Martina Keller: Be in direct contact

In which context are you working as an art educator?

I primarily teach at a municipal grammar school with 15-19 year old students. I also have experience as a freelance art mediator at the Kunstmuseum Bern, Thun and the Zentrum Paul Klee. At all these institutions I was active in the development of various mediation formats for all age groups. The decision for this profession originated during my own grammar school education and was made possible by passing the entrance examination to the then “Drawing Teacher Seminar” in Berne and by professional training at the museum education department of the Kunstmuseum Berne.

With whom do you cooperate?

I work alone or with colleagues from my department at the high school (Gymnasium). Another more direct exchange takes place with university trainees. Their internships are designed to develop and deliver their own teaching and to observe and reflect on the teaching of other teachers.
In addition, my everyday life is marked by working with the students, whom I often face alone. The professional exchange takes above all place with the colleagues of my own student body – especially in connection with the teaching of the main subject of “Bildnerisches Gestalten”. We teach this as a team at our school and consequently work in teams of two.

What is your understanding of art education?

By art education I mean on the one hand, to facilitate access to one’s own creative activities: To arouse curiosity and joy, to practice openness, to become critical, to seek and find solutions by consciously making decisions, to go ways and to make detours possible….  On the other hand, I try to place this action in a larger context, be it through references to current or past artistic positions or to cultural backgrounds. This also means finding a language to communicate about what has been experienced and seen. Enabling seeing and thinking. One can also happen without the other.

What is the relationship (for you) between education and art?

Actually, it is a rather difficult relationship – I am not necessarily a friend of the term “art education”, I prefer the term “mediation of design and art”, or “of architecture and design”. Enabling accesses to art is a risk – it can quickly happen that I convey incorrectly or insufficient because of my points of view,, my experience or my personality.

Why mediate (contemporary) art? / Why educate people about (contemporary) art?

I consider it an opportunity for a society such as today to give young people the opportunity to explore boundaries in a protected environment. Art offers the opportunity to allow different attitudes (e.g. of classmates), which may not be so easy in everyday life.

In what kind of relationship do you see the practice of curating and educating?

I experience both activities differently, although there are certainly points of contact. I experience curating as an opportunity to enable various artists to present their works in a way that resulted in a surprising totality and optimally accentuated the works in a coherent sequence or composition. Interestingly, while curating, the recipients were not in the center of my attention.

Why is art education important for a museum or an institution?

The primary task of the museum was to collect, arrange and display…. The mediation of art was secondary. The same assignment is handled differently today: art education occupies a larger place. In order to preserve the funding for the museum as an institution, it is important to convince society of its cultural importance and to enable various approaches that art education can offer.

Where do we find the (institutional) spaces, in which we can have a discussion about our experiences of art?

Art Galleries, universities, museums, schools, homes, think tanks, training seminars, communities…

When do you think art education is successful? When do you think art education is complicated?

I think the teaching/mediation is successful when recipients can feel confident even in the uncertain and unclear. Teaching is difficult when the pupils are tired, when the groups are too large or when there is no interest at all and I cannot muster enough energy. It is difficult to impossible to explain something that does not appeal to me.

Is there a specific method or strategy you currently work with?

At the moment I am working on being in direct contact with the students. It is important for me to be present, to be able to get involved with the students, to listen and to recognize them. I would rather meet the young person than the student in his or her role. This is easier or harder for me, depending on how the day goes. If I succeed in establishing a relationship, which is challenging in our small time frames, the exchange becomes even broader.

What are you currently working on?

I am working on the annual planning of the next class year for 5 different grades and on the reflection of the project <kunst orientiert> from the year 2017. At the moment I am also working on the aspect of students-centred work in connection with art history lessons. Currently, I am creating a blog about a new course on painting that is offered at our school.

Which books and projects are important for your work and why?

“A short history of humanity” by Yuval Harari – because I find it exciting to think about the origin and have a larger context. The project “Cheeky Questions – Encounter with Contemporary Art” by Julia Jost, Kunsthalle Bern – because I can slip a little into a spectator role there and yet experience my students in an incredible transformation. „Bildumgangsspiele: Kunst unterrichten“ by Klaus-Peter Busse – because it helps me to think more clearly on a meta-level. “How to Be an Explorer of the World: Portable Life Museum” by Keri Smith, – because it is so playful, fearless and curious. “Form Bewusst Sein. Eine kleine Vernetzung der alltäglichen Dinge“, by Franz Berzbach.

Which questions would you like to ask an art educator?

What motivates you to work within an area that has a rather secondary, difficult position in society? How do you manage to encourage and challenge at the same time? How do you deal with the dilemma of accompanying and evaluating (if you are in a school context)?

How do you imagine the future of art education?

I hope that the direct contact between people can continue to be maintained (e.g. in museums, galleries, studios) and that a direct exchange with those responsible (curators, artists, …) remains possible before the originals and that not everything becomes virtual.

Martina Keller, *1967. After completing her Matura B, she studied at the Drawing Teachers’ Seminar in Berne and at the University of Berne, where she graduated in 1992 with a diploma in the central subject of drawing and museum pedagogy in the elective subject. Since 1993 she has been working as a freelance art educator at the Kunstmuseen Bern and Thun, at the Zentrum Paul Klee and as a teacher for visual arts at the Gymnasium Kirchenfeld in Bern. In 1996, thanks to the support of the Swiss-American Exchange Council, she gained an insight into her work as a mediator at art museums in the USA during a period of further education leave. In 2015 she completed her CAS Cultural Management at the Lucerne University of the Arts. Her final project was the interdisciplinary exhibition “kunst orientiert” in 2017. Martina Keller is a mother of two grown-up daughters.
Contact: /
Studio blog 2019:
Art Oriented 2017:
From kids to pics: Studio work on Interior Design:

Published: 10.08.2019
Interview: Gila Kolb
Images: Gila Kolb, 2018