September 2022

Collaborations: Notes from the Field

As a complement to JME 47.3 Collaborations: Notes from the Field, we are pleased to share this blog post by the guest editors Auni Gelles, Beth Maloney, Alexandra F. Morris, and Wade Berger.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to a rethinking of society, and has also led to new partnerships which otherwise may have never occurred. This was reflected both inside and out in the museum world, with museum educators finding themselves working with new partners, with new organisations, and across communities in interesting and pedagogical ways. Building upon this theme the Museum Education Roundtable Editorial Team composed an open call to capture and explore these new partnerships, and what it means for the future of the field. One such partnership spotlighted in the 47.3 Collaborations: Notes from the Field issue of the JME as the free article is “Food for Thought: Spotlighting Baltimore’s Frontline Food Service Workers” by Auni Gelles, Beth Maloney, Elizabeth Marchetta, and Anne Rosenthal.

In this article and exhibition, staff from the Baltimore Museum of Industry collaborated with the Baltimore City Public Schools to highlight and elevate the voices of food service workers in the Baltimore schools. This is a powerful collaboration that demonstrates what can be accomplished when museum educators spotlight different kinds of stories within their museums. To give our readers further insight into this innovative project, in addition to the JME article, we have interviewed the authors of this article and asked them to reflect and share insights about how this collaboration came to be. We hope that this blog post helps you further engage with this issue’s content and further reflect upon the field of museum education as a whole.

1. What inspired you to create this exhibition?

As a history museum about industry and work, we are always thinking about the experience of working people. For a few months during the spring of 2021, we were part of a group working with the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience to explore how and in what ways museums might address a social issue in their communities.  Because our work with Sites of Conscience included seed funding, we had the luxury of time to listen to our community partners and be mindful of opportunities. So when Baltimore City Schools got in touch with an idea to honor their food service workers who kept communities fed during the pandemic, we were able to commit to working with them immediately.

2. What do you want people to learn from your article and the exhibition?

  • Museums have a role to play in efforts to support community well-being. That role starts with engaging in true collaboration based on mutual respect, shared goals and building/highlighting each other’s strengths
  • Food insecurity in America is an immediate threat to children and families throughout the country. Food service workers are key members of the community keeping Baltimore families fed at a time when many had no other sources of food.

3. In this project you worked with the Baltimore City Public Schools Food and Nutrition Services department, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and your funders. How were partner voices elevated and navigated? What was your favorite part of doing this project with them? 

Shining a light on workers who may not get recognition for the service they provide was extremely fulfilling for our whole team, including the workers whose stories were highlighted in this project.  During the height of the pandemic, accolades were paid to workers in many industries – front line workers of all kinds. Yet, there were so many others who contributed as well, like these food service workers who prepared meals for whole families. Honoring these workers and knowing it was the public school system who advocated on their behalf for this recognition really made this project meaningful to us.

4. What kind of advice would you give to other museum educators in terms of navigating partnerships with schools/school districts as seen in your work? 

Schools are faced with so many demands these days: teacher shortages, everchanging pandemic protocols, threats of violence, questions on curriculum from outside entities, the list goes on. Just be cognizant that school personnel are juggling so many responsibilities as they try to educate and protect our children, so patience, persistence, and over-communicating are going to go a long way towards building a partnership and end product you can all be proud of.

To find out more about this exhibition and collaboration, please:


Guest Editors’ Biographies:

Auni Gelles is the Community Programs Manager at the Baltimore Museum of Industry. She holds a Masters in Historical Studies from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Beth Maloney is the Director of Interpretation at the Baltimore Museum of Industry, where she leads the education and programs team and collaborates on exhibition development and institutional planning. In addition, she runs an independent consulting practice, coaching staff at museums, historic sites and cultural organizations as they create engaging, interpretive experiences.

Alexandra F. Morris is an Egyptologist and disability activist. She recently was awarded her PhD in history from Teesside University, and her research interests include disability in the ancient world, ancient Egyptian and Greek art, medicine and religious practices, Ptolemaic Egypt, Alexander the Great, and creating more accessible and inclusive museums for the disabled community. She has cerebral palsy and dyspraxia.

Wade Berger is a PhD Candidate at Northwestern University and studies how informal educators learn from and with each other. His interests include learning in small moments, interaction analysis methods, informal educator professional training, and the connective infrastructure of community-based learning. To do this work, he collaborates with educators at parks, museums, science centers, and after-school clubs. His work recognizes how these spaces are particularly poised to address anti-blackness, settler colonialism, anti-LGBTQ perspectives, deficit-mindsets, ableism, and the faults of capitalism within education.

Wade is an active member of the Chicago Learning Exchange, a visioning committee for the RESHAPE graduate student network, and recently joined a graduate chapter of Iota Phi Theta. He previously managed teen programs and created the Teen Learning Lab at the Shedd Aquarium. He has an M.S. from UW-Madison from the Games+Learning+Society group and started his career in learning as a high school social studies teacher.