Oklahoma Contemporary's new director of education and public programming on the joys of learning
Jaime L.M. Thompson is a lifelong learner. The Missouri native grew up in a small farming community outside of St. Louis, where she developed a love for education and art that would carry her across the country and eventually to Oklahoma Contemporary, where she now serves as director of education and public programs.
"I ended up leaving my undergraduate program with three degrees, because I fell in love with everything that seemed to touch studio practice," Thompson said. "I went in thinking I'd be a studio artist and then fell in love with art history, and was forced into art education by my folks — and boy did they make a good choice for me, because it ultimately became my passion."
Thompson first caught the education bug as a teaching assistant while earning her master's degree at the University of Cincinnati. She landed in museums and galleries after working with an independent curator incorporating interactive, tech-driven learning into art-going experiences while teaching art and design history as an adjunct instructor. In 2008, she began her tenure with the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, where she became the education director and curated an interactive floor of art called The UnMuseum. A decade and change later, Thompson finds herself at the helm of Oklahoma Contemporary's education and public programming efforts during a remarkable time in the organization's history.
In today's #ThursdayThree installment, Thompson talks about her role at Oklahoma Contemporary, her passion for the mission and the exciting changes in store.
Can you give readers the broad strokes of your role at Oklahoma Contemporary?
Honestly, I feel very lucky as I'm managing an incredibly talented group of individuals who each run the major divisions of the Education and Public Programming department. It's my job to help create a unified vision for the department and oversee the running of each division. Over the next few months I will also take on aspects of museum interpretation. I am also looking forward to getting to know our gallery guides and be more involved in their training and development. I managed a docent program in a previous position, and I have a deep appreciation for the folks who often become the face of our museum to tour groups. I am a systems thinker and enjoy creating efficient methods to support the work of the department. As I began this position during the pandemic, I am most looking forward to working with the team within the new building in person.
What about Oklahoma Contemporary’s mission speaks to you?
The fact that education is central to the mission and all actions of this institution. Oklahoma Contemporary's focus is the visitor and developing opportunities for them to try a new art form, discover how contemporary art relates to their life or meet members of their community. It honestly warmed my heart to see how valued education was by the founders of this institution and its team.
As an educator, I have made hands-on art making opportunities central to my philosophy, and so does Oklahoma Contemporary. As we begin to roll out our programming for children and families from camps to Second Saturdays, you will discover unique, fun and creative opportunities centered around the joy of making and learning. Studio School and studio spaces within our new building — including classes, workshops and special Friday night programs — will become a creative hub for this city’s adults and teens. I feel at home at Oklahoma Contemporary because it was made for lifelong learners. As the director-elect of the National Art Education Association's museum division, I look forward to promoting this institution’s work on the national stage.
Oklahoma Contemporary has been rolling out digital programs in response to COVID-19, with some pretty exciting stuff in the works. Can you talk about that?
Certainly. The team was really excited to offer our first round of the new Camp Contemporary and Studio School this summer, but obviously that didn't get to happen. Instead we channeled that creative energy into another outlet. At first we worked with the Communications team to create the #AtHomeArt projects and supported the efforts of National Poetry Month.
However, it was important to my team and the leadership that we find ways to engage the artists we could no longer work with via physical programming. We wanted to keep a sense of Studio School and Camp Contemporary alive in the digital space. We have already debuted Camp-in-Place, which celebrates the creativity and ingenuity of the teaching artists who would have led this summer's Camp Contemporary. After watching the great video about improvisational theater and reading about how to make art with irises and blueberries – I want to sign up for camp myself! [Laughs.] Next week we will share a new program called Studio-in-Place that allows us to follow two artists each month via social media through a digital residency of sorts.
I'm proud of the genuine care, celebration and concern for the artists, makers, dancers and creatives of our community. The members of the team have been reaching out to the teaching artists, sharing information about grants, other paid opportunities through Oklahoma Contemporary and showing concern for their welfare. Seeing that as a new person coming in just really reaffirmed that I'm in the right place.
Return to New Light.