Building a Sense of Wonder - 6/2/2015

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but in seeing with new eyes.”
Marcel Proust

As the New Mexico Museum of Art approaches its 100th anniversary, efforts are underway to expand the institution’s historic tradition as a vital community center for the arts in a city and state where art and artists have been an integral component of the culture from the beginning.

To that end, the museum has created a new position: Head of Education and Visitor Experience. Rebecca Aubin, an artist and art educator with an extensive background in museums, will fill that post. Aubin also has a boundless imagination, an indispensable characteristic in the high-tech world in which we now live, where change, more often than not, takes place in milliseconds. Today’s upgrade is tomorrow’s recyclable.

Museum director Mary Kershaw says creating the position is a key element in her long term strategy. “Since coming to the museum five years ago, my goal has been to enhance and to more fully integrate the museum into the fabric of the community. This new position will deepen and cement that relationship.”

The expanded involvement will aid the community by providing students with increased educational opportunities and more chances to shine. “The thing about education in a museum that is different from a classroom is: It’s a very different way of learning. Art addresses different styles of learning. Not every child learns the same way and sometimes you find that children when they’re working with art, either creating it or learning to understand it, will find that art releases their creativity,” Kershaw said. “Sometimes children who really don’t achieve well in the classroom can be inspired and excel in a museum environment.”

Aubin is a prime example of a student whose life was profoundly changed because of artistic opportunities. “Art saved me as a child,” she said.

A native of northern Nevada, Aubin began to draw not long after she learned to walk and talk. “I started drawing when I was three years old.”

A few years later, when Aubin entered the third grade, she stopped going to school completely. “I climbed a tree and watched the other kids,” Aubin recalled. The tree turned out to be a less than perfect hide-out. “Once I was found out, the principal put me into a special program, a pilot program, which was an art class,” she said. “Because I could draw, I found my niche.”

Aubin’s mother encouraged her daughter, sending her to other art classes offered in Carson City, where she grew up. “I loved it,” she recalled.

While in elementary school, Aubin also discovered museums. “In the sixth grade, we went to San Francisco to see the King Tut exhibit at the de Young Memorial Museum in Golden Gate Park. Her class also visited the California Academy of Sciences nearby. “I just fell in love with the science academy,” Aubin said.

Aubin even earned the money necessary to take that trip. In an interview with Rick Romancito, The Taos News arts editor, Aubin described herself as a curious, fiercely independent teenager, maybe a bit wild, but one willing to work hard. “I worked after school from 13 on to help support me and my single mom,” she said.

Like many people who grow up in a small town, Aubin wanted a bite of the Biggest Apple of them all. After high school she headed to New York, where she attended the State University of New York at Stony Brook. “I set out to be an art critic. I studied with Donald Kuspit,” Aubin said. But the distinguished art critic and art historian urged Aubin to return to the studio.

She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Masters in Education from the University of Nevada at Reno, where her father was a professor. When she graduated, Aubin worked a variety of jobs, including stints as a wait person and a receptionist. She also volunteered as a docent in the Nevada Museum of Art. There she learned she had a gift: “My teaching skills became evident. I guess it was in my blood. My parents were educators,” she said.

Aubin taught in the public school system in Utah, where she learned the value of exposing young minds to the larger world through museum visits. After five years in the public school system, Aubin began her career as a museum art educator.

Since then she has worked at the Seattle Art Museum as Museum Educator for School and Educator Programs, the Utah Museum of Fine Arts and most recently at the University of New Mexico’s Harwood Museum of Art in Taos, where she served as Director of Museum Learning and Public Programs. Aubin is also a board member of the New Mexico Foundation for Human Enrichment. She’s served as a consultant for the Smithsonian, the Utah Humanities Council, National Docent Symposium and the Utah Heritage Foundation.

What does she do in her spare time? “I am an artist,” Aubin said. In her interview with The Taos News, Aubin described her work as mixed media, including assemblage, collage and painting. “I collect and reconstruct discarded things that people throw away and turn the familiar into dolls, shrines, paintings,” she said. “I use humor, color and texture that lead observers to a nostalgia that reminds them that there are characters that epitomize a type. Pop Surrealism is my inspiration.” She also writes, adding text to her art, which provides an outlet for what Aubin describes as her overactive mind. Her work is exhibited at Greg Moon Art in Taos.

“The relevance of art to people’s daily lives becomes more apparent when they have an opportunity to create it, view and talk about it.”
Rebecca Aubin

What are Aubin’s plans for the Museum of Art? A number of projects are in the works, including an Art Works partnership. We are looking forward to future collaborations with Director of ArtWorks and Santa Fe Community Orchestra for school programming as well as a new approach to making music blend with art.

Aubin also plans to institute programs that will help educators learn how best to use museums, any museum: art, history, even natural science. “Museums can make connections and bring together facts, ideas, creativity and feelings, while promoting cultural, community and familial identity,” she said.

While in Taos, Aubin implemented programs honoring the people of Taos Pueblo. She raised funds through grants and donors for education programs that targeted the under-served, impoverished population of Taos. She implemented a teen program and organized panel discussions to foster comparative discussions of art. Under Aubin’s leadership, the Harwood also collaborated with several community organizations to present film, music and literary events. According to The Taos News, the Harwood Museum attracted more diversified visitors because of Aubin’s efforts.

Not surprising given Aubin’s philosophy, “Museums foster creativity, build a sense of wonder, inspire self-confidence and motivation to pursue future learning and life choices.”

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