Latest News from the Collaborative

By: Abby Krolik

Read from our latest newsletter about everything PDC has been up to!

 About twice a month, the Professional Development Collaborative sends out a newsletter to its 2000+ subscribers to let them know about the projects we are working on; the relevant meetings or conferences at which we are presenting or that we are attending; and, of course, descriptions and reminders for all of the wonderful DC-PZ events that are coming up soon. This includes information about WISSIT–our annual summer  institute for educators. In addition to being emailed to all of our subscribers, each newsletter will also be posted here, on our website. If you’d like to sign up for our newsletter and receive it directly in your inbox, click here!                                                          

DCPZ Recap: 
Exploring Migration Stories with the
Smithsonian National Museum of Asian Art

DCPZ continued its free online professional development workshop series with the Smithsonian National Museum of Asian Art on Tuesday, November 16. As a framing for the workshop, the 40+ participants learned about a collaboration among the Re-Imagining Migration initiative, the Smithsonian Learning Lab, and the museum, and then engaged in close looking, using Project Zero Thinking Routines, with an artwork from the museum’s collection.

BoBeen Chung, Engagement and Visitor Experience Specialist at the museum, welcomed everyone to the workshop, titled “Re-Imagining Migration, on the Silk Roads and Today,” and presented our agenda for the afternoon. She then introduced a special guest, Veronica Boix Mansilla, Principal Investigator at Project Zero and former Senior Fellow for Museum Practice at the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access (now the Office of Educational Technology). While at the Smithsonian, Boix Mansilla developed a project called “Re-Imagining Migration at the Smithsonian,” which connected to her role as Research Director of the larger initiative. At the workshop, she explained the mission of Re-Imagining Migration: “…to advance the education and well-being of immigrant-origin youth, decrease bias and hatred against young people of diverse origins, and help rising generations develop the critical understanding necessary to build and sustain welcoming and inclusive communities.”

Starting with the idea that migration is a shared human experience of past, present and future, Boix Mansilla highlighted some of the Smithsonian Learning Lab collections created under the project she led. One of the Smithsonian educators working with her, Elizabeth Eder, who works in the Office of the Deputy Director on partnerships and outreach, took us into one of those collections, on the Silk Roads, which provided a smooth transition to our close looking exercise.

Jennifer Reifsteck, Education Specialist for K-12 Learning at the museum, facilitated the examination of a figurine from around 700-750 CE, during China’s Tang Dynasty. Labeled “Tomb Figure of a Groom,” the ceramic sculpture has been digitized for the Learning Lab. Given very little background information, participants used an adapted Project Zero Thinking Routine, “Looking:10×2,” to look closely at the digitized version from various angles. A number of people noticed that the person depicted most likely was dark skinned and dressed in work clothes. Others speculated on what was missing (as the arm looks as if it was meant to be holding something).   

Reifsteck then revealed some information about the object–that the figure is dressed in Central Asian costume, most likely from the Sogdian culture; that it depicts a foreigner who probably came to China via trade routes of the Silk Roads; and that discovery of it in a tomb indicates the cosmopolitan nature of that region at the time, with a mixing of people and cultures from Asia, Europe and East Africa. 

Our close looking exercise was extended with the use of a Project Zero Global Thinking Routine, “Unveiling Stories,” which encouraged us to imagine the human, new and untold stories of the figurine. Many questions emerged about why the person depicted would have been in Central Asia, why the figurine was placed in the tomb, and whether the figurine depicts a specific person (who was he? where did he come from?) or is a generic representation. The use of the Global Thinking Routine focusing on stories after the close looking exercise moved us into more complex territory, generating questions that could lead to further inquiry.

Many thanks to our Smithsonian collaborators for providing a rich and informative afternoon connecting past to present through migration stories!

PDC Joins the Citywide Celebration
of Alma Thomas

Breeze Rustling through Fall Flowers, Alma Thomas (1968). The Phillips Collection. Gift of  Franz Bader.

Starting with the official “Day of Remembering Alma Thomas” on September 22, 2021 (her 130th birthday), DC is putting on a two-and-a-half year celebration of the world-renowned artist Alma Woodsey Thomas. Born in Columbus, Georgia, in 1891, Thomas spent the majority of her life in the District of Columbia and is considered a hometown heroine. 

The National Gallery of Art kicked off the multiyear festivities with its John Wilmerding Symposium on American Art and Community Celebration in partnership with American University’s Feminist Art History Conference and the Phillips Collection’s exhibition, “Alma W. Thomas: Everything is Beautiful” (now open until Jan. 23). The celebration will culminate with the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s exhibition from October 2023 -April 2024, “Composing Color: Paintings by Alma Thomas.” In between, there will be countless virtual and in-person events hosted by organizations all over the city, from poetry readings to kid-friendly crafts to documentary screenings. You can see the full list of events and resources HERE.

Knowing that Thomas not only created refreshingly beautiful paintings, but also dedicated herself to teaching and mentoring the next generation of artists at Shaw Junior High School (DCPS) over many decades, the PD Collaborative could not resist joining the Alma Thomas bandwagon!

The Collaborative is partnering with The Phillips Collection, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and the National Gallery of Art to present a free online workshop for educators on March 12, from 10:00am-12:00noon. 

Although it will be held on Zoom, the workshop, titled “The Legacy of Alma Thomas: Cultivating Mindfulness, Perspective-taking, and Problem-Solving,” will entail hands-, minds- and hearts-on learning opportunities with educators from the four museums, as we explore curricular and social-emotional aspects of Thomas’s life and art. Participants will also receive a collection of classroom resources from all four of the museums. Read on for a taste of what each museum will be presenting.

“Problem-Solving as an Aging Artist”

Arthritis shaped Alma Thomas’s style and career. Guided by an art conservator’s discoveries, let’s use inductive and deductive reasoning as well as experimentation to better understand Thomas’s problem-solving prowess!

“Points of View: Alma Thomas & Space”

Along with most of the world, Alma Thomas was captivated by the space exploration of the 1950s-70s. She tried to picture what scenes on earth or in space would look like if viewed from a great distance and at great speed. Explore how Thomas captured the excitement, power, and wonder of a world transfixed with space through her vibrant, colorful paintings. Then, consider how points of view and changing perspectives affect how we view discoveries of today.

“Pivotal People and Places: Alma Thomas’s DC”

Though born in Georgia, Alma Thomas called Washington, DC, home for most of her life. Networks of DC-based artists and locations around the city fueled her creativity. Look at and discuss Thomas’s work, learn more about women artists in her circle, and consider how place impacts creativity. Together we will explore close looking activities and writing exercises adapted from the National Museum of Women in the Arts’s “Seeing Through Writing” tour. 

“Art for Contemplative Practice”

This session is designed to create space for educators to process their professional journey over the past year–challenges, gratitude, and growth–through the lens of Alma Thomas’s life and work. Engage with Thomas’s art through some mindful meditation, close looking, and reflective writing exercises. Be inspired by Thomas’s 35-year career as an art teacher in DC Public Schools, explore her perspectives on the purpose of education, and make connections to your own practice. 

If you would like to be the first to know when registration opens for this workshop, join our interest mailing list HERE! We will send the registration link to this group first, and then to the general public, in late January. 

In the meantime, we strongly encourage each of you to visit The Phillips Collection exhibition, if you can, by its closing date on January 23, 2022. In fact, The Phillips Collection is offering educators TWO FREE ADMISSIONS to the exhibition! Educators should reserve timed tickets on their website HERE and use the promo code TPCTEACHALMA (one word, all caps).


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