Stella Fong, lead curator of learning and interpretation at M+, discusses how the museum plans to work with schools and schoolchildren—and reveals what it has achieved so far

On the ground floor of M+, Hong Kong’s new museum for visual culture that is opening to the public on November 12, there’s a sprawling gallery, a cinema and—taking up an enormous 1,200 sq m (nearly 13,000 sq ft)—its Learning Hub.

The Learning Hub will host a variety of programmes, including workshops, talks, performances, and pop-up events for visitors of all ages. M+ has had an active educational outreach programme for years but Stella Fong, lead curator of learning and interpretation, is looking forward to welcoming visitors into the museum's permanent home. 

Below, Fong explains why she prefers the word “learning” over the term “education” and discusses M+’s plan to engage students from kindergarten age right up to university and beyond. 

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M+ uses the word “learning” rather than the word “education”. Why?

We decided to replace the term “education” with “learning”—especially in the Chinese term it embeds the meaning that “teaching and learning go hand in hand”. From our many conversations with peers and colleagues in this region, it became clear that “education” gives a perception of formal education and a top-down teaching approach, while learning is a lifelong necessity.

M+ wants to learn with our audiences, and we believe learning should evolve accordingly. We regard M+ as an open learning platform that does more than just provide information; we embrace the exchange of ideas among curators, creators, and audiences irrespective of identity, aiming for mutual reinforcement between teaching and learning.

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How is M+ planning to engage with schools in Hong Kong? Are there any figures you can share about the number of schools or schoolchildren M+ plans to engage with in Hong Kong every year?

Schools are one of our major target audience groups. Since 2016, we have built relationships with schools in Hong Kong and the M+ Rover is one of the projects that best exemplifies this strategy. A custom-designed trailer, M+ Rover is an experimental school outreach programme that has been running since 2016. Each year from February to June, it travels across different schools and community spaces. We commissioned a creative practitioner for each chapter and they are tasked with creating a flexible environment that is both an exhibition display and creative making space. We have engaged with more than 360 primary and secondary schools and more than 50,000 teachers and students joined our programmes before the opening.

M+ aims to become the leading institution in promoting the learning skills of exploring visual culture for both teachers and students from kindergartens, primary, secondary and tertiary institutions. A series of regular thematic tours and workshops will be offered to students which will provide ideas on how the M+ Collections relate to their time, place and daily life.

To facilitate visitors to learn about the M+ Collections, there will be daily drop-in tours and pop-up chats delivered by a group of well-trained M+ Guide volunteers. Additionally, a series of talks that invite artists, makers, curators and cultural practitioners from Hong Kong and abroad will be offered. [Speakers will] share their experience and insight on critical issues for a wider public.

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How is M+ planning to engage with schools and students elsewhere in Asia?

Other than local schools, M+ also aims at building a wider platform for knowledge exchange on visual culture with students in Asia. M+ seeks to establish partnerships with academic institutions from other parts of the world and through conducting research and offering short courses that explore topics on visual culture.

What do you hope the museum will teach people outside of Asia, and/or not of Asian heritage, about visual culture in Asia?

What is clear to us is that we live in an image-saturated world, and that visual culture is embedded in our everyday life. The need to understand the role of the visual in society is increasingly important. At M+, we hope to provide different ways of seeing and helping people to look at the world afresh as if for the first time using another lens. More and more, our audience might be aware of the fact that their values are shaped and formed by visual experience; and their role in shaping visual culture in their everyday life.

Looking to the future, when people talk about M+ in ten years, how do you hope they will describe the museum?

I hope people will say this is a place to recharge in both mind and body and the experience is life changing. We hope M+ becomes a place for them that piques curiosity, embraces uncertainty, unlocks creativity and builds resilience which are important qualities to have in this ever-changing world. Last but not least, through learning to think from different perspectives, they find themselves being more empathetic after visiting exhibitions and joining our programmes and being more respectful to others in this rather divided world.

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The Learning Hub in M+ spans a huge 1,200 sq m (nearly 13,000 sq ft). What is included in that space?

The Learning Hub is a space for learning, interpretation, and inspiration is set against the backdrop of Victoria Harbour and the Hong Kong skyline.

Located within the ground floor lobby area of M+, the Learning Hub measures 1,200 square metres and will be accessible for all walk-in visitors. In addition to the Learning Hub’s reception and Common Space, and office, it features:

- 1 Forum (174 square metres; capacity of 150 people)

- 2 Workshops (171 square metres each; capacity of 55 people each)

The mezzanine level will incorporate:

- 3 Seminar Rooms (45 square metres each; Rooms 1 and 2 capacity of 40 people, Room 3 capacity of 30 people)

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