Block Museum’s Engagement Program Featured in “Next Practices in Partnership”

In May 2016 the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) released its field-wide survey of innovative art museum partnership practices Next Practices in Partnerships.

The report is a compendium of 95 projects from AAMD’s membership demonstrating the many ways art museums work with different organizations and people to further their missions and benefit their communities. This is the fourth edition of the Next Practices series, following 2016’s Next Practices in Diversity and Inclusion, 2015’s Next Practices in Digital and Technology, and 2014’s Next Practices in Art Museum Education.  This year Block Museum was selected for its contributions to the youth development program “The Leadership Project”  executed in partnership with Evanston’s Y.O.U (Youth Opportunity United)


About AAMD’s “Next Practices in Partnership” Report

Art museums regularly join forces with many different partners, from social service organizations to K-12 schools to universities, to leverage the core capacities of both organizations and serve a wider range of participants or a specific audience. Partnerships have many different objectives, from providing solace and a creative outlet to people with Alzheimer’s or dementia, to welcoming recently relocated refugees to their new home, to fostering diagnostic skills in medical students through close looking at works of art. No matter the main objective, all of these programs are designed to improve the quality of life of participants and positively impact their communities.

This edition of the Next Practices series highlights these creative and innovative partnerships to spark new ideas for how museums serve the public. Next Practices publications also provide practical information on how institutions start, support, and evaluate these programs. This edition includes expanded operational details for each program to encourage shared learning across the museum field.

About the Y.O.U Leadership Project at the Block

In 2015 the Block Museum developed an Engagement Department, in part as a commitment to making community engagement a priority and instigating partner driven work. From that point, the Block and Y.O.U. began working together, co-hosting family nights at the museum, organizing visits from elementary, middle, and high school groups, connecting at Y.O.U.’s community schools, and, most substantially, through collaborating on the Leadership Project—a program for Y.O.U. high school students that fosters youth development through critical dialogue around issues of social justice.


The Block Museum and Y.O.U. saw in the Leadership Project an opportunity to bridge our missions in even deeper ways.  Redrawing its mission in 2013, the Block Museum committed to its role as a think-tank and incubator for innovative teaching and learning practices. The justice-driven curriculum based work of the Leadership Project arose out of this goal—offering a sustained educational experience within the museum, one that begins rooted in art, and expands outward to the world at large. Since 2014, we have collaborated to develop curriculum for the Leadership Project that uses Block exhibitions as a touchstone, and the ecosystem of Northwestern and the city as resources. Our multi-year collaboration has explored how to place youth voices at the center of dialogue around the urgent issues of our time:

  • In 2015, in relationship to The Last Supper: 600 Plates Illustrating Final Meals of U.S. Death Row Inmates, an installation by Julie Green at the Block, we considered the web of issues surrounding capital punishment—including the school-to-prison pipeline, racial bias, and the state of America’s  prison system. In meetings with lawyers, law enforcement, advocates, and activists, as well as through music and writing workshops, Leadership Project participants considered the costs of incarceration, the difference between punitive and restorative justice, and the role of activism, advocacy, and change. The project culminated in a town hall dialogue at The Block about capital punishment facilitated by Leadership Project youth.


  • In 2016, in relationship to the exhibition A Feast of Astonishments: Charlotte Moorman and the Avant Garde, 1960-1980, Leadership Project youth continued to examine issues of race, class, and gender as they applied an intersectional lens to American movements of the 1960s and the parallels to the arts and activist movements in Chicago today. The project culminated in a performance of spoken word poetry and movement that connected Moorman’s groundbreaking avant-garde style with student’s own words and lives.


  • This year, Y.O.U. and the Block are interlacing the Leadership Project’s theme of “Defiance with Purpose” with the Block’s newest exhibition, If You Remember, I’ll Remember, which features work by seven contemporary artists exploring themes of love, mourning, war, relocation, internment, resistance, and civil rights in 19th and 20th century North America. Through visits with artists and ongoing dialogue in the galleries at the Block and back at Y.O.U. headquarters we are asking: Where do you see injustice in the world? What is the relationship between art and activism? What forms can resistance take?

Watch “Leadership Project” students, led by Northwestern University PhD Candidate in Performance Studies, Misty De Berry. create an original performance piece in response to the exhibition “A Feast of Astonishments”

Download the report and read more about innovative partnerships at museums across the the nation.

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