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Art Museum a critical resource for arts-deprived schools

  • Art Museum
    Randy Wick / Flickr

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As arts education in Philadelphia public schools continues to suffer, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is looking to fill the void by offering a wide array of arts programs, from afterschool clubs to workshops for teachers.

Students don’t receive enough exposure to arts without school programs, said Ah-Young Kim, manager of school visits for the museum. “Most students don’t visit the museum with their families, so school is a critical resource for that exposure,” she said. “We want to inspire kids to be creative and make art.” 

Kimberly Gavin, a teacher at Overbrook High School, said the museum’s education department is a big help for teachers and students. “They have tapped into a new paradigm for education, a new way of thinking,” she said. “Not just about art, but about learning as well.”

Suzannah Niepold, manager of teacher services at the museum, said the museum’s programs are designed to reach each unique part of their audience. 

“We want to have a wide selection of programs all working together,” she said. “We look at going both broad and deep, so we can actually connect with many different people.”

According to the School Superintendents Association, art instruction and music listening wire the brain for successful learning by helping cognitive growth. Community-based efforts and grassroots organizations like the Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership and ArtsRising have been working toward restoring art programs in District schools since the budget cuts first started appearing.

The Museum of Art is doing its part to help too. Through the museum’s Delphi programs, public schools within the School District of Philadelphia can participate in arts programs at no cost. Funded by Reliance Standard Life Insurance Co. and supported by the Delphi Project Foundation, students and teachers are offered resources both in the classroom and at the museum. Delphi programs offer curriculum-based teaching resources, as well as educational programs for students.

One of the most popular Delphi programs is an After School Art Club, which enrolls up to 240 middle school students in a weekly art class consisting of gallery tours and collection-inspired projects. The program has been active for nearly 20 years and is hosted by dedicated teaching artists and museum educators.

Barbara Bassett, curator of Education for School and Teacher Programs, said the program focuses on intensive, in-depth experiences for each student involved.

“This is our most in-depth program,” she said. “We want students to feel at home in a safe environment, where they can be productive and inspired with their friends.”

The museum offers three additional Delphi programs. Delphi’s Art Partners Program pairs professional working artists with six middle school art programs. Similarly, Delphi’s Art Futures Program pairs professional working artists with high school art programs. Delphi’s Summer Teen Media Program is six weeks of training for high school students in filmmaking and media arts. Curriculum-based teaching resources for the classroom are also offered.

The museum also hosts several of its own programs, such as VAST, a weeklong summer institute for up to 60 teachers. The program is designed to help teachers integrate art into their curriculum, in order to increase student exposure to all kinds of art. The museum also hosts teacher workshops both in school and at the museum.

Gavin said VAST is an excellent professional development model and described the program as “five star.”

“VAST instills a level of confidence, because you get so in-depth with the topics,” she said. “With other professional developments, cramming too much in a short period can leave teachers beaten up and exhausted. VAST has the ability to give breathing space, processing time, and collaboration with colleagues.”

Art Speaks is an art literacy program for 4th-grade students. Launched in 2008, the program is a collaboration among the museum, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and the Barnes Foundation. At each location, students learn about and respond to artist creations, with literacy-based learning strategies. At the museum, a staff member conducts an in-classroom pre-visit, followed by a 90-minute gallery lesson at the museum. This program also features free busing for enrolled schools.

Gavin said she frequently enrolled her Overbrook Elementary classes in Art Speaks and praised the program's methods and community focus.

“They engage students at so many levels,” she said. “They meet the student wherever they are in their learning and take them a level higher. I’ve seen kids who hate writing go in there and write for hours.”

Additional programs include an eight-week high school sketch club and a teen ambassadors group to enhance the museum’s teen programs.

“The bottom line is all these programs are about giving kids an opportunity to work with art,” Bassett said. “We help kids engage in their work and make it personal. We want to be a resource for the entire city.”

The museum serves nearly 10,000 4th graders each year, along with thousands of other students through programs and school visits. “We focus on 4th grade intentionally, because they are getting ready for PSSAs. We know we can’t teach extensively in short visits, but we can at least get them practicing,” Bassett said.

Kim said she frequently gets calls from schools that don’t realize that admission is free. “It’s always free admission for Philadelphia public schools,” she said.

Andreas Dienner is an intern at the Notebook.

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