet to take her lunch break, instead, she finds sustenance in her work; she is fueled by hard work and passion.
Ronna has always had a hunger for education. Her life’s work encompasses helping people engage with art to rediscover their own humanity in hopes of creating a more humane world. Like many others intrigued by arts education, Ronna came to her position as the Director of Education at the Clark through a rather circuitous path. Being a teacher was rewarding, but the allure of a flexible schedule that accompanied being an independent contractor, prompted her to leave her job at MCLA and so she embarked on a journey that would ultimately bring her to the Clark.
Being a patron of the Clark’s early Family Days, she got a first-hand view of what the Clark was trying to achieve with their programming.
“I wrote to our then director, here at the Clark, and said that I think I could really enhance your museum by developing programs for families to make the museum feel more like a community institution, more accessible to more people, and he hired me.”
Museums have traditionally been surrounded by a social stigma of elitism. In present times, most museums are still struggling with this bad hangover idea of what art museums are all about. People sometimes feel uncomfortable in museums and out of place. Ronna’s work at the Clark is all about counteracting this notion through her programs and arts education in general. Her mission is to engage the general public with the Clark’s collection and exhibitions through programs that create valuable, meaningful, and even transformative experience for all visitors, in hopes that after they leave they feel more truly human.
Museum education departments were not what they were twenty years ago, some museums didn’t even have education departments. Ronna always held an interest in museum education, even more so how her education in psychology and sociology could really amplify the human dynamics present in art. Her background makes her more effective in identifying what types of programs she and her team should be developing. “I’m on the exhibitions team. So while we’re planning an exhibition my voice is there to think about audience.”
Ronna brings something different to the plate, which ultimately makes her good at what she does. Traditionally museum education was done by those with backgrounds heavily focused in art history, but Ronna’s education approach allowed her to transform the education department of the Clark. Her goal is to engage as wide and as diverse of an audience as possible.
Growing out of those programs and this new feeling of the community of the Clark as being more connected to the community and being a resource to the community, we’ve started a whole host of specialized outreach programs. If being at the Clark is a humanizing experience, then what kinds of groups may be in dehumanizing situation that we could especially invite in and develop programs… to help people get this experience that we think the Clark offers?
Recognizing that the Clark can be intimidating to some people she understands that people can often be hesitant to take that first step. Her goal is to get people to take that first step through her diverse programming. She is hopeful that her efforts at the Clark have changed what the Clark feels like to members in the immediate community as well as the larger community.
“It’s pretty amazing to be able to have life’s work that almost feels, not just a passion, but a mission.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Caitlin Spara is an arts manager with a focus on curatorial work and museum education. She has volunteered at local events, such as North Adams Levitt concert series and MASS MoCA’s FreshGrass festival. Caitlin worked as a published writer for the Odyssey Online and has interned at MASS MoCA’s Assets for Artist Program. She is currently attending Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and will earn a Bachelors of Art in Arts Management as well as a minor in Art History in May of 2017.