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Staff Spotlight: Gail Davitt

May 31, 2012

Tomorrow will be an emotional day for Education Staff at the DMA. Our Chair of Learning Initiatives and Director of Education, Gail Davitt, is retiring after twenty-six years of service to the Museum. Throughout her tenure serving in a variety of staff roles, her main focus has never changed: creating connections between art and people. We sat down for a discussion about her amazing work with us and her plans for the future.

What originally brought you to the DMA?

In 1986, as a PhD student in Arts and Humanities at the University of Texas at Dallas, I participated in several independent study courses, some of which involved working with curatorial and exhibitions staff at the DMA.  Part of my coursework included a proposal for an exhibition titled “The Real Self,” focusing on contemporary artists like Cindy Sherman and Jonathan Borofsky. As part of another course, I had also interviewed Anne Bromberg, then Director of Education, who opened my eyes to the possibility of a museum education career—something I had never known existed. Although my exhibition never came to fruition, that fall I applied and was selected for a graduate education internship with Anne. The following year, in the summer of 1987, I was hired in a full time position, working initially with teachers and docents.

Gail Davitt in the American Galleries during her internship in 1986

How has your time at the DMA shaped who you are as an art educator?

Before I came to the DMA I knew very little about the type of education that can occur in museums. I had taught English and studied Art History, but didn’t feel that traditional teaching was my calling. Once I began my position with the Museum, I gained many colleagues and mentors who encouraged me to spend time with art museum education colleagues in New York and Minneapolis. Soon after, I became involved with the National Art Education Association and have been active ever since.

In addition to these colleagues, I was also given the opportunity to work with colleagues involved in evaluation and visitor studies, like Beverly Serrell and Randi Korn. Through this work, I have learned the value of setting goals and outcomes and the importance of measurement to informal learning.

There have also been times when I was on my own, able to try out and experiment with new ideas, something that has proven valuable as well. The opportunity to learn and share with colleagues and then apply what I have learned at the DMA has truly provided me with a rich environment for my own understanding of art museum education, which I hope has allowed me to encourage meaningful visitor experiences with art.

What will you miss most about the DMA?

I truly will miss all the people. I have formed such close relationships with fellow staff that it will be difficult to no longer see everyone on a daily basis.

The other big thing I will miss is hard to put into words. What I love about my job is the chance to constantly dig in deep with a project, to really research and wrestle and grapple to figure out the solutions and create something meaningful. There is always an opportunity for this sort of problem-solving process at the Museum, and I will miss being involved with those opportunities. Now my challenge will be trying to find them in other areas of my life.

Gail with DMA curators Sue Canterbury, Heather MacDonald, Roslyn Walker and Kevin Tucker.

What are you most looking forward to come June 2 and beyond?

One main thing I am looking forward to is Sunday evenings without a knot in my stomach—that sort of anxiety that comes when you know you haven’t accomplished the work you were hoping to get a head start on over the weekend.

I am also really looking forward to devoting more time to my family and friends. While I have loved my job, it has taken so much attention that my other relationships have at times come second. I also love to cook and am looking forward to nurturing my relationships through food by cooking for friends. Travel is also high on my list and now I will be able to spend more time really researching the places I’d like to visit. Currently, I am planning for a long trip to Brussels.

What is one fun fact that people don’t know about you?

I played intramural volleyball in college and was pretty good. It also provided a convenient way for me to travel from Bucknell to Penn State to visit my then boyfriend (now husband), Jim.

Gail and Jim at a dinner celebrating the DMA’s centennial in 2003.

Gail has been an inspiration to all of us in the Education Division. We will greatly miss seeing her each day, but look forward to finding new ways to continue our work with her in the future.

Sarah Coffey
Assistant to the Chair of Learning Initiatives

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 31, 2012 1:21 pm

    I love these pictures of Gail, they really capture her enthusiasm and energy. Since she loves food and is going to Brussels, she’ll have to go to the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate. There are demonstrations and delicious samples!

    http://www.mucc.be/EN/index_en.htm

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