New New Yorker Educator, Sofía de Juan: Sinergy, Superheroes, and Learning

In 2006 the Queens Museum started a partnership with the Queens Library to better serve the Adult Immigrant Population of Queens. Since then the New New Yorkers Program has grown into the largest such effort by a museum in the US, consisting of a slew of educational offerings taught at QMA and QL in a variety of languages"€”Spanish, Mandarin, Korean, Tibetan, Turkish, Bengali and Farsi, to name a few. Sofía De Juan is an artist and educator from Madrid, Spain. Below are her thoughts on the program.

My name is Sofía de Juan, I am from Madrid, Spain, and I simply can’t imagine my life without art. It was this passion for art that made me become an Artist, and it was the need to share that passion that made me a Museum Educator.

Last Fall I interned at the New New Yorkers Program. I came to this city of opportunities like many other new New Yorkers: with a suitcase full of hopes, dreams, and some fears. Now, five months later, I would like to re-open this suitcase, to share with you. It is full of presents and ephemera that I collected from this experience.

THE PARTICIPANTS: The superheroes of Corona and Flushing

Dulce Pinzón, 2008

“Not everyone is meant to make a difference. But for me, the choice to lead an ordinary life is no longer an option.” —Peter Parker

During my first months in NY everything was a big challenge: the language, the culture, the subway… Even going to the grocery store was a huge adventure, and often I found myself hesitating between excitement and fear. Fortunately, I got involved in a project where I could share my experiences with other new New Yorkers: superheroes that face the same challenges every day. Each of them, as a newcomer like me, keeps a story full of farewells, adaptation, homesickness and solitude in a city where everyday can feel like a marathon. Maybe because of that, each of us keeps stories full of hope, fight and daily renewal.

Like the superheroes of fiction, some of the ones I met live incognito in their own neighborhood. During the week they work in an office, the corner deli, at a school, or in the supermarket. But once inside the Museum they reveal their “true identities” through art. They expose their amazing background and talent during workshops and activities that they themselves helped concoct collectively.

With generosity, hard work and lots of humor, each of them has taught me that being happy and drawing meaning out of your life is a choice"€”a brave choice"€”and once you try it, an ordinary life is no longer an option.

THE MUSEUM: This is not (just) a Museum

“Think what you like, but think.” —Fernando Savater

René Magrite, 1928

I always thought that the museum should be a place for people, a suitable space where the opportunities for a critical education in values, reflection, personal development, and social coexistence are abundant and make the public feel welcome. Many of the typical preconceptions about museums intimidate the public, and this can lead to a feeling of disconnection from culture in general. I was able to put some of those ideas into practice during my internship at NNY. Every day we worked constantly at engaging the public to make them feel that the Museum is an exciting place where you can develop a personal relationship with the arts. I think QMA’s habits and instincts have been developed to the point where they can’t help but to encourage people to visit for exhibitions, art related activities, or to even borrow the space. Their Education Department tries to function as an organic system of knowledge construction transcending their assigned and expected functions because the process of learning, not teaching, is the driving force behind their programs.

THE PROGRAM: Who is the teacher and who is the student?

“Personally I’m always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.” —Sir Winston Churchill.

Sofía De Juan, 2011

Working with adults is always a stimulating task, specially if you understand that the participant-visitor is an active agent in the Museum. We understood that it is the student who decides what he/she wants to learn. Professionals provide advice and tools to ensure the knowledge is accessible. The team asks the participants what subjects they feel attracted to, and then they work on areas specific to these interests (e.g. artists working in a specific field, or material, suitable spaces, etc.) We were not just teachers, we understood our goal beyond the transmission of knowledge, we saw it as a rumination. As in the Freirian tradition, student and teacher roles were not static. Our education system was based on self-responsibility, motivation and making the best out of the participant and his own experience as a mediator or educator.


“Culture implies the two deepest paradoxes of ethics: what you save is what you lose; and what you give is what you gain.”"€”Antonio Machado

Zoe Strauss, 2012

When I had to think about my experience in the New New Yorkers program there was one word that keep coming up to my mind: synergy. Synergy comes from the greek word for cooperation, συνεργία, and is described as “the action of two or more causes whose effect is greater than the sum of the. individual effects.”

During my months as an intern I grew as a professional by gaining hands-on work experience, but also by listening to contrasting points of view. I have learned a lot about education models as well as things like the ancient art of Chinese calligraphy, Mexican food, Pakistani music, and many other things that go beyond the scope of this post. On the meantime I am taking this lesson with me to Spain: engage talented people in the arts, provide them with tools to express themselves and share that expression, and encourage them to reflect, and as Wolverine would say... “you are growing a great deal of power.”