Sally Lee 2005

master of arts ‘05

Museum-based education her forte

Kindergarten through high school teachers throughout Oregon continue to benefit from a project that Saly Lee, MA ‘05, developed while interning at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at UO.  Now Senior Educator for Arts and Gallery Programs at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, Lee’s internship project involved creating a “teacher resource kit” for the JSMA’s Korean program.

Saly LeeSeven years later, Lee cites that project, which she took from design to implementation as an arts and administration student, as a highlight of her time at UO. It also reflects what she liked most about being a UO student.

“My classes gave me a lot of leeway to develop my own programs or projects,” she says. “It was a good balance between theory and practical, so I could decide which direction to follow.”

In her current position, she focuses on ways to engage visitors at the museum. Her undergraduate and graduate work was in fine arts, after which she taught ceramics and art history at the college level. When she decided to pursue graduate work at UO, she thought initially she wanted to work in a community arts center, but “through the internship I figured out I wanted to do more education-based work.”

She does exactly that at the Asian Art Museum. “I love working with students and teachers and with the general public and in intergenerational programs,” she said, the latter being programs that grandparents, for example, can share with grandchildren.

“My focus is developing gallery engagement programs as well as art programs,” she says. She does that through artist demonstrations, workshops, and informal gallery talks. She also creates “engagement tools” – different guides for various age groups, along with programs for the general public such as lectures and performances.

“It’s a really fun job. If I was asked what my dream job would be, this would be it – I like the challenges and I love our education team. We challenge each other and share ideas.”

She praises the 200-hour internship requirement for AAD students at UO. “One of the trends in art education is a focus on real-world experience, and that 200-hour requirement alone shows how vital the hands-on experiences is. Every class I had at UO was hands-on – not just lectures but group discussion and classes that seemed more like seminars than lectures. And we had some required computer classes. Even though I don’t do much computer design personally now, having gained a basic understanding of design elements and technical aspects of design programs so I can speak the designers’ language really helps in working with our designers.”

Asked what advice she’d give current arts administration students, she points to networking. “I work with a lot of volunteers and about half of them are art history and fine art students. One of the things I always tell them is that whatever you want to do in the future, get to know people in the field.“

Lee did that at UO from almost her first day on campus. She volunteered at the JSMA while it was closed for renovation, where she got to know the museum, the collections, and the staff people. She completed a series of informal, project-based internships after that, so wound up doing “a mix of volunteer and internship positions.” She also taught classes there.

Lisa Abia-Smith, director of educational outreach at the JSMA, is a big fan of Lee.

“She was an exceptional intern who contributed many skills and projects that still benefit the museum today,” Abia-Smith says. “Saly worked for me at the museum in a number of capacities – teaching, creating curriculum, and designing museum-based family gallery activities. One of the most significant projects she worked on was the creation of the museum’s Korean outreach kits, which continue to provide K-12 teachers in Oregon with resources they would not be able to find if it weren’t for the JSMA.”

Abia-Smith was planning to meet next week with Lee in San Francisco when contacted about this story. “I’m proud that she has blossomed from a graduate student to a museum education colleague,” Abia-Smith says. “We continue to work on projects together when the opportunity arises.”