Laura Lott, the new president and CEO of the American Alliance of Museums, is not a big fan of the school field trip. In her view, museums can and should be extensions of school classrooms, visited weekly as part of the curriculum—not just places “where kids get to go at the end of the year when they have a couple of days to kill.”
Lott, 39, who started in her new position on June 1, has been quick to dedicate herself to the alliance’s larger mission of developing standards and best practices for museums around the country, helping museums adapt to changing technologies, and advocating for the group’s 4,000 member institutions. But she also has a keen interest in exploring the many different educational roles museums play—or might play, someday.
“There’s a perception of museums being these grand buildings that hang art on walls, that a certain elite, generally white, suburban population gets to benefit from,” Lott tells me when I visit her at AAM’s tastefully decorated offices downtown. She wants to cut through all that, and to do it, she’s connecting with museums across the nation to find out how museum education can be “mainstreamed” into education more broadly. For example, this year, for the first time, AAM is hiring a fellow to help explore how schools currently use local museums—and how more museums might develop relationships with nearby schools. One innovative example Lott cites is the Museum School in Decatur, Georgia, where a lesson plan on freedom fighters might include a trip to a partner institution such as the Atlanta History Center and where a unit on animal families might include a visit to Zoo Atlanta or the Georgia Aquarium.