Gift Economy in Art Museum Education

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Abstract

Unlike capitalist economy, which is grounded in independence, ownership, and excess, gift economy is steeped in relationships, generosity, interdependence, and gratitude. These qualities of gift economy can be powerful tools in efforts to transform museums into inclusive, caring, and dynamic locations for community engagement. In this article, an artwork exhibited in a university art gallery and an associated educational program designed to promote gift economy are explored. Directly in the exhibition space, diverse visitors engaged in art-making processes, connecting with a local community organization through gift giving. Engaging with ideas associated with gift economy during the art program, the gallery transformed into a site for creation, critical conversations, and giving. Using observations, questionnaires, and a self-reflection process, a study was conducted to explore what happens when we shift away from capitalist thinking in museums and how art and art museum education programming can support this transformation. This article explores how museums can incorporate concepts associated with gift economy into their programming and some of the ways in which such programming can stimulate and support a shift toward more caring, loving, relational, and empathic museums.