Published April 17, 2015
The Department of Sociology in the College of Arts and Sciences is joining the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and other community partners on the gallery’s AK Innovation Lab, a major new initiative announced on Thursday.
The AK Innovation Lab is a broad-based series of collaborations that will bring together visionaries from different disciplines and organizations across Western New York to take on specific projects and address social and economic issues by developing strategies and implementing designs that can benefit diverse audiences.
Housed in the museum’s Clifton Hall, the lab is a novel approach to expanding the mission of a 21st-century museum that harnesses a community’s collective intellectual and artistic strengths. Although other institutions have adopted the idea of an innovation center, the Albright-Knox is one of the only museums in the country with a department, dedicated space and board committee to oversee the actions and processes of the lab.
“As a museum we feed on the creative energies of artists, but we can do more than that,” said Janne Siren, director of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. “We want to converge on the intellectual energies from all creative minds in our community.”
Bruce Pitman, dean of the College of Arts and Science, also mentioned the convergence theme at Thursday’s announcement when he quoted from Albert Einstein’s memories, saying that all “religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree.”
“At a time when studying the arts is denigrated by some in the political arena, when arts education is first on the chopping block of school districts, when the arts are set in opposition to STEM fields, is may be useful to keep Einstein’s sentiment in mind,” Pitman said. “If we, from the College of Arts and Sciences — equal billing — can play some small role in that effort, we’re in.”
Thursday’s announcement represents the first chapter in the AK Innovation Lab’s development, which aspires to have four projects, or pods, working at any given time.
Two pods currently are in development, including the “Education Discovery Initiative,” an extensive, pioneering survey focused on visual arts education to be conducted by UB’s sociology department. The survey, to be sent to more than 700 educators and administrators, will identify and address gaps and disparities in resources and programming in local schools.
“We seek to develop a clear picture of how our teachers — and, by extension, our children — experience arts education in the classroom: the successes they have, the challenges they face and their vision of what arts education is and — more importantly could be — in Western New York,” said project director Shelley Kimelberg, adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Sociology. “Armed with this knowledge, the Albright-Knox can leverage their existing programs and resources, as well as tailor new offerings to help meet the needs of the region’s art teachers and students, and ensure that quality arts education is available to all.
“In addition,” she said, “this research is an important step toward deepening the ties among the Albright-Knox, the University at Buffalo and K-12 schools throughout Western New York.”
Kimelberg is part of team from the sociology department led by principal investigator Robert Adelman, associate professor; Robert Wagmiller, associate professor and co-principal investigator; and doctoral students Joanne Tompkins and Watoii Rabii.
The lab is also in the process of launching ArtGames2.0, an app designed for 9- to 13-year olds that will acquaint them with the different styles, movements, artists and concepts in the Albright-Knox collection.
The AK Innovation Lab is supported by the Seymour H. Knox Foundation, in conjunction with the John R. Oishei Foundation; an anonymous family foundation; and by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.